Iconoclasts is a Fun Exercise in Beautiful Design



Full disclosure: I haven’t finished Iconoclasts yet. I’ve played as much as I can, squeezing in an hour or two here or there after the kids have gone to bed. Feel free to keep this in mind when I say confidently:

Iconoclasts is a great game.

 

Iconoclasts releases tomorrow, January 23 2018, on PS4/Vita/Mac/Linux/PC. You can grab it on Steam. It’s a 2D pixel-art platformer across a grand scale of design and characterization. I feel silly trying to summarize it, because every moment of this title is soaked with care and soul — you are not going to understand how well-made this game is until you’ve tried it for yourself and realize, with your eyes widened and jaw slack, how every single pixel is placed exactly where it should be and all the puzzles/platforms/mechanics/bosses/level designs work together like an orchestra performing in masterfully conducted harmony.

I’m not saying the game is is for everyone. Maybe you want your action to be more constant, or maybe you’re not in the mood to have to think a bit while you play, or you just don’t dig platformers in general. I can respect these views completely. But if you’re simply looking for a well-crafted experience, one that’s fun at every turn… I’d recommend Iconoclasts. Strap in and enjoy the ride.

 

 

The player controls Robin, a silent protagonist, a girl who has a wrench and some courage. In the setting of Iconoclasts, unlicensed repairs are frowned upon, but as a Mechanic our hero is a figure of restorative hope for those she encounters. This is a world teetering on a dangerous brink: The moon has broken apart. A shadowy theocracy called The One Concern rules oppressively over a populace just trying to eke out any existence they can. A mysterious substance called Ivory offers both power and promise.

Honestly, I’m not going to try and Cliff’s-Notes the story beats for you; but if you like Plot Stuff, it’s there. There’s a mythos to sink your teeth into. If you want political messaging, you can see that. If you just want cyberpunk-flavored intrigue, you can find something to like. You may not form some Intense Connection to the universe or every character in it, but it’s a danged compelling whole. Watching dark villains in-fight their way toward their demise is a good time, and there are plenty of endearing NPCs to root for.

 

 

Oh gosh, I haven’t even touched on the gameplay yet. How silly of me.

Iconoclasts is a platformer that seamlessly blends puzzle-solving elements with environmental hazards and intense boss fights. Rather than wield a huge arsenal of various weapons, you’ll find yourself instead trying to master just a couple, while gradually increasing the scope of your abilities. Whether you’re manipulating stage elements to reach a landing or trying not to panic while you exploit a boss’s weak spot, every thread of Level Design and Player Ability and Enemy Challenge is woven together in a tidy tapestry.

 

 

I’ve heard games described like this before, with their “tight controls” and “exciting boss battles,” but Iconoclasts seems to aim for setting a new standard entirely — and just might hit it, when you consider the context of one man sitting down to create this game in a decade-long process.

Those boss battles? They’re frantic, yet fun. The puzzles you come across, to traverse stages or reach treasure chests? They’re challenging, yet never impossibly so. Iconoclasts feels meticulously planned and never wasteful, rewarding in its difficulty without outright punishing.

It all just feels right.

 

 

Maybe I’m being vague and repetitive (I guess I could be more specific as to the control scheme, and how Robin’s famed wrench is used as both a tool and a weapon yet also a defensive item, and how the Tweaks system works to unlock slight upgrades for finding crafting items in those hard-to-reach chests, and naming the different regions and allies and enemy figures and–), but I feel like I just want to say “it’s great, trust me, go play it for yourself” and leave it at that. Maybe it’s that retro aesthetic, but it’s the sort of gamer’s game that makes you long for an era when you could bring this over to your friend’s house on a plastic cartridge and say “check THIS out!”

 

 

And it’s so gorgeous. The artwork going on. My gosh. So cool. There’s an early region, with these trees, these multi-layered geometric vaguely rectangular-themed trees. Just. Just those trees. I stopped Robin, on-screen, and just stared at that tree, the first one I came across. That tree. That one tree. That one friggin’ tree might be on the short list of prettiest, coolest visuals I’ve seen in a game.

The animations are delightful. The world is bright and crisp.

If you like pixel-rich graphics from games such as Metal Slug or Owlboy, you’ll love Iconoclasts. Like, no joke, if those visuals resonate with you and that’s what you’re looking for, this is a no-brainer. You’ll hear a lot about the visuals in the reviews you read (here’s one that praises the amount of one-shot sprite animations used extravagantly, here’s another that points out little details like how Robin’s hair is wrench-shaped); and for good reason, as it’s top-shelf work.

While I can enjoy a game that has remarkable gameplay, the video games I appreciate are the ones with an added dimension to them, the ones you can tell really had some heart put into them. Iconoclasts doesn’t disappoint in this regard. I’m not sure I’m as optimistic as those who are calling it the next indie darling, the next Shovel Knight… but I’d be happy to see it happen. Here’s hoping so.

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