When reading about indie games it used to be that the bar was set a little bit lower for the small teams that made them. We used to be more forgiving if a title didn’t have quite the sheen that you’d see out of an ‘AAA’ studio. I mean, what do you expect when you’ve only got a team of 5 people working on a game?
This isn’t the case anymore. Nowadays smaller teams are measured on the same scale as anyone else. Still, it’s hard not to be impressed by Iconoclasts’ development story. This is because Iconoclasts is a smart, challenging and gorgeous ‘puzzle-action platformer’ that was made by one person. The music, the programming, the writing and the visuals – everything.
So maybe you’ve read the term ‘action-puzzle platformer’ before or maybe it’s a new term I’ve just made up. Who’s to say? In simple terms, Iconoclasts has you playing as Robin, who’s a mechanic with a spanner and a stun gun. This means you jump from platform to platform, using your wrench to fix things, move platforms around and solve puzzles. You’ll also use your stun gun to shoot at the numerous nasties that litter the levels too.
Yes, I could have said ‘this is a game similar to Metroid’ but that would be lazy of me, wouldn’t it? Also, whilst there is some backtracking to do, as you upgrade your moves, your wrench and your gun, there’s not as much as you’d find in a Metroid game.
The puzzles and platforming challenges are well-designed and leave you feeling clever rather than frustrated. The puzzle elements are smartly paced and placed. You’ll rarely encounter something that you ‘need to come back to’ and it’s often fairly clear what you need to do, with the challenge coming from figuring out how to do it. Some of the puzzles require a little too much controller dexterity, as you’ll need to be fairly quick on your feet to do what needs to be done.
What will also require some dexterous button pressing is the fighting and, particularly, the boss battles. Much like the puzzles, most of these are great and ask you to put into practice the skills that you’ve already honed throughout the last area you’ve just spent time in. Sadly, two or three aren’t that fun and introduce unique gameplay elements that don’t appear anywhere else in the game. One boss has you switching characters, which would be fun if you knew how the character controlled. Sadly, the first time you play as this new character and get to try out her entirely bespoke control scheme is during the middle of a hectic boss fight.
Another element that doesn’t always work is the story. I think the fact that I’m even going to talk about the story in a game of this type is pretty astounding, but Iconoclasts has a story that is worth talking about, is better developed than most ‘narrative-driven’ games and will engage mostly everyone.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers but it’s safe to say that Iconoclasts has a story that is full of character and covers some heavy topics. It’s a story about religion, challenging authority of any type and it wants you to question the things you’ve been told by your teachers, preachers and parents. It has a heavily atheist tone, which people that have strong religious beliefs may find off-putting, but it’s brave to see what looks like a simple platformer contain such a fleshed out story, setting and cast.
It’s not perfect though. Some of the dialogue goes into ‘anime’ territory for me. There are some overbearing monologues delivered throughout the game and there is a new vocabulary to learn along the way. You’ll have to pay attention and piece together just what the game is talking about when it drops in some of its unique jargon. Personally, I found it worth the effort as Iconoclasts delivered a tale that was much more dramatic and darker than its bright and breezy visuals would suggest.
Speaking of which, it’s time I address the well-drawn elephant in the room. Yes – Iconoclasts has some beautiful pixel art.
Everything you get to see throughout the game is brilliantly animated and I can think of no higher praise than to say that quality of the art reminds me of Metal Slug. Enemies bounce, sway and have a real kinetic energy to them that means you can’t keep your eyes off the screen. I may have mentioned how the varied locations are great because they’re well-designed areas to puzzle and platform through, but they’re also really nice to look at and visually varied.
What’s also incredibly wide-ranging is the music. From cheery upbeat numbers to dourer ambient pieces, it’s really impressive to think this was done by one person. Sure, it took this one person 8 years, but you can see where the time has gone and that none of it was wasted!