Tails of Iron first appeared on my radar a couple of months ago and there were a few things that drew me to it initially. Firstly was its unique 2D art style, it reminded me of medieval tapestries and I love the medieval era. Secondly, the narrator kicked in and he happened to be the one and only Doug Cockle. You may know him as Geralt of Rivia (or RATvia now?) from The Witcher series. Lastly was how interesting the story sounded with the characters.
The game arrived and the description said “punishingly brutal souls-like combat”. Just those words sent a shiver up my spine, as it has taken me many attempts over five years to get past the first boss in Bloodborne. Nevertheless, I remained undeterred and couldn’t wait to get into it.
Tails of Iron – A True Hero’s Tale
Tails of Iron is an RPG adventure game published by United Label Games and developed by a small UK studio based in Manchester called Odd Bug Studio. This is their second game following the success of the previous title The Lost Bear which is a PSVR exclusive released in 2017. You can read our review of that here. Tails of Iron releases on September 17th, 2021 on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Nintendo Switch. For the review, I played this on the PlayStation 5.
Though the game may take some inspiration from games such as Hollow Knight and Monster Hunter, the biggest inspiration comes from Dan Robinson’s (Team Leader – Odd Bug Studio) pet rats who are sadly no longer with us. During development, they were always there to keep morale high and he wanted to make a game that highlighted the positive aspects of his rodent pals. The rats were brothers as they are in the game and you can tell a lot of love has been put into making it.
Trouble is afoot in the once peaceful Rat Kingdom. Greenwart and the unforgiving Frog Clan have invaded the kingdom once again. Not only have they succeeded in their invasion, but they have also eliminated King Rattus the Saviour. With the kingdom annexed and the land in ruins, to add insult to injury, all of the brothers have been taken captive. The survivors of the attack need leadership, and that unfortunate burden descends upon young Redgi, the heir to the throne. Even just typing that, I had narrator Doug Cockle voicing it in my head. Anyway, moving on.
As the player, you take control of Redgi, and it’s down to you to rescue and rebuild the Rat Kingdom. For a new king, Redgi sure does seem to run a lot more errands than actually giving orders. But great leadership means to lead by example. On your quest, you will meet companions and you will have to battle many foes and a lot of bosses to battle to reclaim the land!
Companions can be a great help in battle, but sometimes I found them the be a bit of a hindrance. Only so much to say as they look so similar to Redgi, it’s easy to confuse who is who. Although there is the narration that tells the game like a story, there is also a minimal amount of communication with NPCs. This comes in the form of speech bubbles and pictures setting out your objectives. Considering there is no text accompanying this, it is remarkably easy to understand what it is you have to do.
During your quest, you will visit four regions; your home Crimson Keep, Long Tail Village, Mole Town, and Frog Village. As you play through and take on side quests you will come across many varying enemies. Side quests are available from a public message board and are a great way of acquiring gold and new gear. Each enemy will have its own attacks and you will have to familiarise yourself with them. Combat reminded me a lot of some older games where you would have to learn enemies attack patterns and react accordingly. You don’t have much time to react neither. You will get visual cues to indicate what kind of attack is coming. It’s just learning these attacks which will take several attempts, and the bosses can be VERY challenging. I’m looking at, you Mozi Queen!!!
When taking on a boss it is paramount that you have the right tools for the job. Thankfully you will know when a boss is coming because you may see them lurking in the background. This can be quite subtle though. Also just before your impending demise, you will have a chance to save by resting on a bench. Telltale sign!! You may also find a healthy supply of arrows, poison for your weapon, and a barrel of bug juice. You can fill your tankard with this to heal Redgi. This can also be harvested from certain bugs you might have to murder on the way. You will also find chests where you can customise your loadout with the various one-handed, two-handed, and ranged weapons you have collected. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. You will see the text “You Died” quite a lot if you’re not ready.
Take a look at my gameplay below where I take on Lans Alut. This will give you a taste of the combat involved.
The bosses are challenging but very fun to fight. Some of their names are just genius. Names like Stabba Stabba and Hulk Molgan who bears resemblance to a certain wrestler are just brilliant. Combat is fluid, as are your defensive moves such are dodging, parrying, and rolling. Again, use the right move at the right time and you will be fine.
During your questing and side questing, you will come across various weapons and armour. These each come with their own characteristics. Some will add or reduce weight at the cost of defense which is noticeable. If you are running about with weapon in hand, you will be slower unless you put your weapon away. In combat, this will also affect your evasion. Some amour will also have resistances to certain enemies thus reducing damage taken. Weapons will also vary in attack speed and strength so it is worth experimenting with loadouts so you can adapt to any given situation.
You will find blueprints scattered across the land which you can give to your Smith once the forge is rebuilt. He will then craft weapons and armour for you as well. These can also be purchased from the shop. You will find food items too. After rebuilding the kitchen at Crimson Keep the Chef will create new recipes which will give you a permanent increase to your health bar.
I loved and loathed some of these boss fights. Some I felt like I cheesed my way through, but others I felt I spent far too long on. But with each death, comes a new lesson learned. Now at times, it did feel a little annoyed when hacking away at a boss and their health bar isn’t deteriorating. Sometimes a boss would disappear off-screen for a partner to take over. It’s understandable that during that transition they may not take damage. But I’m talking about in battle. For instance, The Grubmother missed an attack, so I went in to hack her to bits. I got six hits in as she lay there on the ground and her health bar depleted only once. Once she had recovered, she was close enough to hit me with a devastating attack.
It didn’t happen all the time though, this is a minor gripe in an otherwise fantastic little game.
Graphics & Audio
I absolutely adore the hand-drawn 2D art style of this game. It was the first thing that piqued my interest. Despite the macabre scenes of death and destruction that adorn our screens, it retains a certain charm. What I found that was done particularly well was the parallax scrolling of the environments. They added a certain amount of depth to each part of the 2D landscape where ever you were, enabling you to imagine it in a 3D way. Even the lighting looks fantastic. I grew up on 2D side-scrollers and I was very impressed with what I saw here. Even better as it is in native 4K at 60 frames per second.
The dulcet and gravelly tones of The Witcher were the perfect choice of narrator. I can’t imagine anyone other than Doug Cockle telling the story, and that isn’t just because I am a big Witcher fan. I spoke to both the studio and the publishers to find out how they got him on board. This is what United Label had to say;
“We thought he’d be an excellent fit for Tails of Iron so we reached out to his agent, Doug Cockle loved the game and was happy to be the narrator for us in the end. Relatively straight forward!”
Well, that seemed easy! The sound effects are great too. When you land a hit it really packs a punch. Also, very satisfying hearing the squelch when carving up a dead bug to refill your healing tankard. The ambient music works very well. The menu has a lovely modern-medieval type thing going on with an almost tribal feel until the flute comes in with a calming melody. During the game, it is mostly ambient effects like rain falling or the echoes of workers and bugs scurrying within the mines. When there is music, it is suitable for each environment, with boss music being more energetic, and darker, deeper low tones when underground. All executed very well. Although, when the rats do talk, I can’t help but think of The Clangers with the noises they make.
The main story will take you about 10-12 hours, though this is skill dependant. I feel this is just about the right length given the story of rebuilding your kingdom. There is plenty to explore and different types of gear to find. Add that with some reasonable trophies/achievements that are highly achievable, a platinum trophy shouldn’t give you much trouble. Many of these trophies will be collected naturally so there are a good few hours on top.
Tails of Iron is more of an adventure game with RPG elements. This is a really charming game, and quite cute, but not in the traditional sense. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and meeting new characters, even the unique bosses of which there were many. The combat is challenging and punishing, but rewarding when you do take down a boss that you have been stuck on for half an hour. The art style is fantastic and suits the game exceptionally. And of course, the legendary Doug Cockle narrating is just the icing on the cake. Add into that, this game is great value for money and isn’t one you can complete in an evening. The best part is that it is out now! What are you waiting for?
Odd Bug Studio is just a team of six people, and they have created a fantastic game. Therefore, I award Tails of Iron the coveted Thumb Culture Platinum Award. Congrats Odd Bug, I can’t wait to see what you do next!
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.