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Iro Hero

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: Action
Publisher: EastAsiaSoft
Developer: Artax Games
Release Date: July 26, 2018 (US), June 7, 2018 (EU)


Switch Review - 'Iro Hero'

by Cody Medellin on Nov. 14, 2018 @ 1:30 a.m. PST

Iro Hero is a vertical shoot ’em up with beautiful pixel art graphics inspired by many old-school classics.

To some shoot-'em-up enthusiasts, Ikaruga was a defining title. The "bullet hell" style was starting to become the norm in the genre, but the color-switching mechanics differentiated the game from other titles and solidified Treasure's place as experts in the genre. The title eventually made its way to the Switch relatively intact, and it was as enjoyable and difficult as ever. If you've never played the game before and are a fan of the genre, picking it up is almost required. If you've already gone through that title several times on other platforms, you may be looking to Iro Hero to offer a different take on the genre and mechanics.

The story takes some cues from "The Matrix" and just about any story where new discoveries aren't necessarily used for good. It's 300 years in the future, and an alien race known as the Nyagu has come to teach humans how to harness the energy within them. While the discovery was beneficial at first for creating a new renewable energy source, the corporations and other alien races quickly turned it into something diabolical. Humans are now being treated as disposable batteries to power just about everything in the universe. We find our hero Iro taking off from one of these farms in an attempt to save his mother, but when that mission goes awry, he seeks vengeance instead. He has the power to develop two different energy polarities, and he sets out to punish everyone responsible and hopefully save the humans.

The inclusion of a story is always nice in a genre that usually ignores such a thing. The way the story is told here is bad enough that few may feel it would've been best to skip the narrative altogether. The cut scenes between levels are fine, but there's also dialogue being told during the missions. None of the dialogue is spoken out loud, and the text is split in small boxes located on both sides of the playfield. For anyone trying to follow along, it'll be impossible since there's almost always something to shoot at or avoid. Unless you have someone else watching you play and reading the text for you, you'll won't gather much information about the plot.

As a shooter, Iro Hero goes for the classic style instead of the current "bullet hell" style. You won't get curtains of bullets, but you'll still face off against regular enemies that fire from all directions in a set cadence, while bosses still populate the screen with firepower of their own. Your ship fires a steady stream of bullets, but you'll work with a polarity system that can change the color of your ship and bullets between red and blue. Depending on the color, you'll be able to destroy ships of the opposite color while also absorbing gunfire that matches your color. Absorbing bullets is the key to powering up meters that unleash either a series of homing laser blasts or a vortex that sucks up every enemy it encounters.

Beyond this, there are a few other things that Iro Hero does to add some variety to the gameplay. While your whole ship is vulnerable to enemy fire (not just the sparkling center), your craft can survive at least three hits before blowing up. The exception to this comes from collisions with anything that's the same color as you, as that spells instant death. Later on, you'll encounter special-colored fields that deflect your shots and change them to colors that you can't produce, like purple and yellow.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the game is its combo system. After destroying four enemies in succession, a bubble appears and lingers on the screen for a while. When this occurs, the more enemies you kill, the more those kills contribute to the bubble's score value. Once no more enemies are shot down, the bubble travels down the screen, and collecting it is the only way to score that bonus. It is an interesting idea that rewards mobility despite the fact that your craft isn't the speediest.

If you read any review about the game before going in, you'll have a better chance at survival than compared to someone who's going in cold. The game shares the mechanics in the same way it does the story; the information appears in the text boxes located to the left and right of the playfield, but because the text is so small and this is all being shown in the middle of firefights, you won't know about any of it unless you're willing to take some hits to read it. Without reading that text, the game design does a poor job of letting the gameplay teach you about these things. The importance of polarity switching isn't taught via the gameplay until after you've toughed it out against a slew of enemies and a mid-level boss.

Speaking of difficulty, Iro Hero is going to be the big deal-breaker for casual shooting fans due to the abundance of enemies and the overall length of the stages. Compared to a typical shoot-'em-up, the levels in Iro Hero are at least as lengthy. Combined with your slow movement speed, there are plenty of opportunities to get caught up in a hail of bullets, and unless you're good about polarity switching, expect to die often. Further adding to the sting of death is the fact that your continues send you all the way back to the beginning of the stage, so you can't even burn your continues to see what the final boss of a stage looks like.

The game features four modes, but once you break them down, they're really different levels of difficulty. Story mode allows you to have infinite continues and the chance to select any previously unlocked stages. Considering how tough the game is, expect to spend almost all of your time here. Normal pares down your continues to three, so it's only viable if you want more of an old-school challenge to complement the difficulty. Arcade mode only allows for continues if you're willing to sacrifice a hefty amount of points. Considering how punishing the continue system is and how big of a price you have to pay, that seems like a bum deal, especially since this is a mode that comes with online leaderboards. Finally, there's 1CC, which also has leaderboards but is really reserved for those who know the game inside and out.

The presentation ranges from fine to amateurish, depending on what you're focusing on. With the sound, the music is the best part, as it keeps up the tempo and is reminiscent of the great synth scores of the 16-bit era. It also makes a great counterpart for some of the enemy laser fire which comes out more as garbled noise rather than something distinct. Graphically, the game goes for a more pronounced pixel style that's like some of the modern pixel indie hits. It isn't as detailed as some, but it still looks good in motion. On the other hand, character designs are crude at best and make the cut scenes hard to watch.

Iro Hero is a decent game with a poorly thought-out execution. The game is difficult but almost unforgiving, as longer-than-usual levels and a high enemy count mean you'll start at the beginning of stages far more often than you'd like. The mechanics are barely explained in-game due to the ill-conceived layout, and the story suffers the same fate as well. With an inconsistent presentation to boot, Iro Hero is a game that's solely for hardcore genre fans, as everyone else will barely make it out of the first stage before deleting it in favor of other, better-executed shooters.

Score: 5.5/10

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