Iris and the Giant is a card-based roguelike with an incredible art direction, simple gameplay, and a great message. It is somewhat polished and runs flawlessly in the browser with mechanics that are easy to understand, but relies too heavily on luck.
In Iris and the Giant, you play as Iris, a young girl, when facing a scary moment on the diving board at swimming practice, enters a world in her mind that is inspired by a Greek Mythology book she was previously reading and is forced to defeat the monsters that she encounters. There is an obvious theme of facing your fears, and it is shown quite explicitly by the game’s mechanics.
The mechanics consist of drawing cards from a deck and making sure your will, the game’s term for health points, does not deplete. The use of will instead of health shows that Iris and the Giant is trying to portray that the will to continue is the most important aspect when dealing with mental conflicts. The cards each have their own abilities, such as axes that hit enemies on the first line in front of you, bows that can damage any enemy on the battlefield, whips that can bring enemies, chests, or stairs toward you, and many more types of cards. The goal is to reach the stairs to ascend to the next floor but to do that you must defeat every enemy that is blocking the stairs.
The losses obtained from bad luck felt awful, but due to how quick the game was, each death’s bad taste only lingered for a minute or two. The roguelike mechanics make death lose its negative impact, yet doesn’t offer enough rewards to make up for the loss of time. Every time you die, the stars you obtain during your life fills a meter which unlocks gifts or friends. Gifts are effects that carry on to your next life, such as having five thunder cards in your deck at the start of your life. These gifts work really well sometimes, and fail at other times, making progression uneven. Friends, however, are one of the mechanics that stay indefinitely. Friends are people you will meet when completing tasks, such as reaching level 9, and they offer abilities that will help you like keeping a card in your hand for a turn when you usually draw a new set of four cards each turn. Friends are generally hard to unlock, but offer abilities that are consistently helpful.
The only other unlockable are souvenirs, which completely change the game by giving you abilities that change the gameplay entirely, making the use of specific cards not end your turn, and changing which types of cards can be found in chests. I am not certain what determines when souvenirs become available, as they seemed like a random occurrence when playing. I have a feeling that it is determined by some form of RNG, but I may be wrong.
The gameplay is classified as a turn-based card game with roguelike and RPG elements, but I think one of the best parts of the game is that it is secretly a puzzle game. The goal of each level is to get to the stairs, but it is really about using the most effective strategies to make the stairs appear at the earliest possible moment by making precise moves and tough decisions. The chests, which hold a large sum of cards, can also be attacked twice and turned into an explosive bomb that damages every enemy on the map, and the whip, which can be used to change the position of enemies on the map, can also be used to trigger traps that will deal crushing blows to enemies. This tactical aspect of Iris and the Giant is where it shines the brightest.
The art direction is also an amazing aspect of Iris and the Giant. Every character has very flat, paper-like models and it works very well with the overall theme of the game. It shows that in our mind, we often do not see things in a realistic way and we generally see these monsters in our heads as beasts that can never be defeated, and we see ourselves as very weak beings that will never overcome the obstacles that we face. The very flat and paper-like art style really portrays the weakness we feel mentally, but also shows that the fierce monsters we are fighting are made of the same material, our thoughts.
I think that the story of Iris and the Giant is one that most people can relate to. Times where our thoughts of disappointing others and embarrassment have taken us over and defeated us. Even though the story is very simple and not very fleshed-out, as we do not know who Iris is and do not know anything about her relationship with her father, the plot still gives us some connection to Iris and makes us want to help her.
The only things that were lacking in Iris and the Giant was accurate translations and a soundtrack. The game is currently in beta and offered for free in hopes of obtaining a translator and a publisher, so this criticism is mostly a signal boost that this game is very great and in need of some help for polishing reasons.
Iris and the Giant offers a lot of neat mechanics, art, and decision-making opportunities, but due to its problematic progression rate, perks that are lacking power, and a heavy reliance on luck, some of the charm is lost during long play sessions. I have high hopes for Iris and the Giant’s future, and I am excited to review it when it finally releases. With some editing and addition of translators and some music, it will become a game that is addictive, fun, and beautiful.
You can play Iris and the Giant in your browser here!