Whilst I consider myself very happy-go-lucky when choosing video games, roguelites are one of my favorite genres. And within that, turn-based deck-builders are my favorite subgenre, so Iris and the Giant was right up my alley. I’ll admit, watching the trailer didn’t give me many ideas of what to expect, but I was soon able to pick it up after a few minutes of playing.
Given my preferences, I was confident I’d enjoy the game, but I wasn’t sure how it would stack up against veterans of the genre that I’ve played before such as Slay the Spire. Surprisingly, this simple indie title was able to not only match my expectations but exceed them!
Would I recommend Iris and the Giant over Slay the Spire? No, that game is the GOAT. But if you’re looking for something new and captivating to entertain you for a few days, this is absolutely going to satisfy that itch.
Tackling Your Demons
From a story-telling perspective, Iris and the Giant really tugs at your heartstrings. I had no idea that it would have such a strong narrative because in my experience, most roguelite deck-builders tend not to. Lore is usually sprinkled in, but the story falls to the wayside in favor of gameplay.
Not in this case, though. Iris and the Giant goes full force in telling a powerful story of a young girl struggling with mental health. There are several emotional cutscenes as you progress, and throughout combat, you can discover memories that further develop the story.
You’re playing a young girl named Iris, and the opening cutscene shows her atop a diving board, struggling with nerves. As the story deepens, we discover that Iris is dealing with a lot of inner turmoil. She’s being bullied by classmates and teachers alike, and despite their best efforts, her parents just can’t connect with her. The result is a deep loneliness in her soul, and that’s portrayed beautifully in the art and voice acting.
Personally, I found it very relatable, as school was a tough time for me, and I could certainly empathize with what Iris was going through. I love that the developer chose to take on such an important topic, as I feel strongly that mental health should be regularly portrayed in media.
I love how this story bleeds into the very premise of the gameplay. The combat is figurative, and it’s taking place inside your mind. Iris has to face hordes of demons, representing her inner doubts and fears. She banishes them using various cards, which represent her inner strength. The whole game is a story of inner conflict, and rising up against the darkest parts of your psyche.
Imagination is the Best Offense
One thing I love about Iris and the Giant is how it leans into creativity. None of what’s happening is real; everything is inside Iris’s head. Yet the gameplay feels so involved and immersive. There are so many different cards available, and this means you can customize your play style.
Although the game does offer several types of cards, the range of effects is minimal, so it does feel a bit repetitive after a few hours. It’s certainly still a lot of fun, but I think having secondary effects like poison or piercing would have made it more enjoyable.
You’ll encounter several different types of enemies, and something super convenient is that you can hover over them on the map. It tells you exactly what they’ll attack you for, and helps you plan your moves. Speaking of which, you can only play one card per turn, so you need to really think carefully. Once you play a card, it’s gone for good, so you also need to manage how many cards are left in your inventory, as you die when you run out.
Throughout your journey, you’ll discover imaginary friends, and these offer you boons to help you on your journey. You also find memories that give you points to spend on new skills. Collecting these will be integral to you beating the game. It’s a really clever element that rewards you for your determination and perseverance.
A Minimalist Wonderscape
The art style for Iris and the Giant is simultaneously brilliant and nothing like my usual preferences. I tend to like games to be bright and vibrant, but whilst that isn’t the case here, it really works. There’s an overabundance of blue, but that makes sense as it reflects the sombreness of her feelings. There’s also an appearance from the other primary colors, making for a well-balanced overall effect.
Whilst the game itself has a blocky minimalist style, the cutscenes are totally different. There’s hand-drawn line art depicting snapshots of Iris’s life, and it works so well. They look like they were drawn by a child, but not in a bad way. It’s a deliberate effect to make the emotional impact more powerful.
The aesthetic of the game changes as you progress. The earlier floors have a different design from the later ones. At first, the floors are pretty basic, with a few rocks here and there, and you exit via stairs. But as you go on, the floors get rockier, and you exit via pillars. Eventually, when you get far enough, you find yourself in a fiery hellscape.
The background music is subtle yet enjoyable, perfect for this kind of game. You don’t want tracks so exciting that they distract you, but at the same time, you don’t want something so slow and boring that you lose interest in playing. Iris and the Giant struck the balance just right when creating their soundtrack, and the sound effects are wonderful, too.
If you’re looking for other games similar to Iris and the Giant then allow me to suggest the following:
- Slay the Spire
- Ring of Pain
- Banners of Ruin
- Rise of the Slime
Overall, I was really impressed by Iris and the Giant, and I thought it was well worth the $14.99 price tag. You get so much packed into it, and there are so many secrets to discover. I would fully recommend this game to anyone who enjoys the roguelite deck-building genre.
There’s honestly so much more that I could say, so I implore you to play it so you can experience it for yourself.
- You can choose which skills to upgrade each run, allowing you to find a play style that works for you.
- Compelling art style that complements the powerful narrative.
- Decent range of cards and enemies to keep gameplay feeling fresh.
- You can complete challenges to unlock new imaginary friends.
- Some cards aren’t explained well, and this can lead to accidental poor plays.
- You can’t save and quit to restart the floor, so if you misclick, it can end an entire run.
- You can’t adjust the viewing angle, so sometimes large enemies will block what’s behind them.
Iris and the Giant Review: FAQs
Question: Which platforms are Iris and the Giant available on?
Answer: You can find the game on the following platforms: PS4/ PS5, Xbox One/ XSX, Nintendo Switch, PC, Android.
Question: How many game modes are in Iris and the Giant?
Answer: There are 3 difficulties – Easy, Classic, and Nightmare (unlocked after completing Classic). There are also three modes – Path of the Giant (the basic story), Path of the Ferryman, and Challenge of Chronos (time trial).
Question: What do Sorrow cards do in Iris and the Giant?
Answer: You’ll want to avoid getting these cards in your deck, as not only do they clutter it, but they also deal damage if you end up having to play them. You lose 5 will points, and it counts as your whole turn.
Melika played Iris and the Giant for five and a half hours over 11 runs, completing the Path of the Giant, and earning several achievements along the way.