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Iconoclasts Review


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On 08/18/2018 at 09:51 AM by Nick DiMola

What do ivory, supernatural abilities, and religious zealots have in common?
RECOMMENDATION:

For all fans of story-driven experiences or those who enjoy games in the Metroidvania style.

I’ll start by saying that I’m in awe of Iconoclasts. It’s the culmination of nearly eight years of solo work by Joakim Sandberg. As someone who has built a much simpler game from scratch on my own, I can assure you this was no easy feat, and for such a complex and beautiful game it’s really a stunning achievement. The world, the art, the music, and the gameplay are all phenomenal. Traversing the world, solving puzzles, exploring the locales, and defeating bosses is consistently entertaining. I have some reservations with the story and the, at times, cringey dialog. The story does prove to be quite memorable in the end, but for much of Iconoclasts, I found myself lost in it, focused solely on the gameplay.

Part of the reason for the confusion is that you start Iconoclasts being thrust directly into the world with all its terminology and subtleties. In rapid succession at the start of the game, you meet the One Concern, who seem to be religious zealots, you learn people are being killed and their houses destroyed by some sort of holy hellfire of penance, and that practicing as a mechanic is illegal if you're not directly assigned the role. Oh and guess what, you are Robin the (rogue) mechanic, the One Concern is your enemy, and it's possible people's houses are being destroyed because you've been helping them. And with all of that, Robin seems without character and purpose. This is going to be a really weird comparison, but she often reminded me of Bernie from Weekend at Bernie’s. Supporting characters you meet like Mina, Elro, and Royal help prop her up and give her some purpose. Stuff happens seemingly at Robin's hands, but it's always at the behest of others.

Perhaps it was the intention of Sandberg to throw you into the deep end like this and have you figure it all out eventually, but for the first few hours of the game the story was happening and I was cognizant of the events, but none of it really pieced together and meant anything to me until it was well underway. However, once the pieces started coming together, I was thoroughly intrigued.

As I came to understand, ivory powers the world, but the resource has become limited and is affecting the planet. The One Concern, which praise both Mother and Him, are at odds with the Isi, a pirate people who don’t share the beliefs of the One Concern. The Isi appear to live more in harmony with the world and gather ivory through less invasive means. They believe in their ancestors and the power of seeds that seem almost magical in how they flourish instantly in ivory. The One Concern on the other hand judges those who don’t follow their rules and execute those who stand in their way, declaring it “penance” for their sins. They also have infused select people with ivory and bestowed upon them supernatural abilities, which are used as weapons against the populace.

Because story is so important to the experience, I feel like Iconoclasts would’ve greatly benefited from an opening cutscene or some dialog that explained the setting more clearly. It would've made the opening hours even better and made the story that much more intriguing right off the bat. I walked into the game expecting something more gameplay-oriented, like most metroidvania games, so the invasive, confusing story was a bit offputting at first.

The reality of Iconoclasts is that the story, world, and characters are really the center stage of this experience. At a very frequent clip, the action is interrupted to push the story along and give purpose to the actions Robin is performing. That being said, the gameplay is still top notch and a major piece of the Iconoclasts experience.

As a mechanic, most importantly, Robin is equipped with a wrench. This allows her to turn bolts that are at standing level and swing from those that are above or below her. She can also spin her wrench and subsequently spin gears. In addition to her wrench, she’s equipped with a stun gun that can rapid fire at short distances or release a charged shot for extra damage. Combining these tools allows Robin to traverse the puzzle-like environments and fight enemies, which will leverage use of some or all of these abilities.

Like most games labeled with the metroidvania monicker, the environments often contain gated areas that require future upgrades to make your way through completely and offer a variety of collectibles tucked away that aid in the improvement of Robin’s abilities. The wrench gains more powers, as does your gun.

The upgrades aren’t predictably doled out, but they are all used incredibly well in the game’s numerous boss fights. Very infrequently are these battles of endurance, proving out your raw talent. Instead they rely heavily on you intelligently leveraging your arsenal. Here, the battle is often the reward, though you’ll sometimes unlock new tweaks that you can craft and equip to give small benefits to Robin along the way.

Locating materials to craft tweaks is often the reward for an out-of-the-way puzzle and the game will keep track of the percentage of items found as well as the percentage of tweaks you’ve crafted in the game. These tweaks can do things like allow you to run faster, or take an extra hit, or breathe longer underwater. A scant few offer more significant upgrades like a dodge move or a double jump, but these don’t come easily. Furthermore the tweaks will “break” as you get hit and you’ll have to collect a particular material by solving puzzles, killing enemies, or destroying objects to refill it.

As I learned quickly, the tweak system isn’t all that helpful and doesn’t add much to your strategy in the game, but I still enjoyed opening the little blue chests that held these materials and solving the puzzles that went along with them. At the same time, I finished the game having found 75% of the materials and I don’t have a lot of regrets about what I’ve missed.

While I truly I enjoyed the gameplay, even more stunning might be the music, sound design, and art. Iconoclasts has some incredible pixel art and music that so perfectly sets the tone for every environment you enter. The sounds are incredibly satisfying as well, and they too do a great job of giving everything you do some feeling and weight.

Despite some of my frustrations with how confusing it was to decipher what exactly was going on with Iconoclasts’ story at first, I found the game to be incredibly memorable and entertaining. Clocking in at about ten hours, I played through the whole thing in three sittings, which is exceedingly rare for me these days. My mind is still blown that a single person has managed to create such an incredible experience. If you’re a fan of this style of game, I highly recommend you support Mr. Sandberg and grab Iconoclasts on the Switch or otherwise. It’s masterfully crafted and an experience I won’t soon forget.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

Super Step Contributing Writer

08/19/2018 at 10:46 AM

Aside from some of these cringy naming conventions I'm reading, this sounds right up my alley and I'm glad you brought this to my attention. Now the question for me is PC or PS4?

Nick DiMola Director

08/20/2018 at 12:09 PM

For some reason, I always like playing games like this more on a console. It was perfect as a handheld experience, which is how I experienced the whole thing.

And yes, outside of some of the cringe-inducing names and dialog, it's a fantastic little game that I think you'd like based on some of your past picks.

Super Step Contributing Writer

08/20/2018 at 11:40 PM

I'm curious what past picks of mine you would base that on. 

Blake Turner Staff Writer

08/20/2018 at 11:02 PM

Apart from the terminology found and some clunkilu written dialogue it's actually a really well written game. It deals with issues you wouldn't expect a game like this to deal with, like mental illness, loss, guilt, family issues, and a lot more. Despite some of the truly despicable things the villains do I found myself sympathetic to them. You really get to understand why they're doing what they are doing.

I haven't finished it yet, but I'm loving it. I also played on ps4. 

Super Step Contributing Writer

08/21/2018 at 04:40 AM

Question: How complex are the controls? Could I reliably play this with just a keyboard, like I can with games like Sonic the Hedgehog and VVVVV

Blake Turner Staff Writer

08/21/2018 at 08:48 AM

It requires some precision platforming. I'd recommend a controller for that. Your shots are auto aimed for the most part so you should be OK. If youre on pc though you could just plug your ps4 controller into a usb slot. 

mothman

08/21/2018 at 08:26 PM

Love this game. I think it was one of Blake's Blogs that made me buy it.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

08/25/2018 at 08:28 PM

I want this.

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