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Tails Of Iron review: a fun 2D Soulslike with a bit too much padding

Rats entertainment

As enquiring minds already know, rats are very cute. I've not had pet rats myself, but a bunch of my friends have. Rats have lovely little pin-prick hands and feet, and they will give you wiffly-nose kisses while they assess whether your hair is worth exploring or not.

The rats in Tails Of Iron are cute. Little 2D inhabitants of a feudal rat kingdom, where they get milk from insects that look like cows, and royal succession is determined in trial by combat - which you, Prince Redgi, win, and shortly thereafter become King Redgi when your dad is murdered by frogs right in front of you. Let the amphibian bodies hit the floor. Time to kick this RPG into a side-on soulslike experience. Slice open a frog belly and see the guts spill out. These rats are cute, but also u wot? U wot? Say that again m8. Say that to my face. I'll 'ave you.

As Redgi works to win back his throne, his duties as king are almost entirely slaughtering, and slaughtering adjacent. You rescue your brothers by finding and killing the frog warriors that have captured them. You save the town, the rangers and farmers through similar means. On the way to each big boss fight (which range from big frogs with maces, to a beetle brood mother who flies and spits explosive eggs at you) you will encounter smaller enemies who can knock a chunk of your health off. There are mosquitos that buzz around above you and have pointy bums. A variety of frogs will attack: spear frogs, arrow frogs, frogs with big shields.

There could be more variety in some of your enemy's attacks, but in general the combat itself is fun and more manageable than your average Soulslike. It's also well-mapped to a controller, which is the recommend way to play it. It's satisfying to dodge and parry attacks successfully, and get a big hit in afterwards, and should be a more enjoyable experience for anyone who's struggled with Dark Souls proper in the past.

You can find and craft a variety of weapons and armour, but there's a welcome sense of variety in how you spec Redgi out. Different fights demand different builds, and it encourages you to mix things up rather than settle on a favourite build or go for something more all-purpose. I stalled for ages on a fight with the mosquito king until I realised that putting on moz-resistant armour made a massive difference. I switched from using a sword to a spear, so I had more range on my melee attacks, and tooled up with a crossbow - it was heavier, but it did more damage than a bow.

Got that king armour.

Yes: there is fat rolling. Tails Of Iron has more nuance than you'd expect from a game that looks like Baby's First Lordran, but it is more forgiving than its Dark Souls inspirations. Balancing the weight of your gear vs your defence and attack ratings will affect how you play, for example (I always prefer being fast so I can roll in and out of danger, rather than tanking it), but you also have a two-handed heavy weapon you can auto-switch to, allowing you to beast shielded enemies. Meanwhile, your estus flask-equivalent is full of bug juice (which you can collect from bugs you've just killed for a delicious, body-temperature drink), and save points at blue lanterns are frequent. Moments of bravado can still be brutal, but you're rewarded with deliciously gory kill animations for each boss fight.

You can also increase your health bar by finding ingredients for slap-up meals back at your castle, or find exotic weapons or blueprints, rewarding thoughtful exploration of the sewers and crypt tunnels that make up a lot of the map space. But herein lies my big complaint.

Impressive foundations
These rats are way better builders than you'd expect. Here we see the map of your castle, the Red Keep. Underneath you can see the start of the extensive crypt system. And if you look closely, you can see that each room on the map has a tiny drawing of what it looks like in-game on it, which is wonderful. There are loads of cool details like that in the art. 10/10 for drawing, I'm putting that on the fridge.

The combat is fun, but some of the boss fights themselves are frustrating, mostly because the arenas you fight in are quite small spaces, and the 2D hit boxes of some attacks aren't quite precise enough to allow for proper last minute dodges. That's okay; you'll get past most of them with some smart re-jigging of your gear. But worse is that a lot of these bosses end up feeling like padding, and some are barely disguised as anything but. In the mid-game, you're told you need to earn money to complete a series of repairs on your kingly castle. Fine. How do you earn money? By taking on jobs at the rangers' guild hut. The jobs in question are killing big monsters. Several of these are in the sewers. Can you take on more than one job at once? Nope. Go down into the sewers. Kill the thing. Climb, manually, out of the sewers. Collect your new quest. Go down into the sewers. Kill the thing...

I get it, but also found it tiresome, especially since Redgi's jump isn't super great for the bits of platforming you have to do. Even now, after finishing the game, I'm not sure if I could judge a gap properly.

Mate, would you not accept an I.O.U.? I'm a king. I'm good for it.

It's a shame, because the rest of Tails Of Iron has a lot of properly good stuff in it. As you win fights, your rat-fam begin rebuilding everything, and it's really nice to see the cow-bug farmers at their gross work again. Your elder brother is often hanging around in the background of scenes drinking and looking morose. The animation when you eat something is amazing. The story has secrets you don't entirely expect to be there. There's a lot of artistry in the 2D scenery, too, and the way everyone gives you quests in little pictogram speech bubbles is delightful, especially when they contain even tinier and cuter depictions of Redgi himself.

Also, at one point you meet a society of technologically advanced moles, who are all coded as communists - I suspect, because of the pun first, detail later school of design arising from phrases such as "Moleshevik" and "comrat". They also have an illegal fight club where all the combatants are named after pro-wrestlers. One of them actually comes at you with a chair. BAH GAHD! That's Molekind's music! Except, when you fight these guys it's because you need to buy a breathing mask. I'm not saying I wouldn't do the fights. I'm saying it'd be nice to have an actual reason, and preferably one that didn't involve me having to fruitlessly walk through loads of tunnels first. Because outside of the padding, Tails Of Iron is a fun world stuffed with detail and excellent frog smashing. Look into this rat's nice little face and see the face of a brutal killer.

About the Author

Alice Bell avatar

Alice Bell

Deputy Editor

RPS's dep ed. Small person powered by tea and enthusiasm for video game romances. Send me interesting etymological facts and cool horror games.

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