Iron Danger – A Unique Trip Through Time
Look I think I have a thing for indie games that play with time in interesting ways. Both Stories: The Path of Destinies and Omensight became some of my favourite titles in the year of their release. The way these titles looked at the concept of time as something more than a way to mark the passage of hours and minutes drew me in and kept me playing to the very end. So when Iron Danger came across my vision I knew I had to, at the very least, check it out. A CRPG that promised cool time-bending mechanics mixed with the usual trappings of the genre? Sign me up. So not knowing much else, I dived in and, I have to say, fell a little in love with Kipuna and this time-based-tale.
To set the scene the game starts with the player taking control of Kipuna, a charming lass who just happens to have the bad luck of being around during the sacking of her village by an invading army. During her attempt to escape from the incoming hordes she falls into a chasm and finds herself impaled on a glowing stone of power. That is until an otherworldly voice comes to her, showing her how to reverse time. Time winds backwards and she misses the chasm but still has a piece of the stone embedded in her chest. Kipuna then discovers her ability to manipulate time and the game proper begins.
Throughout the game, Kipuna travels with a companion at pretty much all times and during the normal course of events, both characters move together, doing RPG things like exploring and pinching stuff out of unoccupied houses. But when combat arrives, so does the ability play with time. Instead of going to a turn-based system like a lot of similar games do, this is a heartbeat based system. Each move in combat is played out in heartbeats. For example, a simple attack or block might take one heartbeat, while a powerful smash attack or spell could take 4. Makes sense? Well, now we add the twister. Each character is controlled individually, so they both have their own timeline in which you have to juggle their movements individually. Now to finish it all off you can rewind heartbeats on the timeline and this my friends is where I fell in love. I think the easiest way to explain is to give examples. You enter an area full of enemies, you get Kipuna to send a fireball at the enemies and then dodge out of the way an incoming arrow. During this Topi, your faithful blacksmith buddy gets hit by an enemy so you rewind the timelines, leaving Kipuna’s moves intact and focusing on Topi’s. You noticed before that the fireball left its target stunned so you direct Topi towards that enemy and strike him with your hammer just as the fireball lands, creating a combo attack. Another example was a sort of boss battle with a giant rooster. Using the two timelines I led the rooster on a chase, leading it towards a giant suspended rock, while with my other character loitered near the chain that held the rock, waiting for the perfect heartbeat to strike the chain and send it crashing down, leading to a KFC dinner for all. If all that sounds confusing don’t worry, it really isn’t. The entire system is intuitive and powerful and I was constantly amazed at the ways I could use it to my advantage, creating new tactics on the fly.
Out of combat, the system is used nicely for some environmental puzzles, or as a storytelling device, but essentially you are here for the combat. Speaking of storytelling, apparently, the game takes cues from Finish legends and stories, telling an entertaining, if a little forgettable, tale. Kipuna is a wonderful character who I really fell in love with, but sadly the other characters are not so likeable. This probably has a bit to do with the voice acting, which for the most part is wooden and emotionless, understandable for a small game like this, but a little disappointing none-the-less. The world its self is broken up into small, explorable maps, each of which considered a chapter in the story, so this isn’t a sprawling CRPG with a massive world to explore, it is more of a succession of well-designed bite-size chunks (perfect for a Switch port, just saying). The overall design aesthetic puts me in the mind of something like Torchlight, though not quite as cartoony. It is a look that suits the game well and the character design is a highlight.
There is one more minor niggle I feel the need to talk about and that is the camera, which can be a little problematic at times. It does have a habit of not picking a great spot to focus on and adjusting it can be a little fiddly. On more than one occasion it led to me not noticing an incoming enemy, but thanks to the time mechanic, the frustration was minimal. The camera also makes it hard to tell what in the environment can be interacted with, even with a highlight button which points out things that can be manipulated. It is important to note that there isn’t a lot of traditional RPGing here. Skills are upgraded at the completion of each map, by picking one of 3-4 choices. There is no EXP, looting or armour and weapon upgrades outside of what the story gives you. None of this mattered to me, in fact, I think their absence was refreshing and allowed me to focus on the pure joy of the heartbeat based combat.
Honestly, this game is worth your time for the superb and unique combat. The fact it is wrapped up in such a professional and entertaining package is only a bonus. I have never seen or played anything like this and I immediately want more of it. The few minor niggles, which are more than likely budget-related, in no way affected my enjoyment of what deserves to be a breakout hit for the studio. I have a feeling, when 2020 is said and done, I will be seriously considering Iron Danger as one of my indie titles of the year.
Iron Danger was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by Deadalic Entertainment.