Ready to take on a new deck-builder on PlayStation with an excellent art style? Then check out our Iris and the Giant review!
We all love a good deck-builder, right? Throw in some Roguelite elements, a bit of RPG, and sprinkle an intriguing story about depression and the difficulties around it, and you might get yourself Iris and the Giant from lone developer Louis Rigaud and publisher Klabater. You play as Iris, a little girl going through an impossibly hard time. Due to an incident at school, Iris finds herself in Hades, having to fight for her survival. Given a deck of cards by the ferryman, Iris must fight her way to find the eponymous Giant.
So how exactly do you fight? Well, Iris is on her own against a conveyor belt of monsters coming to her in waves, and she must use her cards to defend herself against the monsters. Your cards come in different flavors. Basic swords allow you to attack a single enemy in the front row, while the bow allows you to attack a single enemy at a distance. The axe can be used to make a sweeping attack hitting multiple enemies, but only those in the front row. As you progress, Iris gains access to different types of magic and other types of weapons. It is up to you to assess which weapon is best suited and which enemy is most pressing.
Those familiar with roguelite deck-builders will be on the back foot from the start as the game doesn’t follow the usual conventions of the genre. The first thing you will notice is that you will only be able to play one card per turn, and once you play that card, it’s gone for good. Whilst it’s possible to gain a copious amount of cards to play and gain abilities that allow you to play multiple versions of the same card as you progress, these abilities are few and far between and not guaranteed to appear in a run. It feels overwhelming to be hit by power attacks after power attacks, and all you can do is retaliate with a single counter. But with patience and strategy, you begin to understand the nuances of the combat system.
It is in your best interest to be constantly scanning the battlefield to see not only what is in front of you but also what is coming in the distance as you see heading towards you on the conveyor belt. It’s not just enemies but also rewards such as treasure chests that can be of use to you as the game progresses and also detritus that hinder you from attacking certain enemy but also hinders them from approaching you. If you are wise, you will be able to use these to aid your fight. Analyzing the enemy formation can yield certain advantages as you are able to find and neutralize the enemy’s weak link or lynchpin. For example, there is an enemy that carries a bomb with the intention of throwing it at you once they get to the front line, but a well-placed bow shot can cause the bomb to explode and take out its comrades. If you are able to get a good synergy going, it can be quite rewarding to see things go your way.
Whilst this is definitely a unique quirk of the game and very interesting, it does not take away from how unfair the combat seems to be. Thankfully most enemies can be one-shotted… at the earlier waves. But towards the end, you have a multitude of regenerating enemies, enemies with armor, enemies that create armor for other enemies, and enemies that can create new enemies at will. Yes, the onus is on you to break the chain, but it does feel unfair when you send your one hit and receive about 10 in return. And the enemies are not wimps, either. They hit quite hard- but this is not my main gripe with the combat. The combat can be excused for being more like a puzzle than a straightforward deck builder. What I do dislike is your inability to discard your hand.
At the start of each run, you are given four cards, with each played card replaced by a random one from your deck. If you happen to draw an unwanted card, I am sorry to say that card is likely to be in your hand until the end of your run. There are abilities you can find that occasionally allow you to reshuffle your hand once per wave. The fact that you are restricted to having such a staple of deck-building behind an ability wall seems an odd design choice. Way too many times did I find myself with max HP and nothing but healing cards in my hand. I had no choice but to take an unnecessary hit from the enemies just so I could heal and then draw another useless card again.
Nuances of combat aside, there are other elements of the game’s design to like. Upon defeating certain sub-bosses in a run, you can gain access to some of Iris’ memories that allow you an insight into some of the circumstances that lead her into her current predicament. Unlocking these memories allows Iris access to certain boons during the next run you attempt. The way everything is presented and themed in the game all ties into the difficult subject matter that the game touches upon, and for the most part, it is done elegantly.
In terms of presentation, this is where the game excels. The art style is magnificent. The cartoonish childlike character art reminds you constantly of where you are. The presentation of the monsters, the execution of the art style, the visuals of the magic, everything here just looks wonderful. The soundtrack does a magnificent job of complimenting the gameplay and the feel of the player’s progression.
All in all, Iris and the Giant is a fun endeavor for people who are trying to get into deck-builders/roguelikes as a genre. It is not too involved or complex and keeps things simple for most of your playtime. With that said, seasoned players of the genre will probably struggle to deal with the inability to have true control over their deck, the inability to discard or exchange your hand on a more consistent basis, or the overwhelming nature of some of the battles. Iris and the Giant is an experience worth having though many may struggle to truly ingratiate themselves with what strives to be a noteworthy experience.
Disclaimer This Iris and the Giant review is based on a PlayStation 4 copy provided by Klabater.