Key art for the game While the Iron's Hot, depicting a blacksmith about to hit some hot metal with a hammer and various characters faces in the background.
January 21, 2024

Get those bellows pumping and strike up a fire for adventure in our While the Iron’s Hot review!

Strike while the iron is hot‘ is a common English proverb meaning ‘act decisively and quickly when an opportunity arises‘. It also plays on the fact that in Smithery, when the iron is removed from the fire, the smith must start working immediately before the iron cools back down.

This more literal meaning is what drives the new indie title “While the Iron’s Hot” with its smithing focus. This title is a new development from Bontemps Games and published by Humble Games, it puts players in control of a master blacksmith looking to settle in a new land and make his name known.

While the Iron’s Hot Review – Story

Aboard a ship far out at sea, the player joins their expert blacksmith mid-voyage to Ellian. This fabled world of artisanal people is a place for blacksmiths to forge themselves a name, its fabled status draws the hero and his shipmates to its shores. The game begins with a light tutorial where the first character conversations take place and it’s clear from first contact that the writing is fantastic.

Not long after disaster strikes and the ship is wrecked leaving the player character washed up on a beach. He then meets an old man who gives him the lay of the land, explaining that he has indeed made it to Ellian, the land of Artisans.

Main character in When the Iron's Hot talking to a giant cow.

Some weird things happen such as talking to a giant cow.

From here the story takes off on a little linear-ish first quest which then opens up the world and requires some player agency to push forward, as it takes place over key events when players hit milestones by completing quests, building and interacting with the world.

Every scene has a good dose of sarcasm and follows a consistent tone in the dialogue which makes the citizens and creatures of Ellian quite endearing. While some of the characters are ‘normal’ humans there is an eclectic cast of non-humans too, many of whom can be convinced to come and stay in the player-maintained village.

Building a bustling blacksmith town is the main goal of the adventure.

As the story progresses the player can build up their skills using quests which are found in various interactions with characters as well as in one-off events or on quest boards across the world. These skills contribute to the main goal of building the blacksmith town back up to glory and in a way the progress with building the town acts as the milestones for game progress.

As the player builds relationships with the colourful cast and explores the world they will naturally begin to make attachments. These small incidental story scenes can be as simple as feeding a cow to outsmarting a thief all of which eventually pays off when the game concludes.

While the Iron’s Hot Review – Gameplay

While the Iron’s Hot takes the well-trodden path of using stylised 2D pixel art and using systems such as platforming and top-down traversal. These are as satisfying as ever but how does this title set itself apart? Well, all problems are solved by collecting, crafting and smithing your way out of bad situations.

A typical day, as played for review, in this game begins with processing materials that were collected the previous day and forging any of the previously accepted quest items. Forging itself is a nice and involved set of microgames, first blowing the bellows to heat the metal, then timed hammer blows to extrude the metal into the right shape followed by sharpening which is a timed button press game before finally constructing the item in a grid similar to Minecraft crafting.

It’s surprisingly fun, easy to get right and to fail while offering a subtle difficulty curve as it ties into the upgrade system. As the character levels up points can be spent to increase intervals to take action, make mistakes do less quality damage among other options. It’s a fun progression system that offers a feeling of growth that subtly affects the game’s core systems.

Timing the hammer strikes ends up being quite engaging and involves the player in the creation process.

Towns and other exploration scenes take place in a side-scrolling plane. In these scenes, there are collectables or people to interact with as well as loads of interactive points that once the player can use them open up the areas even more. The first town the character travels to is also the first place with quests to take on. All of these involve some form of interaction and sometimes a side story from a character building an image of how the society of the land functions but also giving each of the characters some extra flavour.

Often exploring these towns offers up quick jobs for some easy serotonin and rewards. When it comes to dungeon exploration a lot of focus is taken on collecting resources but occasionally a challenge will present itself. These challenges usually ask the player to fix machinery or create something to get through a barrier. It’s a lot of fun to approach each problem and occasionally find a solution that feels unorthodox.

As the game goes on, as mentioned earlier, the player can also build up the town in which the smithery is based. This is how the game does milestones and it feels great to finally meet the requirements to expand the settlement. However, this is not the only way the settlement can be affected.

Sometimes, though not that often, the player can come across a creature or thing that they can then coax back to the town. One of the first was a huge animal that at first made this reviewer think maybe there would be a boss challenge. It’s generally such a chill and relaxing experience that it’s easy to sink a lot of time into just doing the day-to-day and not working towards a specific goal.

The overworld map presents a top-down view reminiscent of the older Pokemon titles.

Traversing the overworld offers another perspective on the land. These maps are presented in top-down gameplay where the player spends energy to travel and take actions. Energy is the “health” of this title and keeping it in check is super important as when it is empty the player cannot take actions. The map is drenched in clouds that clear as the player moves, this “fog of war” style keeps the feeling of adventure going and prevents too much planning before moving forward, but incentivises resource collection and planning on consecutive runs.

While the Iron’s Hot Review – Visuals

Love pixel art? Then this game has you covered, the art style is lovely, relying on stylised pixel art for all aspects of the presentation. Every aspect of the game sits within a nice colourful palette that has things popping out on the OLED Switch screen. To help distinguish them, characters and interactive things have an outline around them to make them stand out even more. All of this is supplemented by fantastic animation work that gives the characters and world life.

While the Iron's Hot review visuals gif

The main character, ever positive, has animations that see him professionally undertake his work and almost the opposite when he’s, say, interacting with the giant cow characters. It’s a lot of fun to watch and lends a huge hand to the characterisation.

This is partnered with a great user interface that allows for some interesting features. Most of the game’s UI is for menus, crafting and dialogue. All of these are designed nicely with a sort of old-time-y pixel style and appear crisp on the Switch screen. The player can also select up to 3 recipes to track which will pin them to the side of the screen showing what pieces the player needs to craft the item but without revealing explicit resource counts.

While the iron's hot review indie game

It means that collecting and forging the pieces for the recipe is left to the player to work out while not being obtuse or overtly hand-holding. It results in quite a lot of player agency supported by essentially a hint system. This top right area of the screen also has space to highlight the active quest, so that the player also always has a direction in which to move, this can be opened for further in-depth details such as hints dropped by characters in conversation which will help the player along.

While the Iron’s Hot Review – Audio

The music here is sublime. From soft lilty fairy tale tunes to rousing adventure trumpets, it covers the whole gamut of fantasy adventure. Each area has music that fits that area’s theming and characters while the world map has a nice generally adventurous track that, while a little on the intense side, is immensely enjoyable on longer treks.

There are also variations on most of the tracks for nighttime that are more subdued and allow for more of the environmental soundscape to be heard in its full glory. When it comes to non-musical sounds the game has quite a nice variety of biome sounds so in the tree-filled first area the soundscape is trees blowing in the wind.

All that is missing is voices, instead, dialogue is just presented as text, even the cows only have written dialogue that says “Moo” which is fine but it might have been nice to have a Zelda-like “Hoooy” or “Thaaaaank you” in there. The sound effects for working and interacting are great with clangy metalwork and things like sawing trees presenting a suitable sound effect.

While the Iron’s Hot Review – What else?

Some people will obviously want combat in a game of this style so they may find the focus on solving environmental conundrums less exciting, however, it’s a fantastic design choice and puts the focus not on a side system but instead focuses the smithing into all facets of the game. Putting the focus on Artisan craft, however simplified, giving one up to the world of Ellian.

The crafting screen of When the Iron's Hot, with items in a grid below a smaller grid where placing items will result in a finished product.

Crafting is simple yet fun and has a slight tinge of Minecraft.

In terms of downsides, it all boils down to the Nintendo Switch’s vibration. It is highly recommended to disable this as each micro-game for the smithing results in long and loud rumbles that don’t quite communicate the actions happening effectively, though some may find this less intrusive than I do.

While the Iron’s Hot Review – Conclusion

While the Iron’s Hot is a fantastic little indie game that really does put its heart into FORGING an identity. It STRIKES a nice balance between all of its elements and fits them into a space with a very pleasant atmosphere. Where it really HITS THE NAIL ON THE HEAD is in its characterisation and all of the silly little incidental character interactions the player will have across the whole experience. There is a lot to do and with all of the focus on the key art of smithing the developer managed to design around that key concept in a fun and interactive way. It’s just a really good time!

So, why should you play While the Iron’s Hot?

  • You love the idea of collecting materials and forging them into items
  • Pixel art is attractive and atmospheric
  • The writing is fantastical and funny
  • The game has a great sense of progress that is missing from many others.

But why shouldn’t you play While the Iron’s Hot?

  • If grinding for materials sounds boring
  • You don’t enjoy crafting
  • You hate the idea of a game without a focus on combat.

A review code was kindly provided by Humble Games for the purpose of our While the Iron’s Hot review. If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out more of our Switch game reviews and join us over on the Qualbert Discord to chat with the team about all things indie games!

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