This Mouse Means Business
HIGH Finding the Moleshevik Republic.
LOW 50% of the Arena Bosses.
WTF Great, now I’m haunted by a picture of the long-dead mice that inspired this game.
Tails of Iron seems, at first, like an incredibly easy sale. Cute little mice wearing armor and swinging swords? What’s not to love? These adorably medieval rodents promise a thrilling adventure full of capering antics… but then, a bunch of murderous frogs turn up and things get incredibly bleak, incredibly quickly.
Just how rough is it? I was hoping for smooth, 2D soulslike combat. I got that, but then I also got finishing moves where the hero Redgi tears the jaw off his opponent and leaves them sprawled on the ground, drowning in their own blood.
A combat-focused 2D action/adventure, Tails of Iron‘s plot kicks off on the day when Redgi is set to be named Crown Prince once his elderly father passes away. That winds up happening much sooner than anyone expected, as Redgi’s ceremony is interrupted by a frog invasion — it seems the Kingdom had let its guard down after past victories, and no one imagined the frogs could have mustered a new army so quickly. One thing to note is that we learn all this via a narrator. In an unexpected twist, the characters speak only using vague symbols in word bubbles over their head, so the game is dialogue-free, save for some voiceovers explaining the symbols.
Picking himself up and dusting himself off, the new King has a rough task set out for him — he must rescue his siblings, get his kingdom back on its feet, and take the fight to the frogs. This is accomplished via light exploration, platforming, and a whole lot of combat.
Fighting is the primary focus of ToI’s gameplay, and the combat mechanics are pretty fantastic. There’s a wide variety of enemy types, ranging from the standard frog troops to zombie mice and horrible lizards, but all of them fight using the same basic rules, so players who master the fundamentals of combat will be comfortable with whatever they come up against. Enemies have four different attacks, each one telegraphed in a different way to tip the player off to the tactic they should use to defend. White marks for projectiles that can be blocked, yellow for physical strikes that can be parried, red for unblockable attacks that must be dodged, and big red circles for stomp attacks that Redgi must give a wide berth to.
The system works perfectly most of the time. Every new kind of enemy has unique tricks, of course — some attacks surprise with speed or range. However, move has a counter-strategy, and other than a couple of nasty bosses that spam unblockable, uninterruptable attacks for 30 seconds at a time, the combat is extremely fair and skill-based. Notably there’s no stamina bar to keep an eye on. Redgi can attack indefinitely, but there’s a slight lag after each attack, just long enough to make the combat feel weighty and to let enemies rally so they’re not stunlocked into oblivion.
There are no levels or upgrading in Tails of Iron — all improvements are built around equipment combinations, and every weapon and piece of armor has an effectiveness and weight rating. The heavier things are, the stronger Redgi’s attack and defense will be. The tradeoff is that the heavier Redgi gets, the more slowly he moves, and the shorter his dodge distance is.
Armor suits also offer bonuses against specific enemy types in addition to their raw defense stats. For example, one might offer 50% protection against frogs, while another would offer the same against mosquitos, and so forth. Players can only change their equipment at gear chests, but there’s enough of them around, and there’s usually plenty of warning about what kind of enemy the player is up against next. This limitation on gear-swapping is never too much of an obstacle.
While there’s no question that the combat in Tails is good, it’s somewhat undercut by a mission structure that serves to distance the player from the action. Every one has the same basic structure — walk to a place, kill some monsters, then either head straight home, or pick up an item then head straight home. There aren’t any puzzles to solve, nor any platforming to do. No, combat is essentially the whole ballgame. While that’s not necessarily a problem, the motivation behind the quests becomes more important given the lack of supporting content, and in my view, it fails to motivate the player.
About a third of the missions are relatively interesting — rescuing kidnapped mice, defeating warbosses, meeting a race of Communist moles — there’s plenty of good stuff here. However, the other two thirds boil down to busywork that pad out the campaign’s running time. For instance, the player will be told they need a certain amount of money to complete a task, and the only way to do it is to be sent to a location they’ve already seen to fight monsters they’ve already defeated.
Script-wise, the developers have not written dialogue for the characters. As mentioned earlier, the animals communicate in pictograms that a narrator translates, and this conceit puts up a wall that keeps the player from feeling too involved in the world. While it’s always nice to find a new piece of armor or a weapon while on a quests, it would be nice if the player was offered more direct narrative motivation to help make up for the lack of variety in the gameplay.
The combat in Tails of Iron excels. The brutal, methodical mechanics never stop being satisfying, but I wish that I felt like I was doing it for more vital reasons. I can appreciate the artistic choice behind keeping things dialogue-free, I just wish the rest of the game felt as vital and interesting as the melee does.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Odd Bug Studio and published by United Label and CI Games. It is currently available on PC, PS, XB and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 25 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes..
Parents: The game was rated T by the ESRB and contains Blood and Violence. Keep kids far from this one. Cute animals being torn apart by melee weapons isn’t something they need in their heads. Also, I really feel like the healing method — where the player drinks bug blood from a flask to replenish their health — might count as an alcohol reference.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be be altered and/or resized. I played almost the entire game without sound and encountered zero difficulties. This is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.