Sometimes brilliance can come in the most unlikely, small packages, and that is certainly the case with Odd Bug Studio and Tails of Iron—a “ratastic” soulsborne RPG adventure just released for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Good Things Come in Small Packages
In Tails of Iron you take control of Redgi the Rat, heir to the Kingdom, on the brink of passing his father’s final challenge to take the crown until a brutal attack from the evil Frog Spawn leaves the Kingdom and its people in desolation. With his father dead and many of the key members of the Kingdom missing it is up to Redgi to rise up from the ashes and take the fight back to those blasted Frogs who tore away everything you had. What follows is a journey that is as surprisingly brutal as it is excellent, with Tails of Iron proving to be a fun and artistic game full of immense character.
As we all wait for Elden Ring to finally grace us with its presence, Tails of Iron might just help to tide you over in the meantime. For a game based on the pet rats of its developers, Tails of Iron is a surprisingly bloody and brutal experience that will be welcomed by fans of the likes of Hollow Knight or the “Soulsborne” games. The presentation is very much akin to Hollow Knight with its 2D side scrolling, its gritty, hand drawn art style, and its Metroidvania adventuring model. Meanwhile the combat is a playful version of Dark Souls and its ilk: alternation of light and heavy attacks; perfect timing of rolls and blocks necessary; gear and weapon weight important to how quickly you can move; any hit taken is exceptionally punishing; fights have to be carefully managed against multiple enemies; etc.
This combat model translates surprisingly well to the 2D style of Tails of Iron, and Odd Bug Studio have supplied some good meatiness to every hit (both audibly and graphically) to make combat feel very solid. The art style of Tails of Iron is exceptionally crafted; it ensures every fight is suitably brutal and bloody, too—with enemies going down in a spectacled display of gore and dismemberment. Redgi might be a cute little rat, but make no mistake, his bite is certainly more than a little ratty nibble as he wages ferocious justice on his foes.
Much like a Souls game too armour and weaponry can vary how you play. Redgi has a considerable armoury room in his castle that needs to be filled up, so there is going to be plenty of gear to find and toy about with as you progress. Toying about is certainly the name of the game here since every item has a weight to it balanced against its defensive or attack stats. Passing certain thresholds of overall weight will slow Redgi down considerably making his attacks, movements, and rolls more sluggish, so you’ll want to find what works best for you. You might also be considering what kind of weapons you prefer too, since the spear, swords, and axes all play slightly differently and will appeal to certain playstyles. A nice touch that also varies what equipment you take to any given quest is the resistance modifiers that some armours possess. There are 4 enemy clans in the game and your armour can prove to be more effective against one than the other, so you will be spending a lot of time varying up your equipment. That said, I didn’t find that to be a problem at all—in fact it is quite fun to switch about and balance your gear often, especially with just how many items there are actually available in the game. Tails of Iron leaves itself very open to play your own way and test out new approaches throughout which I particularly enjoyed.
Rebuilding Your Kingdom
Your quest as Redgi is to rebuild your kingdom, rescuing your old companions from the clutches of the Frog Spawn. To this end you’ll be journeying all across the map, high and low through sewers, fortresses and battlefields. Each environment is very lovingly crafted with superb hand drawn art style. Exploring these environments and finding what secrets they hide is generally very fun, and much like Hollow Knight they often come with their own distinct challenges—ie boss battles, or mole arenas. The bosses of these areas all have their varying mechanics making every battle an exercise in patience and learning before you can perfectly strike them down. It’s a good balance of difficulty without ever feeling too easy nor impossibly unfair.
The story itself is also a good one, and there is a colourful cast of some excellent characters along the way (a special nod to boombox mole and the underground neon-splashed mole city—the answer to the question, what if Blade Runner had more moles?), however the quest itself can become a little too bogged down in side-quests and an over reliance on certain locations. The story begins well with a strong hook and carries itself forward well. The opening is particularly atmospheric and does well to set its surprising grimmer tone. Thanks to the atmospheric tone and the brutality set in this opening you will find yourself right there with Redgi in his bloodthirsty revenge quest, every Frog Chief slain providing welcome catharsis. The story too is aided by the brilliant narration from Doug Cockle (voice of Geralt in The Witcher) who is a constant companion right through the game providing valuable insight and context to Redgi’s quest with that brilliant gruff tone of his. To his credit, Cockle has put plenty into this performance which comes through to help the game a lot.
There is one slight negative to the structure of the game, however. By a certain point Tails of Iron feels the need to try extending its run time by forcing you to carry out side-quests for more money to progress which dampens things somewhat. These side-quests by themselves are okay, but they detract from the momentum of the game and outstay their welcome slightly. Plus, many of these quests hinge on returning to the same parts of the sewers, typically, which is a grievance one because sewer levels are generally quite dull, and two because traversing the sewers again and again gets monotonous. There are only a couple of portions where the game is treading this ground however, and any other time when the story is carrying forward Tails of Iron fires on all cylinders.
Plenty to Nibble On
Overall I found Tails of Iron to be a very welcome surprise. This is a neat little game with plenty going for it, and would likely be a good weekend’s play session for anyone. Combat is strong and feels excellent; story is well toned and written; exploration is exciting and diverse; and the art style is both wonderfully beautiful in all its hand drawn glory, and sadistically brutal making for one hell of an experience. Highly recommend—particularly for those already a fan of the likes of Hollow Knight, the Dark Souls series, or other Metroidvanias.
So, scurry on over now and get to reclaiming your kingdom from the blasted Frog Spawn of hell!
Final Score: 8/10