If the success of Guitar Hero and Rock Band have told us anything, it’s that millions of gamers harbor dreams of being able to step onto a stage and rock out a concert. The bright lights, the loud screams, the adoring fans. Who wouldn’t love the fame and glory of being a rock star? Iron Roses is a casual adventure game that focuses on this idea, as you help a girl guitarist achieve her dreams by reuniting her old band and winning a record contract. It’s a promising concept, but unfortunately the ideas fall short as the game itself is drab, dull, and ridiculously easy even for a casual game. The characters do their best to make up for it, but there’s just too little for them to do.
Iron Roses is told as a flashback, as our protagonist Alex explains that her band, the titular Iron Roses, is now a household name, and she reflects on how her rise to fame really began. At the start of the game, Alex’s rent is late and she promises her outraged roommate she’ll get a job. Arriving at a nearby nightclub hoping to get hired as a janitor, Alex feels destiny’s pull as she meets up with her old drummer and hears that a Battle of the Bands is taking place in a few days at the very club she’s trying to get hired at. The prize? A record contract! Deciding that this takes precedence over earning her rent, Alex sets out on a series of tasks to find her old band members, get equipment and instruments for all of them, and perform a killer set at the competition, all before the deadline passes.
The point-and-click interface of Iron Roses is fairly typical. Each location in the game has a variety of hotspots, all of which can be displayed for you by hitting the “hint” button on the off chance you have trouble finding something. Some of these are only to be looked at, some can be picked up, and some are exits to other locations. A simple right-click brings up your inventory at the bottom of the screen, where you can grab items and click them onto hotspots as necessary. Every once in a while the scene will change to a minigame or puzzle that vary in style, but the game helpfully explains the rules and controls before each one.
There are many other characters in Iron Roses who can be conversed with as simply as clicking on them. The interactions are extremely streamlined, which isn’t unusual for a casual game. You will virtually always have only one choice besides “end conversation”. After each step, if that character has more to say there’ll be a new dialogue choice along with the opportunity to replay any old sections of the discussion. Surprisingly, every line of dialogue is voice acted, but if you’re impatient and a fast reader, a simple click skips the dialogue line by line.
Not that skipping dialogue is very relevant here. There’s a lot of conversation and some of it tends to drag, but the voice acting is generally impressive, particularly for a casual game (most of which offer none to begin with). Alex herself is a bit clichéd, with her gung ho style and rocker chick persona, but she has a lot more character than many protagonists I’ve played lately. The rest of the cast is fairly two dimensional. You have the constantly swearing nightclub owner who is the stereotypical jerk, the music store proprietor who is the stereotypical geek, and the restaurant owner who is the stereotypical bi... um, the stereotypical “extremely difficult to deal with lady”. Plus a large number of others who have generally good acting but forgettable roles.
It’s a good thing the voice acting mostly works, because the dialogue is the only true entertainment Iron Roses generally provides. The fun of an adventure game, even a casual one, is in solving puzzles and challenges to access more of the story. But the obstacles here are so basic, repetitive, and bland that it’s hard to tell what kind of fun was meant to be had. There’s a take on the hidden object activity, where you’ll have to find several similar items in the same area. This can be anything from pieces of paper to house keys, but whatever it is, they’re always easy to see and the exercise feels more like busywork than anything else. The whole point of hiding objects is the difficulty in finding the items, but there’s virtually none here. Some of the minigames have a little bit of challenge, usually involving clicking spots on the screen quickly, such as when Alex needs to shoot literal computer bugs before they infect a computer or when she needs to take orders efficiently as a waitress. But while these do provide the occasional moment of fun, they’re over quickly and aren't nearly as common as the not-so-hidden object variety.
There are a very limited number of typical adventure game puzzles involving objects in your inventory, but these too are so ridiculously simple they act more like fetch quests than puzzles. Cleaning up garbage at one point is as simple as finding the broom, then clicking the broom on the mess. In another scene, you have to decipher a safe combo from the objects in a room, but there’s only one object that can be examined. Clearly these are designed for inexperienced adventurers, further supported by the narrated tutorial starting the game, yet even genre newcomers will surely wonder why that’s all there is.
The beginning of the game is quite linear as Alex starts to unravel her destiny. But after the plot is established and Alex knows what she’s meant to do, that linearity falls away somewhat. There are several times throughout the game where she has multiple tasks and you’re free to choose between them. This is especially true towards the end, when she’s assembled the band but still has to track down all the essentials like amplifiers, microphones, and instruments. It is nice that the game doesn’t hold your hand each step of the way, but unfortunately the freedom doesn’t really add any complexity to the tasks themselves.
Most of what Alex does has a distinctly pedestrian nature. Trying out as nightclub janitor is only the beginning for her; Alex picks through garbage at least four or five times throughout the game. At one point she has to do other glamorous quests such as replacing a printer’s ink ribbon and finding generic books in an attic. I understand that Alex, unlike many other adventure protagonists, finds herself in a somewhat realistic world and can’t be reasonably expected to have tons of exciting conquests. But that doesn’t make gathering cake ingredients for her landlady any more interesting.
This dullness applies to the graphics as well. While there are tons of locations for Alex to visit, they all look downright monotonous. The artists have added a bit of color where they can, but there seems to be no way to make walking down dirty city streets and alleys and visiting internet cafes visually appealing, at least not with the sparse detail on display here. The quantity and variety of locales are admirable, but it would have benefited the game to use fewer places with more detail in each one. The characters themselves are fleshed out a little bit more, which helps, but they’re stiffly animated with no lip movement at all during conversations, and the art scheme as a whole is simple and boring.
The bland quality isn’t helped by the music in the game, or lack of music I should say. This is a point that really surprised me. In a game that focuses on a rock band, why do 90% of the locations lack background music? Even apart from the thematic irony, the constant silence works against the immersiveness of the game. In all fairness, there are a few songs you’ll hear, played by a modern rock band called Megasapien, but these aren’t evenly spaced out. The menu screen has a great guitar tune that I’ve even found myself whistling once in a while, and there’s a quick instrumental during a guitar minigame. The other three songs are all at the end of the game: one while the band rehearses, one while the group plays at the Battle of the Bands (immediately after the rehearsal), and one over the credits. These songs literally come one after the other, and could have been used to much greater effect by including them throughout the game rather than tacked onto the tail end.
It’s hard to know who will really enjoy Iron Roses. Hardcore adventure gamers will find nothing to challenge them here, speeding through in under three hours, while casual gamers will likely find there to be far too much dialogue and not enough instant entertainment, or much gameplay of any kind. If you enjoy stories with a more realistic angle than usual in an adventure game, you may find some mild entertainment in watching Alex reunite her band. For all others, while the voice acting is fairly solid and the minigames provide occasional fun, none of these elements are given a suitable platform to ever really engage the player. As much as we all might want to be rock stars, I don’t think too many of us dream of the mundane hassles and organizational work that goes on behind the scenes, and a light simulation of this is really all that Iron Roses has to offer.