Republished on Wednesday 28th November 2018: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of December's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Iconoclasts is the brainchild of Swedish developer Joakim Sandberg. Working alone on the game for seven years, this is a real labour of love, and that’s clear from the moment you begin your pixelated adventure. Judging purely from a visual standpoint, this looks like a fairly simple platformer, and in some ways that’s correct, but dig a little deeper and you’ll uncover a title that’s more ambitious than you may expect.
You play as Robin, a 17-year-old mechanic who loves to help people. The trouble is that she can’t practice her trade, as only blessed workers can operate legally. Any work she does is considered a sin, and in Iconoclasts’ world, there are very severe punishments for acting against the will and the laws of the two godlike figures, Mother and Him. Of course, Robin gets caught up in a series of events that sees her travelling far and wide, meeting a colourful cast of allies, villains, and bosses.
We don’t want to delve too deeply into the story, but we were pleasantly surprised by the complexity of the narrative, which involves several strands that are deftly interwoven. Plots about Robin and her immediate family, a shortage in the supply of the planet’s main resource Ivory, and the questionable morality of the world’s religions and their followers neatly coalesce. It’s compelling stuff, and skilfully written. The story takes you on a rollercoaster of emotion, going from some pretty dark spots to moments of sudden humour via the game’s dialogue-heavy cutscenes.
The other thing that surprised us was the length of Iconoclasts. We clocked about 14 hours, basically doubling our expectations. There were a couple of moments we felt went on for longer than was necessary, and some speeches could’ve easily been cut in half. Fortunately, the story did hold our interest for the duration, and the game is paced well, mixing up story segments, puzzle platforming, and a vast array of boss fights.
The game is structured similarly to a Metroidvania, with certain areas and items inaccessible until you’ve acquired the right upgrade. Robin carries a stun gun and a wrench, both of which receive several enhancements throughout the adventure. They’re not just used as weapons, though – they’re also fundamental to navigating the various environments. Rocks with yellow veins can be blasted away with the stun gun’s charge shot, and certain platforms only move when subjected to an explosion from one of your gun’s bombs. The wrench can turn nuts, bolts, or gears, which will unlock doors or move platforms. You can also swing across gaps and, once unlocked, create an electric charge to zip across wires.
Robin herself can be upgraded, too. Within large blue chests dotted across the maps are several elements, and these can be crafted into Tweaks. You can equip up to three Tweaks to buff Robin’s health or abilities, but losing too much health will also deactivate them, encouraging you to stay on your guard.
There are a lot of ways the levels force you to use all the abilities at your disposal. Much of the game is spent navigating your way through labyrinthine areas featuring platforming puzzles that test your knowledge and skill. Another large portion of your time will be spent in combat. Smaller enemies are all susceptible in one way or another, while the various bosses will really put you through your paces. Not all the bosses are great, but there are some excellent battles to be had that pepper the game with a generous amount of action.
This mix of satisfying puzzle platforming and a strong focus on the story and its characters makes for a seriously solid experience. You’ll stay engaged throughout, because the narrative drives the story, and vice versa. By the end, we felt that we’d been on a real journey with Robin and her buddies.
One of the most impressive aspects of Iconoclasts, though, is just how polished everything is. The presentation, the level design, the characters, the gameplay – everything feels tight, cohesive, and finely tuned. As a whole package, the game hits a lot more than it misses, and melds together a bunch of good ideas into something that feels fresh.
Iconoclasts blends a complex story with neat puzzle platforming, and does so in great style. The game’s length occasionally works against it, and the boss fights aren’t all winners, but the story is worth seeing through to the end thanks to a memorable cast of characters and plenty of variety along the way. It’s just a very robust, unique game that you’d be a tool to miss.