I had to write guides for Dark Souls III, so I am in the position of being acceptable at playing Soulslikes games, while also not being mad about them. I appreciate the artistry involved, and the accomplishment at being great at them, but I'm just not often in the mood for a game to be outright mean to me.
Tails Of Iron kind of tricks you into thinking it's not mean, because it's a nice 2D kingdom of little rats who all flute at each other like Clangers (because, producer and designer Jack Bennett told me, they tried squeaks and it was too annoying). Aw, how sweet! You can give your little rat armour and a sword! They think they're people! Oh. Oh dear, I have just ripped the intenstines out of a giant frog that was trying to crush me. My goodness.
The game description does including words like "brutal", but there'a a very deliberate shift, which I got to experience in the first 40 minutes or so of the game in a hands on preview. You start off as Redgi the ratprince heir, running around your ratking father's nice castle, learning how to make consumables in the kitchens and being given instructions by a nice white rat called Dug who has a darling little hat. The citizens are happy and celebrating! One sudden trident impaling later, though, and you're wandering through heaps of bodies, having flashbacks to watching Animals Of Farthing Wood as a kid and suffering through the same sudden tonal change. I need an adult!
There's a lot of Dark Souls in the DNA here. There's a sort of estus flask-ish feature, and save bonfires are benches with little lanterns where you can sit and rest. Taking a hit in a fight is unforgiving on your HP. You battle enemy types you learn to recognise, and giant bosses with telegraphed attack patterns and fight phases that grow more difficult as you whittle their health down. You need to balance the weight of your gear, and the relative speed and reach of weapons, against how effective you want your dodge to be. I got to try a sword and a spear, with the spear being faster and having greater range, but with less damage. You've played games before; you get it.
But Tails Of Iron is also more forgiving in places. You can refill your little health flask by killing yellow beetles in the environment and scooping up some of their yummy innards - although beware, because the larger ones will attack you. Tails Of Iron is 2D, which severely limits the angles from which an enemy can attack you, so once you've figured out the tolerances of what hits where and when, the timing makes sense more quickly. Attacks that are unblockable and attacks you can parry to great effect are both highlighted with different colours. You can fling smaller enemies great distances with a well timed parry. There are guts, but they're illustrated and feel more like a medieval diagram.
It would be unfair to call it baby's first Bloodborne, though. In the preview I played, there were always a few mobs into a boss fight, trying to split your attention. I had to keep flicking a look back at archers placed higher up, so I could turn to block their arrows at the last second and still have time to switch back and block an attack from a trident-wielding, myrmidon-esque frog on the other side. In the big boss fight I came up against, where a large and rotund armoured frog tried to wallop me with area-of-effect slams, I had to first dispatch a weedy little hype man with a knife, leaving me open to damage from incautious dodging.
The enemy designs are distinct and have good footprints, which helps too. Bennett revealed that the main character rats in the game are all based on the former pet rats of the director. I asked what their beef is with frogs, and he used the term "inherent evil" (although he was laughing when he said it, which is good because it's exactly the kind of anti-amphibian propaganda that'll get you a stern look from Nate Crowley). But they do provide a good foil for rats. Crouchy and furry vs. leggy and damp. I get it.
In general, though, I would say that Tails Of Iron looks like it's shaping up to be a version of Dark Souls for those of you who'd rather not spend hours doing the in-game equivalent of running into a brick wall until you get strong enough to get over said wall. With its 10-hour-ish predicted run time, it doesn't feel like a watered down Soulslike so much as one for if you're knackered and have to take the bins out and do the vacuuming the same evening you want to disembowel someone. In other words: I'm into it. Especially because I think one of the later bosses is a mole based almost directly on the wrestler Rey Mysterio, which is definitely something I've got to see in person.