If there’s one thing that Iconoclasts delivers on in droves, it’s personality. From the start of the deceptively somber title screen, developer Joakim Sandberg makes it clear his game is anything but cookie-cutter. Players experience a lovingly handcrafted title that screams passion, design chops and years behind the controller.
It’s Not the Journey, it’s the People You Meet Along the Way
Players assume the role of Robin, a young mechanic wanted by the government for following in her father’s footsteps and helping those in need. The fugitive angle not only leads to some unique and exciting scenarios, but also empowers the player. It feels pretty awesome to sneak around as Robin with her motley crew of refugees. The story’s pacing is just right; every fleeting moment of security feels welcome because the game never allows players to stay comfortable for too long.
The thing is, Iconoclasts‘ story is far from a central pillar of the game. It serves as a great vehicle to introduce different locales and interesting characters, but it’s not particularly memorable. What is memorable is the diverse cast of characters players get to interact with. Be it the easily perturbed Agent Black, the philosophical yet ruthless General Chrome or the righteous and feisty Mina (a personal favorite), the cast is varied and full of distinct personalities. The narrative won’t blow anyone away, but the cutscenes involving these characters make up for it in every way.
Presentable Isn’t the Half of It
Though there is far from a shortage of 2D side-scrollers on the market, there are few that look quite as pristine as Iconoclasts. The splendidly colorful and vibrant visual design pops on the Switch’s little screen. Environments might appear generic at first glance (i.e. grassy area, desert area, etc.), but thanks to their incorporation of puzzles, enemies and set-pieces, they end up feeling quite unique.
What truly stand out more than anything in terms of presentation are the character animations. Robin and the rest of the cast feel wonderfully alive thanks to unique animations that help establish their personalities (Mina’s angry animation always makes me crack a grin). This, combined with immensely witty writing and creative text box usage (mildly reminiscent of Golf Story), makes the world of Iconoclasts shine.
Gameplay That Makes You Smile
Of course, what would this vibrant world be without fun, engaging gameplay? Iconoclasts is a 2D, exploration-based platformer that boasts incredibly clever puzzle design. Controlling Robin feels tight and responsive, a necessity when it comes to some of the platforming feats the game demands for some of its tougher puzzles. However, it strangely lacks HD Rumble (or rumble of any kind, for that matter). This is a notable omission that players are sure to miss after its key inclusion in platformers like Celeste and Super Mario Odyssey.
As Robin, players will come into contact with all manner of foes, ranging from monsters to government troops. What does she have to combat them? A giant wrench and a stun gun. Though severely outclassed at first, both weapons receive major upgrades throughout the course of the game. These additions to the weapons completely change how players interact with both the environment and the enemies populating it.
Even with these upgrades, however, Robin never feels like she’s overpowered or at a substantial advantage. Most fights outside of the most basic encounters boil down to figuring out how to defeat stronger enemies through tactical engagement. Are shots from the stun gun bouncing off a baddie? Study their design and see if a ground-pound or swing of the wrench might be more effective.
It’s a smart combat system that encourages players to experiment and observe instead of running and gunning with reckless abandon.
Think Outside the Box
The other facet of Iconoclasts‘ gameplay consist of puzzles. Environmental puzzles are split between being necessary to progress through the story, and optional one-offs that players can complete to access elusive blue chests. These chests contain minerals that Robin can combine to make Tweaks that slightly alter her abilities in various ways (e.g. hold her breath underwater slightly longer). In keeping with the philosophy that Robin should never feel too powerful, she’s only able to equip a few at a time.
So, the prizes for completing these puzzles are worthwhile. But what of the puzzles themselves?
Iconoclasts‘ puzzles are some of the most rewarding that I’ve experienced in quite some time. Not only do they continually adapt to the new tools in the player’s arsenal, but they also feel distinctly human. Seemingly insurmountable puzzles often require taking a step back and looking at them from a less straightforward perspective. Many of the game’s bosses are mini puzzles themselves, and can feel downright brutal until their mechanics are figured out.
Frustrated by a particularly tough puzzle or boss encounter? No worries; players can adjust the game’s difficulty every time they boot it up from the main menu. It’s a considerate touch that many are sure to appreciate when approaching Iconoclasts’ later areas.
Is ‘Iconoclasts’ Worth Your Time?
Iconoclasts is one of the best-feeling games I’ve played this year. It controls like a dream, players are able to customize Robin a bit via the Tweak system, and the occasional weapon upgrades are meaningful and fully fleshed out. The supporting characters are all well-written (even generic lackeys) and genuinely fun to watch interact with each other. Iconoclasts‘ story isn’t anything to write home about, but its world building and character dialogue are top notch.