Tails of Iron for Xbox and PC uniquely blends fairy tale charm with hyperviolence, and I love it
Murder, mayhem, and mice.
Tails of Iron launched a little while ago across Xbox, PC, and other platforms to relatively widespread acclaim. The game enjoys an 84 rating on Metacritic as of writing, but I feel that — like many indie titles — not enough people are aware of its existence. I'm here to use my limited platform to let you know that indeed, Tails of Iron is awesome, and you shouldn't be deterred by its Soulslike inspirations and comparisons.
Tails of Iron is a Metroidvania at heart ultimately, and although it does wear its Soulsborne inspirations on its sleeve, I'd argue it's not quite as tough, with frequent save points, and little punishment for dying. It's by no means a walk in the park, though. Being the heir to all Ratdom is fraught with all sorts of peril, whether it's larger animals, evil factions of frogs and mosquitos, or mysteriously mutated undead rodents, it's on Redgi's shoulders alone to save his kingdom and people.
Tails of Iron is a hyperviolent fairy tale that somehow manages to be wholesome and gruesome at the same time. It's also narrated by Geralt of Rivia for good measure. Here's why Tails of Iron is one of 2021's best Xbox games you probably haven't played.
Without a doubt, Tails of Iron has some of the greatest art direction of 2021, juxtaposing gritty locales and unrelenting gore with an aesthetic you'd sooner expect to see in a children's book.
Redgi's kingdom sits nestled on the edge of a dank swamp, where all manner of critters and creatures make their home. Narrated by the dulcet tones of Doug Cockle of Geralt of Rivia fame, it's all too easy to imagine Geralt reading Tails of Iron as a cozy story to a young Ciri. Indeed, Tails of Iron, like The Witcher, is heavily inspired by dark fairy tales and medieval folklore. And like those classic fairy tales, it has a very, very dark edge.
Right from the beginning of the game, Redgi bears witness to the wholesale slaughter of his people. A surprise attack from an army of frogs and toads catches the rat kingdom off guard, splattering Redgi's family's innards across the walls and floors of his castle halls. Redgi inherits the kingdom by default, and takes up sword and shield to avenge his fallen king.
The rats communicate with cute squeaks and symbols, elaborated upon by Doug Cockle's narration. The narration is light-hearted and often funny in tone, which layers whimsy and wholesomeness on what is otherwise a fairly bleak and gory presentation. The game's art style is desaturated as if captured from the pages of an aged book, with gorgeous illustrations and animation that offers something new around every corner. The game's sizeable world sports a Metroidvania-like structure, with areas becoming unlocked as Redgi acquires new equipment to move beyond certain hazards. Dark forests, maze-like sewer structures, ancient rat catacombs, and more await, filled with secret loot, dangerous enemies, and deadly bosses.
Triumph through vulnerability
Tails of Iron undoubtedly wears its Soulslike inspiration with pride, although I wouldn't let that put you off if you're interested in playing. It's not a full-blown RPG in that sense. There is no EXP system, and you don't lose any of your items upon death. It does have a yellow "bug juice" flask for self-healing, clearly as a nod to Dark Souls' Estus Flask, and has a weight system that forces players to balance slower movement with heavier defense. Players who opt for heavier armor will have a harder time rolling out of heavier attacks, but will take far less damage when blocking. Through the game's sizeable pool of armor and weapons, you can tailor your gameplay to suit your preferred playstyle.
Tails of Iron's combat leaves players quite vulnerable in general, too, even if you do opt for higher defense and slower movement. Bosses and other enemies telegraph their attacks with different color codes, signaling many unblockable attacks, parry-vulnerable attacks, and ranged attacks before they move in for the kill. Some attacks have no telegraph, however, and must be learned through trial and error. Redgi can parry most regular attacks using carefully timed shield blocks, leaving enemies vulnerable to heavy attacks of your own. Redgi can also slide and dodge roll to avoid heavier incoming damage.
Enemies generally have set patterns and are quite lenient when it comes to learning through each combat sequence. You can give yourself an advantage by swapping armor sets around for battles that might favor speedier combat. Some armor sets even come with specific resistances against certain types of enemies.
The sense of vulnerability that permeates the game's combat, while not overly tough, does give you a satisfying sense of accomplishment when overcoming some of the game's beefiest enemies. Giant mosquitos, weird lizards, toad warriors, and all other manner of beasties and deadly critters await Redgi, as you unravel the mystery of the latest attack on your kingdom.
Forge your tale of iron
Tails of Iron is a wonderful little game that recently nabbed a free update, dubbed Bloody Whiskers, which adds new difficulty modes, new bosses, and a new quest chain to the already decently sized 7-9-hour game.
The main downsides of the game, for me, so far, has been the re-use of areas and forced side questing which gate the progression of the main story a bit. Hurts the pacing, and makes the mid-game drag a bit. The combat is fun enough that it's not too much of an issue, though, given that I'm still thoroughly enjoying my time with the experience, and find myself compelled to learn more about the game's intriguing plot. Geralt of Rivia's voice does help there, too.
Tails of Iron is one of 2021's best-kept secrets. It's a true hidden gem of a game, and certainly something you should consider grabbing if you're looking for something to play in between some of this quarter's upcoming Xbox games. Great price, great gameplay, and Geralt — this dark fairy tale is worth every penny.
E-rat-icate the frog horde
Tails of Iron is one of 2021's best-kept secrets, with satisfyingly tough combat, a whimsical yet violent hand-drawn world, and a beefy amount of Metroidvania gameplay.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!