Sometimes it's refreshing to approach a game without any anticipations or pre-established thoughts about it. This is the case with Iconoclasts. Truth be told, the game passed right under our radar until December of last year, and it's only been the last month where we've come to get to know the game better.
The work on Iconoclasts is worth a paragraph of its own. The game is developed by a single Swede, Joakim "Konjak" Sandberg, a process which has taken him more than seven years to complete. In comparison, Eric "ConcernedApe" Barone spent four years completing Stardew Valley on his own, while the Norwegian D-Pad Studio (which consists of a handful of individuals) spent almost ten years developing the gem Owlboy. The game joins the rank of games stuck in a long development process, which is why it's even more interesting to see whether it holds up all the way through, or if the long development time has taken a toll on the game's perspective and course.
Comparing Iconoclasts with games such as Stardew Valley and Owlboy is not a coincidence. Not only have they been developed almost single-handedly, but all three games use a graphical style known as pixel art, a style also used in games as Shovel Knight, Terraria and Fez, to name a few. Beyond the art style, Iconoclasts has more in common with Owlboy than Stardew Valley, considering we are talking about a 2D action platformer here. But whereas Owlboy caters to the adventurer in you, Iconoclasts turns up the tempo a notch to deliver a more action-packed experience. You will find some similarities with old classics such as Mega Man, Metroid, and Castlevania, but it's best not to take the similarities too far. The more you play Iconoclasts, the more it feels like its own thing, which of course is commendable.
The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where the religious organisation, One Concern, governs with an iron fist. All jobs are designated by the organisation, and anybody who tries to do undesignated or illegal work can expect penance to be made (which in this case is a euphemism for death and destruction striking the poor individual). These rules apply to an even stricter degree to all mechanics, as mechanics are essential to proper handling of an important resource called ivory, and thus no mechanics can work outside of the One Concern. Too bad then tha otur heroine Robin is a 17-year-old girl with a knack for using wrenches and an exaggerated desire to help those in need. Thus begins a journey where Robin's fate is tied up in a story starring pirates, crazy generals, and the imminent end of the world, not to mention a proper hour of reckoning for the One Concern and its leaders Mother and Him.
The premise for the narrative is promising, but it doesn't take long before the story starts playing second fiddle. Several of the characters remain interesting from start to finish, but the game has a consistent problem when it comes to timing, dialogue and the narrative technique in general. Many of the conversations strike us as clumsy and unnatural, and the grand plot loses some of its spark after a while. The transitions in the story feel hasty at times, and at the end, you've lost most of your reason to even care. It's a shame, because like we said the story has promise at first.
If, however, you're one of those who doesn't really care about the story but are looking for a game with a retro feel combined with action and challenging environments where thinking is needed to proceed, Iconoclasts might just be right up your alley. At its best, the game gives you solid action and some real challenges, and more than once you will find yourself in a position where you need to think before you crack the code needed to proceed.
On her adventure, Robin is equipped with two main tools: a stun gun and a wrench. The wrench can of course be used to strike enemies when needed, but its primary function is to tighten bolts and repair broken stuff, open doors and get to otherwise unreachable places. When on top of that you're equipped with an upgradable gun to handle more deadly threats, the result has a "Shadow Complex meets MacGyver" vibe to it.
Now and again you get a break from all the puzzle solving and platform manoeuvring, but don't get too comfortable; the breaks usually involve fighting giant robot bosses. They can be challenging, but rarely do they feel impossible, and Iconoclasts is a game where you might want to consider playing on hard for your first playthrough.
At its best, Iconoclasts is entertaining, challenging, and exciting. Unfortunately, some of the enthusiasm drops off the longer you play, something mainly caused by the lack of variation. With few weapons at your disposal and party members who rarely make a difference, the game tends to become too much of the same during its 11-12 hours. All the backtracking and the repetitive music doesn't help either, and the lack of depth and soul makes the music the weakest element of the game.
Graphically and technically, though, the game held up for the entire time we were playing, except for one glitch we noticed during our playthrough. The glitch has since been fixed after we reported it, and it shouldn't be a factor anymore. Beyond that, the game runs smoothly the entire time, which is again impressive when considering this game is the work of a single individual.
There are a lot of positive factors to point to when talking about Iconoclasts. Both the graphical style and the main character are easy to appreciate, and the game mechanics offer some healthy brain teasers and challenges. Unfortunately, the game lacks that little extra something needed to keep up the enthusiasm all the way through, which makes it harder for the game to stand out in the crowd. Still, this is an impressive piece of work from a single developer, so we feel "Konjak" has every reason to lean back in his comfy chair and look back on a job well done.