‘Song Of Iron’ Review: Valhalla Can Wait
Song Of Iron is an impressive solo effort from game developer Joe Winter who made the game all by his lonesome—though the gorgeous, Viking score was composed by Will Goss.
This is a great looking—and great sounding—game, even if it is a little rough around the edges. The action-platformer may lack the polish a larger team would bring to the table, but that’s part of its charm.
You play as an unnamed warrior (you can choose male or female but that’s the only choice you’ve got) whose village has been burned by enemies, who sets out on a quest through a stunning world of sweeping vistas, dark forests and even darker caverns.
Along the way you’ll acquire new powers and abilities that will help you navigate the perilous world. You’ll face down, and probably dodge-roll around, countless foes from human warriors to orcs to massive trolls.
Action and Combat
Song of Iron is primarily an action game. There is no leveling up, no character customization. You can pick up different weapons, from hand-axes to broad swords but there’s no indication of how much damage each weapon does. Some are two-handed; otherwise you’ll sword-and-board.
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Combat is decent but feels clunky and a little awkward at times—perhaps unresponsive is a better word. Hitting an enemy lacks oomph and it’s too easy to get turned around. But once you get used to it, you’ll find a rhythm and it’s pretty fun.
You can also use your bow to shoot enemies from a distance or hurl any melee weapon you’re carrying. Enemies always drop their weapons so if you lose yours or your shield breaks, there are plenty to salvage.
As you progress you’ll unlock magical powers to bolster your arsenal. You can imbue your weapons with fire or lightning, supercharge your speed and unleash a powerful stomp.
Platforming And Exploration
Outside of combat you’ll solve puzzles, platform across trap-filled levels and try to find your way. That last one occupied quite a bit of my playthrough.
The game is “old school” in that it doesn’t show you where to go. There is no map, no dotted line or hovering arrow, no objective markers. You just have to look around until you find the path, and sometimes that’s not easy to find.
Suffice to say, I found myself stuck several times and while I did get a little frustrated I also realized that it’s probably more about me than the game. I’ve become so accustomed to games telling me where to go that it’s almost a rarity when one doesn’t. A little frustration as you search isn’t such a bad thing.
Puzzles are all pretty simple. Sometimes you just need to figure out where to drag a big block to reach an area you couldn’t. Sometimes you have to find little runes and light them up in order to open a door. Stuff like that—nothing too difficult though again, you’ll have to figure it out without guidance.
Platforming can be frustrating in the same way combat is. There are various traps that can one-shot kill you, crevices to plummet down and so forth and that’s all fine except for some wonky controls. (I played entirely with a gamepad on my PC as keyboard and mouse just didn’t feel great to me).
Perhaps my greatest irritation with platforming was the left joystick. The right joystick controls dodge-rolls. The left joystick controls movement. But if you double-tap the left joystick it also dodge-rolls. This happens far too often entirely by accident, sending me rolling off a cliff or into a swinging hammer trap too many times to count. Platforming requires nimble reflexes but if the controls sabotage you when you try to be quick that can suck the fun right out of a game.
Song of Iron is a minimalist game. The story is bare-bones. It’s a 2D side-scroller that lasts maybe four or five hours depending on how quickly you find your way and how well you handle combat. It gets a lot right but it’s definitely rough around the edges and anyone considering buying it should go in knowing that.
Still, there’s lots to admire about this one-man effort. I love how enemies come from the background and foreground before entering the 2D plane. I love how powerful the score is and how real and vivid the environments are. The game is moody and evocative and rich, and once I got the controls down I wasn’t bothered by the clunky controls—or at least not as much.
The game’s final chapter throws a in a pretty big twist which I won’t spoil here. Suffice to say, things get weird very fast. It’s a bit jolting and definitely set up for a sequel.
All told, Song of Iron is a rough but engaging game that grabbed my attention at the first clash of arms and kept me happily cleaving my way to the bitter end. Hopefully future patches tighten up the experience.
A Steam code was provided to review this game. You can find Song of Iron on Steam.
Check out my video review of the game, which includes a good chunk of gameplay footage, below:
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