Iconoclasts is a 2D 16-bit styled side scrolling adventure game in the vein of Metroid. It is an action platformer with a balance of narration, exploration, action and puzzling. Iconoclasts was developed by only one person called Joakim Sandberg, responsible for developing other 2D sprite based platformers in the past. These include Noitu Love and its sequel Noitu Love 2. The game Iconoclasts was published by Bitfrost Entertainment, one of the few games that they have currently published. The game looks beautiful, but does the game do enough to differentiate itself from being another Metroidvania clone, and does it play as good as it looks?
Iconoclasts has a surprising amount of narrative despite the initial appearance I got when I first started playing. It revolves around a teenager called Robin, which inspires to be a mechanic like her father and help out her brother and neighbouring people. Although Robin is a silent character (like Link from the Zelda games), the game does a good job of explaining her story and giving her a background. She is left on the run because her actions are not deemed reasonable by a group known as One Concern agents, since she does not have licence as a mechanic like her father had. It all sounds a bit extreme to be chasing someone for something as trivial as this. However, as the story developed and its inclusion of more characters, I slowly learned about its context and the game started to gain its footing. I became very fascinated by its depth including its religious contexts and often serious/funny plot lines which encouraged me to progress further. Moreover, the characters have their own interesting characteristics and backgrounds. It can be seen that a lot of time was spent focusing on creating a story for the universe and the characters that live within it.
The gameplay despite it comparisons to Metroid felt more like a WayForward game to me. It has the aesthetics of Shantae games in terms of structure and level design, but plays more like the Mighty Switch Force games. It certainly looks and plays like the kind of game WayForward games would develop. From its cast of characters, down to the way the game feels to play, and that certainly is not a bad thing. The gameplay is very smooth and platforming is tight, making it a joy to play. I liked how Robin would shoot automatically at angles which made controls feel tight and added precision. Furthermore, world designs are equally impressive, with large worlds to explore and each looking different from the next. Moreover, additional mechanics being added as I progressed, which allowed me to backtrack and obtain collectibles that I could not collect previously.
The introduction of the Tweak system is also an interesting one. Tweaks give you upgrades which make Robin stronger in different ways e.g. increase the damage done by the wrench. There are three slots that you can add these abilities to. For example, during exploration you may find three schematics which first allow you to take damage once before losing any health. This means that if you assign three of the same tweak, you can take three consecutive hits before loosing any health. When taking a hit for example, depending on the tweak it will either disappear or be used in the process. This means that the upgrade is lost until you refill the bar, by either defeating enemies or destroying objects. This adds a bit of customisation to the game, and a tactical approach to gameplay in an attempt to make it stand out from other games in its genre. However, I did feel that it perhaps wasn’t utilised to its full potential. Although I always had tweaks equipped, the majority of time I didn’t feel like I needed them.
Puzzles are also apparent as you progress through the game, whilst they aren’t majorly difficult they did tend to be confusing, which made me take sometime to calculate the situation. However, the puzzles are pretty neat to solve, further complimenting the games generally good level design. I strongly dislike similar games that have unnecessary long-winded puzzles because they tend to frustrate and fail to complement the rest of games core level design. Iconoclasts did not frustrate me in these ways. In addition, the variety of mechanics added as I progressed ensured that the game never felt overly similar the further I progressed. Furthermore, different things to do including the occasional mini game, made the game feel fresh at all times.
In relation to Iconoclasts design, boss battles are also varied. There are over 20 boss battles that you will come across throughout the game. The number is indicated when the very first enemy you encounter in the game is a boss. These bosses are also fun to fight against, however I could not help feel that I was overwhelmed by some of these bosses when I first started battling them. There is a lot happening when you start fighting the bosses, but once you understand their attack patterns they are fairly straight forward and well-designed. Speaking of difficulty the game has two different difficulty levels from the start, Normal and Hard, giving you more replay value if you find the first difficulty too easy.
Although there is a lot of gameplay on offer here, there is also a lot of dialogue. Some gamers may get frustrated with the constant dialogue and story which can often interrupt the flow of the game. Thankfully, the game’s story is an interesting one, and one that you are likely to find some enjoyment out of. Additionally, I found that sometimes, despite the games tight controls that some sections would be quite picky with the positioning in which I took my shots. This made some sections like the puzzles more difficult than necessary. This issue was almost unapparent but it is worth noting that the game can be fussy with the placement of your shots.
In terms of its presentation Iconoclasts is one beautiful game. In fact, it is one of the best looking 16-bit games I have ever played and it looks extremely polished. Moreover, considering it was developed by one person makes this an even more impressive feat. Worlds are highly detailed with each one clearly differentiated from the next ensuring repetitiveness never occurred. For example, the backgrounds of a desert world had heat wave effects which created a nice visual atmosphere to the world. In addition, characters are varied and highly detailed, their animations are also very smooth and well done. Furthermore, I was impressed with the designs of the generic NPCs throughout the world, with almost each one looking different from the next. Further expanding the amount of detail that was put into the game’s universe. I also liked how the indoors worked in this game. When going into houses etc., the conditions outside would be reflected in the windows which I thought was a nice effect. For example, I could see the Moon from the second floor of a house and that it was raining outside.
Moreover, effects are also nice with explosions, shooting etc. all suiting the aesthetics of the game. During narration characters would often animate into different poses based on the situation which showed that a lot of effort went into bringing these characters to life. Enemies including the bosses are well-designed, also being animated well and memorable on the whole. However, visually, the game does not bring much new to the table. There is a very close resemblance to the older Shantae games. If you do not like 2D sprite based games, this game is unlikely going to sway your opinion otherwise.
The game’s soundtrack is also on par, the music whilst overly similar sounds very good on the whole. Each track suits the worlds that they play in which further adds to Iconoclasts atmosphere. Sound effects are also good, just like the soundtrack they have a retro style to them which compliments the visuals of the game. Those that enjoy the visual aspects of this game will equally love the games retro soundtrack. However, to complement the games extensive narration it would have been nice to have the option for voice acting. I feel this would have further brought the characters to life. Nevertheless, considering the game has a retro appeal I can see the reasoning as to why there wasn’t any voice acting (and the fact that it was developed by one person). I did like how the game handled the dialogue though. Effects to the text such as shaking did a good job of capturing the emotions that the characters were expressing.
Despite being an indie game, I was fairly impressed with the game’s length. It took around 13 hours to complete, and would have taken slightly longer if I had attempted to collected everything that I had missed. Furthermore, there is an additional mode which adds a challenge to the main game (to avoid spoilers it will not be mentioned). Moreover, considering the games relatively low price, this really isn’t bad value for money when its longer to beat than your average AAA game. It is even longer than some Shantae games and 2D Metroid games if you want to use those games as a gauge for the game’s length. It would have been nice to perhaps been provided something to do outside of the story mode e.g. challenges or online leader boards for speed runners. However, considering the games length and its price I consider there to be enough content here to entertain most gamers.
Iconoclasts is a beautiful 2D platformer with a soundtrack to complement its appearance. The extensive narration provides a generally interesting story but its narrative structure may hinder those impatient games that just want to experience an action platformer. The game does enough to differentiate itself from other Metroid styled games though. With its well-designed levels, continuous introduction of new mechanics, 20 plus bosses and large varied worlds. Iconoclasts provides enough variety that should keep everyone entertained, and is essential for those that like 2D action platformers.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.