Iris and the Giant is a collectable card game that blends in a nice amount of role-playing and strategy elements, wrapped up into an experience that encourages you to push past the fear of failure. It uses a beautiful primary colour palette and cubist-like art style to illustrate its sincere tale of a young woman overcoming her battle with depression.
Watch the video to find out more or read my thoughts below:
Iris and the Giant follows the game’s main character after she gets dropped off at a swimming lesson. She finds herself struggling to dive into the pool as kids laugh at her from below. A fairly obvious metaphor that kicks the game off into an exploration of her struggles with depression and anxiety.
Iris then finds herself on the river Styx, except instead of it being the connection between the living on Earth and the underworld as it is in Greek mythology, for Iris it’s a land that separates “the real from the imaginary.” It’s here that she fights her way to the top of a structure. Each floor is full of her inner demons.
Every level shows an isometric view of a grid of enemies lined up in rows. Their main purpose is to kill you before you can reach the stairs to move on to the next level. It’s all turn-based, so knowing who to go after first is crucial and forgetting a key player in the enemy’s offence can lead to a swift dismantling of your own defence.
You fight demons by randomly drawing from a limited pool of cards that correspond to different melee and ranged attacks, defensive manoeuvres and healing abilities. After each attack, assuming you deal enough damage to defeat an enemy, they are cleared from the grid and the enemy behind them moves to the front of the line.
The challenge of deciding which enemies to prioritise and when to hunker down and defend provides some pure blissful moments of strategy. Clear enough enemies and eventually you’ll find a staircase that leads to the next floor of the massive structure. There are even secret paths to the top that Iris can discover.
Offensive abilities start out simple: melee attacks are most effective close up, and long-distance archery attacks work for ranged enemies who aren’t on the front lines. The formula eventually gets a little more intricate once you encounter enemies who can resurrect fallen allies, or monsters who must be killed together in one move.
The good news is that along with the enemy’s growing resistance to your attacks, your arsenal also evolves as you defeat more demons. As you continue on your climb, you’ll encounter chests that give you a limited selection of attacks, defensive and support manoeuvres, and special abilities.
The more enemies you defeat, the more stars you’ll pick up to put towards your personality. Your personality includes things like your overall health cap, how many turns you can use a shield for, or the ability to hold on to certain cards after a number of turns.
Certain personality upgrades can really change the tide of a fight. For example, just getting an extra turn to defend myself with a shield has given me more time to execute plans that let me dig my way out of a tough spot.
There are also red crystals you can pick up along the way for a chance to add some special cards to your deck that can help clear screens of enemies. There’s an incentive to continue pushing forward, even if you’re on your last legs, because the break you’re looking for just might be around the corner.
And when there’s no help in sight, you can even steal cards from enemies in order to have enough in the tank to get you through a fight. But when that moment comes where defeat seems inevitable and there’s no way out, you’re encouraged to take the loss and come back even stronger next time.
Before Iris starts her climb to the top again, you may encounter one of her “memories” as an collectible item on the grid. These are illustrations with some text underneath that provide a little backstory and insight into Iris’s past and present.
They’re all personal and intimate struggles with bullying, anxiety, and Iris’s retreat into games to escape it all in her bedroom with hand-drawn representations of her demons taped on the wall.
At the start of every run, those memories you’ve collected can be used as passive abilities to help with strategies like making multiple moves in one turn or providing a better chance to find more effective attacks in chests. You’ll also unlock “imaginary friends” who can help give you additional passive abilities like higher drop rates for rare cards. The higher up you climb, the more tools you can unlock to make avoiding defeat a little easier.
All of these rock-solid mechanics are welded together to a story that encourages you to not only become comfortable with loss, but rewards you for starting all over again by making you stronger and letting experience help dictate your path forward instead of just instinct alone.
Iris and the Giant’s simple hand-drawn aesthetic lets the game’s core themes shine through and stand on their own. It’s a blend of a solid, proven formula that communicates a sincere message through its design. And to me, those are the moments I enjoy the most with games.
Iris and the Giant is available on Steam for Mac, Windows, and Linux.