Digital card games aren't really my bag, but Iris and the Giant caught my eye with its unique art style and promise of a "melancholic and gripping adventure" that blends CCGs, RPGs, and roguelikes. And I'm glad it did, because even though I'm pretty bad at it, I like it a lot.
It's not Hearthstone, but it's not trying to be, either. Developed by Louis Rigaud and inspired by his experience creating "interactive papercraft books" for children, Iris and the Giant tells the tale of a young woman facing her inner demons as she climb a metaphorical mountain to confront the giant that rages inside her. As she travels, she'll uncover fragments of memories that reveal more of her story and her reasons for undertaking this perilous journey.
To learn that story, though, you'll have to work through some pretty tough gameplay. The trip begins with a limited number of cards representing different attacks and defenses used in combat against enemies on a grid: Axes will attack all the demons in the front row of the grid, for instance, while swords can be used consecutively if you have more than one in your deck. Each time you're defeated, by running out of willpower or cards, the game restarts, but you'll earn rewards in the form of new cards and abilities that enable deeper success in subsequent efforts. It gave me a real sense of progress even while I was getting my ass kicked.
There are 51 cards to collect and assemble into decks that enable specialized approaches to combat, and various secrets and surprises to discover as you ascend the mountain: During one of my playthroughs, I accidentally attacked a rock instead of an enemy, which opened a secret passage to an alternate route. Iris' memories come together more slowly, in bits and pieces, "giving you new insight into the reasons behind your adventure in her mind."
If you've checked out Iris and the Giant previously, you might notice that a demo on Steam is now gone. The developers explained that it was taken down when the game was released, presumably because people who want to try it can take advantage of refund policies if they don't care for it. I'm not sure that refund policies are an adequate substitute for proper promotional tools, but it does seem to be the way of things these days.
Iris and the Giant is available on Steam and GOG for ten percent off the regular $18/£14/€15 price until March 5. The developer said that post-launch updates will add new features including gamepad support and UI improvements based on player feedback.