Iconoclasts is a game that has been on my radar for some time (and one that I’ve actually played and enjoyed at video game conventions), but one I ended up missing out on it when it originally released earlier this year. It’s too easy to lose track of releases these days, and with such a busy schedule on my hands some games just get missed out on.
Well, now that I’ve played through the game on the Nintendo Switch, I can see that I was making a big mistake. A really big mistake. Not only does Iconoclasts perfectly capture the essence of the classic 16-bit platformers that inspired it, but it actually betters them with its intuitive exploration and puzzle solving, incredibly fun boss encounters, and surprisingly deep story. You know what’s most impressive of all though? It was made by just one man.
The game puts you in the shoes of Robin, a young mechanic who lives in a world that’s ruled over by an organisation known as the One Concern. With a deeply religious background, the One Concern take a tyrannical approach to their leadership with their control over a strange yet powerful material known as Ivory giving them the upper hand over those beneath them. They also forbid anyone from performing work or helping others unless they’re ‘blessed’ by the organisation – a rule Robin ignores and, of course, eventually gets punished for…
There’s so much more to Iconoclast’s narrative than that though, and it’s not afraid to touch upon a variety of deep and dark themes throughout the tale. I was actually impressed by the amount of dialogue and cinematics that were found in the game, with it certainly going into a lot more detail than your typical 16-bit platforming adventure. It all flows together nicely though and makes for an intriguing tale that’ll really grip you in, even if some scenes do drag on a little more than they need to.
Gameplay-wise, Iconoclasts is a 2D platformer that has a focus on exploration and puzzle solving. It actually plays a bit like a Metroidvania-style title thanks to its big maze-like world, though the fact that everything isn’t completely inter-connected makes levels feel a bit more segmented. That’s a good thing though and actually makes exploration feel a little less strenuous.
The platforming in the game feels slick, with Robin easy to control and her abilities easy to pull off. She uses her wrench a lot to operate machinery and assist her in swinging around each area, and it makes for some enjoyable platforming sections. The puzzle design is the same too, with it never feeling over-complicated in design and always being satisfying to figure out. As you progress you’ll find new weapons and tools to help you overcome the different obstacles in your way too, though their use is always clearly signposted so you’ll never struggle trying to work out how best to make your way through a level.
Perhaps the game is a little guilty of being too easy at times – I barely struggled to make my way through my twelve-hour adventure with Iconoclasts, with my only ‘game overs’ coming on some of the boss battles (more on that later). The lack of a challenge doesn’t make it a bad game by any means, but it’s certainly noticeable as you make your way through each level of the game with ease.
It’s not just platforming and puzzle-solving in Iconoclasts, with plenty of enemies popping up throughout that need taking down. You’re armed with an upgradable stun gun and a big wrench, so you can mix up fighting up close as well as shooting down foes from range.
The shooting in the game could be a little bit hit and miss. The directions you can shoot at are pretty limited, and whilst there is an auto-aim function in place that targets enemies for you, there were more than a few occasions where I just couldn’t seem to hit the target I was aiming for. This was pretty evident on one level where if I wanted to actually hit an enemy, I had to essentially let it damage me just to be able to hit them in the right direction. There’s certainly a few flaws in the system.
Using the wrench is a lot simpler and it functions well for up close combat, though I found it was better used for solving puzzles as opposed to taking down foes. I mean, who wants to whack an enemy when they can shoot them with grenades, missiles, or powerful charged up shots from a gun?
Whilst the combat of the game can be a little lacking, the boss battles you encounter are absolutely superb. Each one feels like a throwback to the boss encounters of the 16-bit era, with players having to work out a foe’s attack pattern and weaknesses, and then come up with a way to take them down. All of the encounters in Iconoclasts are pretty epic in scale and feature some creatively designed foes, with a real action-packed vibe found in almost all of the showdowns. Whether you’re taking on a helicopter that’s stalking you from above, tagging in-and-out with another character to take down a malfunctioning robot, or simply out-smarting a foe to destroy an ice-block prison, it’s always a blast. I loved it.
Whilst you’ll find new weapons and unlock new abilities through playing the game, you’re also able to upgrade Robin’s stats by crafting and equipping Tweaks. These Tweaks offer all kinds of different improvements, be it a faster running speed, more health, a bigger oxygen bar for swimming, or just improved attacks. You can equip three at a time, but interestingly when you take damage from an enemy, one of your Tweaks will get disabled. Get damaged again and the next Tweak will go, and so on. They can be reactivated by restoring your health, but it adds a somewhat tactical approach to combat where you’ll want to avoid taking hits from enemies as a means to keep all of your power ups intact. It’s a neat system, and one I had fun playing around with in-game.
I’d be remiss not to mention Iconoclast’s visuals, which are absolutely outstanding from the start to the end. There’s some fantastic pixel art on show in the game, whether it’s in the vibrant and richly detailed environments, the characters and their slick animations, or just the sheer creativity of the enemies you take down. There’s just so much charm and personality to the game world and it makes it feel all the more wonderful to explore – you can see a lot of love and care has gone into crafting it during the game’s lengthy development cycle, and it’s all paid off in the final product. Oh, there’s also a superb little retro soundtrack that fits in perfectly with the game’s vibe too, so you can expect to get a few catchy tunes stuck in your head.
Developer: Joakim Sandberg
Publisher: Bifrost Entertainment
Release Date: Out Now
Format(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC, Mac, Linux