LOW How long it took me to figure out how to deal with black shields.
WTF Why aren’t more roguelike fans talking about this one?
2020 has been a year of absolutely stellar roguelikes, each one better than the last — and just when it seems like the latest can’t be topped, here comes another bringing a ridiculous level of heart and quality.
Iris and the Giant is a turn-based, card-based roguelike. While that may sound like the description of a dozen others we’ve seen recently, this one is an absolute standout in several ways.
The first is the most obvious — the artwork. With an extremely stylized and minimalist hand, everything is reduced to simple outlines and primary colors, yet it absolutely works. Each enemy looks and acts differently, yet they’re all immediately identifiable, not to mention that Iris herself is barely a few pencil strokes and a splash of color for hair, yet she’s utterly iconic.
Iris also stands out in a way not immediately noticeable, and that’s in the theming.
From the start it’s obvious this isn’t just an action-oriented roguelike. It’s soon revealed that Iris is having a difficult time in her life, and the way she’s dealing is by creating a game that represents her struggles – and of course, it’s the game that the player is interacting with.
This is far from standard roguelike fare, and it’s appreciated. Also appreciated is that the narrative is just as well done and minimalist as the visuals. It says exactly what it needs to say, nothing more, and the result is exactly what it should be.
The combat — the bulk of the experience — is as streamlined and effective as the rest, and in terms of design, it’s perfection.
Iris holds a handful of cards clearly displayed at the bottom of the screen, and the iconography for each one couldn’t be more user-friendly. These cards (axes, swords, balls of fire and such) are used to attack enemies arrayed in a gridlike pattern, and the player is free to move a cursor around to inspect absolutely everything before committing to a move.
Don’t remember what that red bull monster does? Move the cursor to it and a helpful pop-up appears, explaining exactly how much damage it does and what its powers are. The same goes for the weapons Iris uses, items scattered on the battlefield, or anything else onscreen. By surfacing every element and having this information readily available, the player can engage confidently at every step without confusion or hesitation about the consequences of a move.
Like the best modern roguelikes, Iris also tips its hat towards progression and permanence, and it’s implemented brilliantly.
As she makes her way through the adventure, she’ll unlock “memories” which are used to activate toggles in the pregame menu. Each one has a specific and powerful effect, letting the player tailor the experience to their taste. One lets Iris regain half her life at the beginning of each new level, one lets her choose which type of cards she’ll encounter in treasure chests, some bestow changes in how the turn-taking happens, and more – and all this customization is on top of choices between difficulty modes.
I found that Easy offered a satisfying level of challenge, but there are (at least) two more difficulties and a few more modes for those who want to sink their teeth in.
Every aspect of Iris and the Giant is honed to perfection and polished to a blinding sheen. It looks great, it plays great, it has all of the amenities I could ask for in a modern roguelike, and on top of it all, it’s got a touching emotional theme that made the journey more than worthwhile by the end.
Iris and the Giant is a masterclass in all aspects, and they just don’t come better than this.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Louis Rigaud and published by Plug In Digital. It is currently available on PC, iOS and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Fantasy Violence. Although the emotional themes might warrant some parental guidance, there’s nothing else to be cautious of. There’s no sexual content, no salty language, and the violence is totally abstract and stylized – not gory at all.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.I am not colorblind myself, but one thing to be aware of is that some enemy types are strongly color-coded. They are also visually distinct in many ways, but the use of color is something that warrants investigation before purchase.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the entire game on mute and had no difficulties. All dialogue comes via text and there are no audio cues necessary for play. Text is not resizable or able to be altered in any way. This game is fully accessible. (See text examples above.)
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.