Shoot 'em ups with polarity mechanics are nothing new. However, Iro Hero offers a simplistic albeit challenging take on the formula.
Iro Hero is the most basic shoot 'em up that I've played in a long time. All you basically do is fly around, shoot, and shift colours. Of course, if you're familiar with the genre then this will immediately remind you of Ikaruga and you wouldn't be wrong. Absorbing bullets of the same colour even fills a meter that you can use to unleash a Tesla Shock attack which is itself very reminiscent of the special shot in Ikaruga. However, the enemy forces in Iro Hero are much less impressive. You'll come across basic enemies that just shoot forward, foes that fire homing shots, and kamikaze ships which are the most annoying. Even boss ships aren't much different to regular enemies. Sure, they're more powerful but their attack patterns are stereotypical and don't offer anything exciting. Overall, the gameplay in Iro Hero is simple stuff and although it's easy to digest, the resulting shooting action is far more generic than you'd expect.
Thankfully, the soundtrack of Iro Hero contains some of the best music that I've ever heard in an indie game. Even though I was almost constantly irritated by the gameplay, listening to the upbeat and thoroughly enjoyable tunes made the journey much more fulfilling. Honestly, if you could buy Iro Hero's soundtrack then it would probably be worth more than the game itself. Anyway, the graphics are decent with competent character art and simplistic foreground action that's unambiguous. The best part of the visuals is the backgrounds that scroll underneath. If you take the time to observe them, they're surprisingly detailed and make each stage feel unique. However, one part of the presentation that drives me insane is that you're almost constantly presented with information and story text that appears at the sides of the playfield. How are you supposed to ever read it when you're concentrating on the gameplay?
One thing that Iro Hero does very well is feature a distinct scoring system. Essentially, an energy bubble will appear after defeating certain enemies and as you keep blasting away foes, this bubble absorbs energy from your defeated enemies. If you don't feed it fast enough, it drops and you can then collect it. Sometimes, if I juggled enough enemies, my score would more than double. It's a very cool system.
Although this scoring system is rewarding, the core gameplay is so tedious that it's hard to enjoy even while trying to get as high of a score as possible. The main contributor to the tedium is the fact that stages go on for far too long. If you look at most classic shoot 'em ups, levels last about a minute or two and the ones that don't are full of exciting moments. Here, a stage can last about five minutes and nothing particularly interesting happens for that whole time. The stage designs themselves are quite humdrum with tons of monotonously easy segments spliced with the odd tough section, many of which are puzzle-oriented. So, you'll find yourself flying through minutes of unchallenging gameplay only to perish from something that you weren't expecting. After playing again, you'll hopefully remember that it's coming just so you don't have to trudge through the boring parts again. It's far from exciting stuff.
Finally, one simple implementation would have remedied a lot of Iro Hero's problems. Simply put, if there was a button that you could hold in order to speed up then the tricky parts wouldn't be such a pain in the ass. Your ship moves incredibly slowly so you have to be thoroughly prepared for each puzzle section because if you lag behind, you'll likely get stuck behind a wall. If you could speed up then this wouldn't be an issue. I hope a patch is released that adds a speed up button and if it is, I'll be sure to update this review.
Fantastic music and unique scoring system aside, Iro Hero simply isn't a fun shoot 'em up. It definitely has potential but its tedious and often frustrating stages make it an easy shmup to pass on even if you're a huge fan of the genre.
- + Simple shmup gameplay with a cool yet familiar colour-swapping mechanic
- + Awesome music and detailed backgrounds
- + Rewarding scoring system
- - Stages go on for far too long and many sections are downright tedious
- - Reading while playing is nearly impossible
- - Ship could use a speed-up function