Release Date: June 7th 2018
Price as of Article: £11.69 GBP $12.99
Game code provided by eastasiasoft for review
If you know me, you know I’m never going to shy away from reviewing a shmup. Whether it be an arcade classic or a modern take, I’m always up for a shmup. The latest on my review list is Iro Hero, a brand new shmup for the Switch. No, it’s not a port – it’s brand new!
I actually have to give the developers, Artax Games, some credit for the fact they have gone to the trouble to include a somewhat interesting story into Iro Hero. Human kind are being farmed for their produce. In this far future story Humans have been taught how to produce energy for themselves and are being exploited as such. After Iro, the hero of the game’s mother dies in one of these farms, he decides to take a stand.
I was interested in the story but I feel its implementation and presentation aren’t quite up to it. The beginning and between-level story boards are a little flat. They don’t look great and there’s no narration which makes it come across as cheaper than I would have liked.
Mid-level story exposition is handled a little clumsily too. While you’re flying your ship, dodging obstacles, you’re treated to conversations between Iro and other people who’s character art are on the border screen with text dialogue. You can immediately see the problem here. You’re too busy concentrating on the (admittedly calmer) action to read what’s going on. It just doesn’t work for me. Either the action needed to stop completely or there needed to be voice acting to portray the conversation better.
Iro Hero is a vertical shooter that takes a lot of inspiration from another recent Switch release, the classic Ikaruga. Featuring the polarity mechanic we all know about you switch the colour of your craft with the shoulder button. If you are red it means that you can destroy the enemies that are blue and vice versa. You can also absorb the bullets of the same colour as you, not only to escape scot-free but also boost your special weapon.
Enemies come in a variety of types and formations. Some are static, shooting straight ahead, others will chase you down or shoot homing missiles and such. I can’t say I noticed anything I hadn’t seen before but that’s a minor point. The polarity mechanic brings in an almost puzzle like aspect to the game, especially when it comes to boss battles, of which there are plenty. I like this idea and it really helps drive home that at heart, Iro Hero is a memorization game.
So those are the mechanics of the game, pretty standard, nothing we haven’t seen before but done well. The most important thing I have to tell you though, is that Iro Hero is a very difficult game. So much so, that I’ve decided to hand in my gamer card. Because frankly, just looking at it Iro Hero doesn’t look hard at all. But the fact is that it’s incredibly brutal and stingy when it comes to allowing the player to progress.
You have 3 lives. You lose those lives then it’s game over, back to the beginning. It’s surprisingly strict for a modern game. You can buy lives at the end of each stage with points you’ve earned, allowing you to top back up to 3 but that still doesn’t ease the pain. Again, just looking at the game you would think 3 lives per stage should suffice. Bullets are fairly easy to dodge or absorb using the switching mechanic but it’s the collisions with other craft that provide the frustration. Whether it’s getting dive-bombed by speeding crafts, many with a homing charge, or getting pinged by enemies popping out from the sides or circling back from below, collisions are an absolute nightmare and the primary reason for losing a life in Iro Hero.
I mean in my play time I only reached level 4 out of 9. Which is poor for sure I admit that straight up, but I only have a certain amount of time for games to review. I know if I had a good dozen more hours I would get there eventually but Iro Hero really could have done with more accessible options. I’m all for learning levels by heart, and given the time I’m sure I will memorise everything: enemy placement, boss tactics, ideal positions and pickups, but for many this will be too retro arcade difficult. Even the most brutal of shmups on the Switch are equipped with training wheel options for players of a lower skill.
The music in Iro Hero really superb. There are some stellar music tracks for the stages here. They all have this upbeat arcade-y feel to them, similar to what I heard in Sky Rouge which I reviewed not too long ago. For me the soundtrack really lifts the game up and may well be the primary reason for the game not getting too stale on repeat plays after dying countless times.
Visuals & Performance
The visuals of the game are okay, most of the pixel work looks great and the backgrounds are fantastically detailed. These are some very dense sprites and it suits the game very well, giving everything a very satisfyingly chunky look. Where it falters is in the art direction, the enemy ships look quite generic and different enemies with different patterns are not as distinguishable as they should be in my opinion.
Another thing is the artwork for the cutscenes and character portraits. They are fairly low quality compared to the rest of the art style of the game. They have an unfinished, rough drawing look to them, which can look quite nice if done well or fits with the rest of the game, but it doesn’t look great here for me.
Performance-wise Iro Hero runs very smoothly in both docked and handheld mode. No frame drops that I noticed but there is one small thing that did bother me, and that is the load time after dying. If you want to restart after death you’ll be waiting a good half a minute before you can start up again. The first time I died I thought my game had crashed.
Another slightly negative point is the lack of a vertical screen mode. Iro Hero seems primed to be able to take good advantage of the Switch’s versatility but it doesn’t. Whether this was due to short development time, lack of interest from the developers or that they just didn’t want to think about how to go about telling the story with the character in the border art, I don’t know. But personally I would have happily sacrificed the story for a vertical mode.
At $12.99 or £11.69 you may think that, looking at Iro Hero, it’s not worth that price. But I think the amount of hours you’ll need to spend in order to complete the game, it’s not too bad. You’ll get your hours-to-money worth for sure. Whether you want to spend all that time mastering this little shooter is another question entirely though.
Cheap looking cutscenes