To begin this one, let me say that indies on Steam are starting to become a generic thing, oddly enough. The deep, airquotes or not, writing to make up for a lack of budget and technical accomplishments. The simple-but-rewarding gameplay loop. The fact that it’s a Roguelike because Dark Souls and also Binding of Isaac. Dealing with themes of sadness, depression, isolation and loneliness. Playing a small child with a big head, in a big, scary world.
There’s so many games with these elements in them! It’s hard to get away from them. I just hope indie devs remind themselves that you can do something different! Just because everyone expects pineapple on pizza, it doesn’t mean that we have to all start being pizza heretics. Iris joins the Indie borg immediately by settling, in the opening cutscene, that it’s about a child with a big HAIR, not HEAD, and her travels through loneliness and rejection.
As she dives in a pool, she somehow ends up in Limbo. In quite a Bind, Iris must learn a way to survive Inside. Hopefully she Won’t Starve! But enough with the puns. Papers, Please! Or maybe just the check. Okay, now it is enough. As Iris is sent to the Styx river, “The place between the real and the imaginary”, and I must flex my having read a book once here: That is most certainly not what the Styx River is. It’s the river that separates the world from Hades. Additionally, if we’re there, Iris, just take a little dip! Instant invincibility. Worked well enough for Achilles until Paris 360 no scoped his heel.
I’ve waffled long enough; Onto the game! Iris and the Giant has a somewhat distinctive art style in that it’s minimalistic, like most other indie games, but white instead of black or darkish. It is still a bleak story about a child who everyone hates, possibly because she’s special and cries a lot, but I did not get all the memories. Maybe in the end it turns out she was an alien child. Wouldn’t know. The framing device is an advancing RPG grid where you can find memories about Iris’ life. She’s here to face her demons! And her demons are mostly cats and sad skeletons.
The tone is pretty consistent: Miserable and sad. Might surprise you, but it doesn’t make for a very enticing gaming experience. The meat of the gameplay loop is in playing cards, you see. And herein lies the problem, reader: you can probably figure out what a good hand is, it’s just that you may not always GET one. My luck build is fairly bad, and I fail to pull good cards at poker semi-consistently. Gamblor, the god of gambling, does not smile upon me often. Iris would work with this to give me a proper beating the first time I tried it on Nightmare.
Seeing as how it was kind of luck based, I decided to just drop the difficulty to normal. Lo and behold, the game still slapped me around like a ragdoll. As a wise man once said, a royal flush is a royal flush and makes your skill completely irrelevant. It takes long enough to pull a royal flush in poker, but there the reward is actual money. Here, it’s getting to know more about Small Child, Big Head #3417, Indie Protag of the day. I was turned off, yes. No use denying it.
The chibified skeletons, cats, bigger skeletons and so are all very minimalistic and cute and would make amazing whatsapp emojis, but it’s just not that interesting a world to dive into. I couldn’t really get to care about Iris because she was laughed at for stapling her ears shut or something, the silly Sue. Roguelike is roguelike and luck is luck, and never shall the two meet. This is Rogueker! Anyone could, easily, beat the game on NIghtmare if their pulls were just good enough. In it’s defense, the cards are very properly explained and it’s easy to make fancy plays off the bat. Very intuitive. Problem is, if you know what the good cards are, but still don’t pull them, well it’s like knowing a lot about rocket surgery and having no pump fuel scalpels.
Iris and the Giant certainly gets points for trying, but roguelike mixed with a heavy dependence on RNG does not make for a compelling experience, and the game isn’t tweaked enough to make it work or interesting enough to put up with it regardless.