Iro Hero from Spanish developer Artax Games begins in the year 2306, a century after mankind was taught to produce electricity from their own inner energy. Eventually, evil enterprises started to exploit humans by farming them to produce power. What was given as a gift became a curse. When Iro’s mother dies, imprisoned on a farm, he realizes he has the power to alter humanity’s fate.
The controls in Iro Hero are pretty simple, “A” fires, “R” changes the color of your ship, “X” activates the Tesla Shock homing attack, and “Y” unleashes the Gravity Ignition weapon. You can absorb bullets that are the same color as your ship to power up the Tesla Shock (and later your Gravity Ignition.) You can only damage enemies if they are the opposite color of your shot. Things get crazy with the introduction of surfaces that can reflect as well as alter the color of your shot. Energy fields of opposite color will destroy you. All these elements make for some pretty fun shooting with a sprinkling of strategy for good measure. Unfortunately, power-ups are few and far between and don’t last very long.
Iro Hero is made up of 9 extremely challenging levels. There is little room for error as you’re only given 3 lives to complete long and difficult levels. Repetition and memorization are required and I found myself cursing out loud more than once! Visually the game reflects the classics of yesterday with a vibrant 16-bit art style. It generally looks great, although I was looking for more variety in ship design. They tended to be a little generic. The hand-drawn art for the cinematics is a nice counterpoint. The music is fantastic and really drives the action. The game runs well in both docked and handheld modes but I did notice an occasional hiccup during transitions. I enjoyed playing in handheld most as it was easier to take note of all the action at once.
One big questionable design decision is having parts of the story told in text-heavy dialog on the side of the screen. This happens in tandem with action continuing to unfold front-and-center. This may have worked with voice acting but shifting focus to read the text can easily end in disaster. A 2 player mode and the ability to rotate the screen into the vertical position would have been nice options for the Switch edition.
Overall, Iro Hero is a solid shmup that draws its influence from Treasure’s classic Ikargura meant for those in search of an extreme challenge. The unfortunate flaws in the story delivery and lack of creative ship designs certainly detract from the game’s overall appeal. Its unforgiving difficulty will likely be off-putting to newcomers to the genre, but it will provide intense satisfaction for hardcore shmup fans.