From Redwall to Moss, fantasy scenarios about adorable mice are a safe bet when it comes to intriguing an audience.

A knight fighting a dragon is a perfectly acceptable thing to make a game about, but transform that knight into a barely-anthropomorphized mouse in armor with a miniature sword and shield, and suddenly the project offers a whole new appeal. Luckily, the developers behind Tails of Iron didn’t rest on their furry art design — the gameplay is as tight as its medieval rodents are adorable.

Set in a dark and gritty fantasy world, Tails of Iron casts the player as the crown prince of a mouse kingdom. On the very day he’s to prove his worth as heir to the throne, an army of frogs swarms over the kingdom, killing without mercy and destroying the prince’s home. Now it’s up to the prince to find a way to save his kingdom from the amphibian invaders.

Tails of Iron follows the standard template for a 2D soulslike with methodical, skill-focused gameplay. Weighty attacks, parries, dodge rolls, and counters all feature heavily, and combat is mostly what the player will spend their time doing.

ToI‘s big departure from the soulslike template is the lack of a stamina meter. According to the developers, stamina meters promote a kind of combat that is far more defensive than what they have in mind. ToI‘s combat flow is all about taking the fight to the enemies, dodging in close, countering attacks and viciously slashing them as they recover — having to worry about depleting a stamina bar would completely hamstring the goal. Other than one training sequence, every fight in the demo was against multiple foes simultaneously, which gives every battle a frantic energy that feels very different than other entries in the genre.

Tails of Iron‘s presentation is absolutely stunning. While the player only ever moves in a 2D plane, every area has a surprising amount of visual depth. Items in the foreground and background are placed at dozens of locations along the Z-axis, leading to some of the most impressive parallax scrolling I’ve seen lately. While the characters are all vector-based (as opposed to being animated sprites) great care has been taken in puppeteering their movements to give each character weight and energy.

While I only got my hands on a few weapons and pieces of armor in the demo, the developers have promised a huge assortment of offensive and defensive equipment including over twenty different sets of armor, each one offering different tradeoffs between protection and weight. As such, players will be able to tailor the Prince’s equipment to their preferred playstyle, allowing them to transform him into anything from a speedy gunslinger to a stomping iron wall with a crushing hammer.

With its brutal combat and bleak story, Tails of Iron could have been a slog if it had taken on a traditional medieval theme but the anthropomorphic character design does an incredible job of managing tone. The plucky speed of the diminutive mice and the ugly, brutish motions of the villainous frogs are marvels, and these are characters I want to see more of. Tails of Iron has easily secured itself a spot near the top of my ‘must play’ list.

Tails of Iron will be released on all major platforms September 17th, 2021

Daniel Weissenberger
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