Odd Bug Studio gave itself the mammoth task of creating a 2D souls-like and chose a fated hero to shoulder this burden and bring the vision to life: a rat. I got to experience the first hour of Prince Redgi’s story in a recent preview event, Tails of Iron’s engaging combat and beautiful storytelling meant I came away excited for more.
Let Me Tell You a Tale
Tails of Iron opens with Doug Cockle (Geralt of Rivia in The Witcher games) introducing us to a young rat prince overlooked for the throne. If you think that creates a definite atmosphere for Tails of Iron, you’re absolutely correct.
Cockle is immediately, unavoidably Geralt for anyone familiar with The Witcher, but as the story opened up, there’s a noticeable set of differences. Cockle infuses Tails with a warmth and even occasional lightheartedness that adds welcome notes of humanity and warmth to an often-brutal tale.
That’s exactly what designer Jack Bennett and the Odd Bug team wanted for their animal story. “Small critters fighting fierce opponents” immediately brings Brian Jacque’s Redwall to mind, or, in a different way, perhaps Richard Adams’ Watership Down.
Tails of Iron certainly includes elements of warfare and upheaval, but Bennett counts other animal tales, including Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows, among Odd Bug’s inspirations.
He said putting animals in key positions makes it easier to tell stories that affect people because the narrative isn’t about them. It’s also a fun homage to the team’s pets, as all the rats, including hero Redgi, are based on the director’s and other team members’ former rat friends, alas no longer scurrying with us.
The Soul of a Warrior
I only saw an hour of the story and Redgi’s struggle against invading goblin-eque frogs, but whether it was the timelessness of the tale or the abruptness with which Redgi’s life changes forever, it was enough to keep me invested.
Tails of Iron’s combat is a significant part of its identity, and so far, it’s fantastic. Redgi has a simple set of moves, including a regular attack, shield parry, and dodge, but almost every foe requires a different approach.
They’ll signal attacks, and you have a short window to respond with a parry, which opens them to further damage, or a dodge, which keeps you in one piece.
Odd Bug describes Tails of Iron as a souls-like, but the challenge itself isn’t the reason why. Bennett said the core of a souls like — and the reason he wants to make them — is the satisfaction you get from learning how it works.
A good souls-like keeps you wanting more, wanting to see what the next challenge is or how you can put your new skills to good use, he said.
Tails of Iron is certainly excelling at all of that so far. Combat is easy to learn, but just as you think you’ve practiced enough to stay safe, another enemy type lumbers on screen or you get access to new weapon types.
The Devil's in the Details
Redgi is a multi-talented rat, capable of wielding swords, spears, axes, and more. Each weapon drastically alters your fighting style. Spears, for example, increase your range at the expense of a more solid connection, and Bennett said you’ll have to weigh the benefits of each weapon type against enemy attack patterns as Redgi’s journey opens up.
The same goes for armor. Sure, that snazzy new helmet might keep your ratty noggin in one piece, but it weighs you down more.
That makes dodging more difficult and increases your vulnerability to heavy attacks, and though I only experienced one of Tails’ brutal boss fights, I can imagine how much more important those considerations will be later on.
It’s impossible to talk about Tails of Iron without mentioning its absolutely gorgeous art direction. Odd Bug used an extensive parallax effect, placing every asset individually, to create the sense of a living world. The result is, so far, one of the best-looking 2D games I’ve seen. It’s absolutely gorgeous and bursting with detail.
Tails of Iron is a big game in more ways than one, and I’ve barely touched on all of it. There’s cooking, Redgi can help those in need, and mentioning how incredible the design looks is just the start (even the loading screens have character and charm). It’s also manageable despite its density. Bennett said the final game should be around 10 hours, and that’s just if you’re racing through the main story.