Last week, the roguelite card game Iris and the Giant came out on PC and Mac. In it, you control Iris as she climbs through various floors of an underworld inspired by Greek mythology. Soon enough, it becomes clear that this underworld is a creation of Iris’ imagination, and is in fact a metaphor for some deep-seated depression. All in all, Iris and the Giant is a lovely, meditative game. It’s also maddeningly difficult. Here are some tips to help you master the game’s challenging turn-based combat and navigate the underworld like a modern-day Hercules.
Iris has 51 card types at her disposal. There are physical attack cards, like swords and axes, which deal basic damage. There are defense cards, like shields and healing spells, which protect you or heal you. But the most powerful cards in the game—at least in the first few floors—are the magic cards. Fire cards attack foes in a straight line and can defeat up to three enemies in one go. Lightning cards, meanwhile, will attack all enemies of the same type. So if you’ve started a floor facing off against eight minotaurs and a cat, using a lightning card means the fight is now between just you and the cat.
When chests pop up, it can be tempting to open them right away. Unless you’re in dire need of a boost to your card deck (remember: running out of cards means game over), hold off. Instead, attack chests twice. That will cause them to explode and deal damage to any enemies on the stage.
Beating each stage is simple: clear out the enemies in your path and make it to the stairs. For some stages, though, there’s a second set of stairs. Always take the second set of stairs. Sure, they might lead to a bonus stage with powerful enemies. But, more often than not, completing these extra floors rewards you with rare prizes, including Memories (the only permanent upgrades in this roguelite). Even if it means losing, those Memories will help you in future playthroughs. For instance, one early upgrade creates an alternative enemy type that, if defeated, will give you an extra turn. Play your cards right, and you can take out an entire floor without giving your foes a chance to attack.
When you level-up, you’ll be presented with a randomized selection of upgrades. You might instinctively spring for Will, an upgrade that increases your total HP. Even if Will is one of your options, hold off and save it for a future level-up. In addition to boosting your total HP, upgrading your Will will also fully heal you, so it’s best to play things smart and wait until you’re at low HP. Instead, level-up your Imagination (increases the amount of cards in your hand), Determination (heals 1HP for every physical attack you land), or Optimism (heals 1HP for every crystal you find, which is a boon, because crystals are fairly common in Iris’ version of Hades).
A few floors in, you’ll come across bright-red enemies that look like floating campfires. These jerks don’t attack you directly, but they can set your cards on fire. When your cards are on fire, they become worse than useless: they’ll actively slash your HP if you use them. If you see any fire enemies on the field, take them out immediately—even if that means opening yourself up to other attacks. It’s a smarter move in the long run.
Most enemies are frail and will go down in one hit. Some are equipped with armor, which protects them against two, three, or even four hits. But if you use a dagger, you’ll be able to take out anyone in one go, regardless of armor. Save these for enemies like the big Minotaurs, some of whom have triple-stacked armor (meaning it would take four sword cards to defeat them).
Whip cards are among the most useful cards in the game. Use one on a second- or third-row opponent, and you’ll immediately pull them to the front. This is an effective strategy for manipulating the battlefield, whether you’re bringing a tough enemy to the front for an instant kill or using a weaker foe as a shield. But you should know that whip cards have more uses.
Once you progress a few floors, you’ll encounter annoying enemies that eschew direct attacks and, instead, set down bear traps. If a trap reaches the front row, it’ll deal eight damage (a significant amount, considering you start with just 30HP). Use a whip card on one, though, and the trap will go off where it is, dealing damage to the enemy in front of it.
Also, if you’re done with a particular level, use a whip card on the stairs. That’ll bring them to the front row where you can end the level instantly. This is especially helpful when the stairs are blocked by boulders or other obstacles.
About midway through your climb, you’ll encounter Cerberus. Just like legend, the three-headed dog’s job is to prevent souls (in this case, Iris) from leaving the underworld. However, in a mythologic deviation, the Cerberus of Iris and the Giant has Hydra-like qualities. Cut off one head, and it’ll come right back. Your job, then, is to take out all three heads in one fell swoop—and that’s easier said than done.
First, you’ll want to use magic or arrows to remove the individual armor of each head. Then, strategically take out enemies and obstacles so all three heads are in the front row. If you have an axe card, play it, and all three heads of Cerberus will disappear. For your efforts, you’ll be rewarded with a powerful magic ability unlock. (Bonus: If you’re able to use a steal card on any Cerberus head, you’ll get a card that defeats any enemy, regardless of protection, and fully heals you.)