Iconoclasts Review – A different Metroidvania
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, PS Vita
Publisher: Bitfrost Entertainment
Release: 22nd January 2018
Iconoclasts is another prime example of the year-long in development indie game genre. being developed by only one person over around seven years, it´s probably the very essence of indie game development. However, despite its history, it´s a surprisingly consistent, though flawed metroidvania.
Set in a world controlled by an oppressive regime, which is in possession of the valued fuel everything in this world relies on, Iconoclasts follows the young, renegade mechanic Robin. Since her father left her his giant wrench, she dedicated her life to helping others instead of the regime. Naturally, the system can´t allow this behaviour and soon she finds herself captured and faced with even greater dangers.
Surprisingly, Iconoclasts lays a heavy focus on its plot, establishing a complex world system. Starting out with a strong presentation of the poor state citizens have to live in and even death, it´s a dark, oppressive world where everyone basically has to be alone in order to survive. Especially early on the unusual serious atmosphere is its biggest strength, combined with some lovely writing. Going forward, the game tries quite a lot, sometimes, toward the end in particular, overstepping the realistic boundaries of its world in favor for surprises. It offers a lot of everything, humour, plot, sadness, happiness and that´s why the plot is really the best thing about the game.
While progressing, Robin also meets a lot friends all as lovely as her. Even though dialogues are present, the animation are probably the biggest reason why Iconoclasts can portray its characters in such a great way. They practically never stand still and never react through simple text or symbols. When Robin is sad for example, she will actually break down etc. Considering the clunky writing after the first half, a great decision to still maintain the emotional bonds between player and game.
Unfortunately, Iconoclasts doesn´t quite work well as a game. A lot of the things are, well, unsurprisingly bland, just masked in a better shell. Since Robin is a mechanic, she always carries her wrench with her, that can screw bolts to open doors, activate mechanism and fight enemies. Screwing, activating, punching, everything´s done with pretty much the same button, giving the whole system a very smooth, responsive feel. Combat also features an extensive and gloriously animated set of moves, from the almost necessary ground smash to a light combo, the ability to rotate the wrench and enemies requiring tactical thinking. One with a shell won´t be just killed off by a punch but has to run in a wall or smashes from above first.
However, nothing after this basic gameplay feels as right as it needs to in a metroidvania. Beginning with the ability to pick up boxes. First, Robin needs to jump on one to be able to pick it up but even though the game demands precise throwing from you, there´s no indication of how the box will fly. Meaning, puzzles involving them can be big hassle. The wrench can also be used to grab on bolts in certain sections and continue jumping. Yet, to actually activate this, you need to time the button press perfect because Robin seems to have a way too little hitbox with her wrench … or so. There´s just so much going on with advanced moves, abilities and alike not feeling on point but a certain degrees off, that the whole experience never truly feels like a great metroidvania.
In terms of level design, Iconoclasts lands yet in another similar spot. On the one hand, areas offer many branching paths and areas only accessible with later obtained abilities. On the other hand, it´s a very story dependant game, so some areas might become unavailable for a certain amount of time, when they don´t fit into the events. For example, when Robin is flees, at those times the metroidvania aspect is buried in favor for the, as already said, plot, making it more of a linear experience. At no time, did I have the feeling of being lost but at no time did I throughly believe I´m playing a metroidvania.
Luckily, the boss fights are the major thing in Iconoclasts and the best one as well. Offering 20 different ones, each with their own amazing design, stage and glorious animation, they challenge both your brain and skills to be defeated. Consisting of different stages, the stage has to be used in a new way every time but the design mostly makes a good job at communicating that through the boss health bar, giving immediate feedback if your tactic is right or wrong. They´re the only thing which really worked for me.
Concerning the animations and pixel art, Iconoclasts is probably one of the most detailed, well animated titles of recent time. Bosses, characters, environments, nothing stands still, every movement looks fantastic. Especially in combination with the gorgeous art, characters and bosses in particular gain a whole new level of detail, fluidity and charm. The soundtrack is just the cherry on the cake, delivering a satisfying atmosphere for an already amazing looking game.
Konjak´s Iconoclasts is one of the most interesting games I´ve played in a while, solely from a design perspective though. While it offers a great story and characters, the actual core of every metroidvania, the gameplay, is lacking in nearly every way when it comes to precision. So, maybe it´s not the amazing metroidvania it could´ve been but definitely a gorgeous looking experience, if you understand the difference.
[A Review Code was provided by Bitfrost Entertainment]