Few things sour my interest in a game quicker than an unoriginal protagonist. If the main character of a game is a white, brown-haired, middle-aged man then chances are I’ve fallen asleep before bothering to hear more. These are video games, for crying out loud! I want to see some wacky, creative stuff. Enter Tails of Iron: an action-filled RPG where you play as a rat trying to save his kingdom from an army of frogs. Not only is it a creative breath of fresh air, but it’s a blast to play.
Developed by Odd Bug Studio, this title begins by guiding you through a charming rat kingdom and introducing you to the player character Redgi. As a son of King Rattus, Redgi eagerly hopes to inherit his father’s throne but must first prove his worth. As you learn of Redgi’s plight, you’ll meet characters, learn how to permanently increase your health, how to craft new weapons, and familiarize yourself with the basics of combat. Finally, to end the tutorial, you’ll fight Redgi’s older brother in order to see who should wear the crown. Having achieved victory, Redgi will step forth to take the crown and right to rule from his father… but not before his father is impaled by a spear and the entire kingdom is ransacked by violent, monstrous frogs.
That enormous kick to Redgi’s rodent teeth is an incredibly effective start to the game’s story. All the bright, adorable colors of your ratty kingdom are now dulled and dimly lit by the fire’s of war, and your fellow rats are cut down in front of you. Invading amphibians block Redgi’s path back to the castle, and they immediately let you know that Tails of Iron’s combat does not pull any punches.
That isn’t to say that it should! In fact, the ruthless fighting is a delight. Each swing of your sword has an impeccable sense of weight behind it, and even getting hit by enemies offers a visceral, scrappy thrill. Dodging and rolling feels particularly well-polished for a 2D game, and I firmly believe that Tails of Iron has the best feeling parry I’ve ever used. You don’t simply smack the enemy blows away, but allow your foes to lean their weight against your shield before throwing them onto their backs and rewarding yourself with some free slices.
Thanks to a nice assortment of enemy types, clever combinations of said enemies, and some exciting boss fights, the combat really is a triumph. I was pleasantly surprised throughout my playthrough by just how much attack variation there was among all of the game’s baddies. While it isn’t the deepest nor most strategic battle system, it introduces just enough new abilities for Redgi that combine with the aforementioned enemy variety to keep fighting exciting throughout the entire game.
Of course, the story does that as well due to it being solidly written. Despite the fact that all spoken dialogue is delivered through a narrator, Redgi and other characters are overflowing with personality. Sure, the combat is a fantastic reason to keep playing, but wanting to know what happens to the kingdom kept me just as hooked. It also helps that the entire game is narrated by none other than Geralt of Rivia himself: Doug Cockle. In one of the strongest performances of the year, Cockle does an outstanding job in helping to bring Tails of Iron to life. His voice ranges anywhere from mischievous to heroic while lending a huge sense of authenticity to the game’s grisly, medieval, fantasy setting which so many will naturally associate with the Witcher series.
Even without Cockle’s narration, the game would spring to life thanks to the incredible visuals. Like a living storybook, Tails of Iron is beautifully hand-drawn and ultra detailed. This is one of those rare games that feels as if its characters go on living long after you’ve turned off your console. As Redgi runs around his kingdom, bite-sized pieces of story happen in the background that reinforce the idea of a bustling rodent society. Houses and towns are slowly rebuilt, farmers begin tending to fields, and workers of every kind can be seen cleaning up the pieces of a shaken kingdom. It’s all exceptionally animated, and I simply cannot stress just how much fun I had looking at every corner of the world.
If there is anything to possibly complain about here, it’s the weapons and armor. Swords and axes don’t feel noticeably different from one another, and spears offer only the slightest of increases to your range. Worse than their similarity in battle, however, is just how many of the suckers there are. Loads of swords, loads of axes, loads of spears, and loads upon loads of armor just isn’t that fun to sift through. They vary in effectiveness and weight, so you’ll have to consider if dealing more damage is worth being a bit slower. Spoiler alert: the answer to that is yes. I’d have felt more inclined to customize my loadout if it were possible to make purely cosmetic changes, but in trying to deal as much damage as possible, poor Redgi just ended up looking like a hodgepodge of heavy metals.
However, that is the nitpickiest of nitpicks in light of everything that Tails of Iron does well. It has a fun, finely-crafted story told through splendid animation and outstanding narration, a gorgeous, adventure-filled world with plenty to explore, and one of the greatest 2D combat systems I’ve ever experienced. Tails of Iron is not only one of the best things I’ve played all year, but it’s a sign of great things to come from an incredibly talented studio.
Optimised for Series X|S, you can pick up Tails of Iron from the Xbox Store right now