A passion project from one-man developer Resting Relic, this game caught my attention with its art design when I first saw it at the Xbox Summer Showcase back in 2020. I’ve finally gotten my hands on the title and had a full playthrough. While not quite what I was hoping for I think there is enough here to warrant your attention. Please allow me to explain why in my review of Song of Iron.
A One Man Band (and it shows at times)
The single developer of this title is Joe Winter. I’ve followed his work on the game over the years as it went from a small side project into a full-on Xbox and PC release through his determination. Everything in the game takes place on a flat 2D plane, with fore and background movements being restricted to your enemy types. The tale begins with your unnamed character rushing back to his village, finding all his people either slain or taken by a rival clan. Over the course of 2 to 3 hours, you’ll run to the right of the screen as you search for your seemingly magic-powered armor in a bid to gain the favor of the Gods as you seek revenge.
Control-wise things have a standard setup with one neat exception. The X button is your standard and power attack, depending on if you press or hold it down. A is your jump and climb button, with the latter again requiring you to hold it. B is a powerful kick that sends foes crashing to the ground, and you’ll gain a stomp that opens areas on the ground nearer the end of your run. Left Trigger is sprint, Left Bumper is Block, Right Trigger is to draw your bow, and Right Bumper is your interact button. The right analog stick is used to roll in the two directions or crouch by holding down. Overall the system is ok feeling in 1 on 1 combat, which most of the game is thanks to the 2D plane you’re stuck on. Things begin to fall apart a bit when you’re surrounded by enemies, though with the roll you can quickly get them all on one side and then begin spamming attack. I say spam because if you block someone there is no real response to it, they can still attack you again before you can get a strike and block in yourself. The only move that has any weight to it is the kick, but even there it is nearly impossible to attack someone before they’re back up after kicking them. The combat is simply not fun, and deeply unsatisfying overall. The one part of it that I did have a lot of fun with was the Y button, which allows you to throw your equipped weapon directly into an enemy’s head. It felt satisfying every time and you get an upgrade near the end of the game that made it even better. The bow and arrow can feel similar but too often I found myself shooting well over enemies on the 2D plane.
There are magic upgrades tied to finding pieces of gear that add a small amount of variety to things, but even then they felt incredibly weak, and enemies never cared if they were on fire and being hit with electricity. One of the biggest upgrades is a timed speed boost that allows you to jump over large distances as you can run at a much higher speed. The mana bar refills when you’re next to what seems essentially to be wireless charging technology with a bright blue LED. Your health and stamina will refill on their own over time, this leads to long sections where you repeatedly wait around for 5 or 20 seconds as the meters slowly tick up. It’s frustrating just how often I had to stop running or climbing because my stamina had depleted after only a few actions, and this is a huge detriment to the platforming which has its own issues.
Insta-kill Traps and Poor Controls? Not fun! But that story…
The majority of the platforming in the game is based on a few core concepts. First, there are the “run, jump, and climb before your stamina runs out” ones. Next is the “move this box here so you can jump a bit higher and climb” variant. Finally, we have the “if you touch this you instantly die” platforming sections which really killed my enjoyment whenever they appeared. Song of Iron uses a checkpointing system and some of these puzzles, though basic in nature, could take upwards of a few minutes at a time. Dying in these sections due to the controls for running and jumping not feeling great, or the timing being broken on them if you used the move faster spell was incredibly frustrating. Having poor platforming on top of the mindless combat hurts a narrative that started out feeling one note and then opened into something truly crazy.
There is no way to say what it is without spoiling it, so I won’t as I keep reviews as spoiler-free as possible, but the only reason I could see recommending this game at $20 to someone is the narrative. No one on this planet could figure out where the story goes, and I went from immense frustration during the poor final boss to happy bewilderment as I neared the end of the campaign.
Beautiful and Memorable Music, Pretty Graphics, and a Bunch of Bugs
The soundtrack of the game is wonderful. As there is no voiced linework here it is key in helping to set the mood and it nails it. The writing is sparse, but when it is there it’s ok. It doesn’t reach the highs of the music, but it gets its point across in a succinct manner. I made sure to record some of the game’s music for the video review and I’ve been listening to it a lot. Along with the art style and story, it is the true highlight of the title. Getting back to those graphics.
Nothing in the game is what I would call gorgeous, but the use of light, perspective, and choices in the design of the world are all well done. The camera pulls in and out at times, but it never shifts perspective. There were a few occasions in combat where foreground objects obfuscated my character, but thankfully that wasn’t a common occurrence unlike some of the bugs I ran into.
One of the negatives of a 2D plane is that you can find yourself stuck in various situations. Name anytime I had a box near a wall and an enemy who decided to stand on my head. Thankfully the game’s light physics system did allow me to jump into the box enough to give the enemy room to fall off me a few times, but I had at least two times where I had to restart the game as I simply could not move. Add in things like enemies who just froze on the screen before disappearing, and one instance where a rock elevator wouldn’t trigger, and it compounded on my frustrations with the combat and platforming in a very negative way.
There were many times while playing this game that I felt it simply wasn’t that fun, but time and time again I ooh’ed and ahh’ed at the graphics and music. As it’s a very short 2 or 3-hour experience if that and the promise of a very interesting ending is enough to entice you then there are worse ways to spend your time.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC|
|Release Date||August 31st, 2021|