Header Ads

Iconoclasts (2018)

All Robin ever wanted was to help people. It was, for this reason, she picked up her father's wrench and strived to become a mechanic. However, such actions are perceived as sins in her society ruled by the One Concern. Sins are met with only one punishment, death. When Robin's actions begin to affect the people around her, she'll have to stay one step ahead of the One Concern Agents that are after her. With all of these problems on her back, can she find a way to repair this broken world?

Iconoclasts is an independently developed action platformer created by Joakim Sandburg (Konjak). Konjak is well known for his unique approach to action platforming and has independently worked on numerous games such as Noitu Love, Chalk, Legend of Princess and Noitu Love 2. Iconoclasts is Konjak's masterwork, taking 7 years to make with initial images of the game being released in 2011. It wasn't until 2015 that it was announced that the game would be released for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita as well as Steam thanks to the assistance of Bifrost Entertainment. Iconoclasts was finally released to the public on January 23rd, 2018.

Having previously played Noitu Love 2: Devolution and enjoying its fast-paced action platforming, I was very excited to discover that Konjak was already hard at work on another game. One that would have a much deeper story than his previous titles (which while fun were very light in the story department). Iconoclasts seemed to have taken some of the best parts of the Noitu games, fast-paced action, interesting boss design and combining it with a much larger cast of characters. Not to mention the wonderful sprite animation. Once the game was released, I had an opportunity to sit down and give the game a go and found an intriguing level of depth in how both the story and gameplay tie together.

So with that in mind, let's open up the fuse box and take a look at Iconoclasts.

Robin will need to use all of her skills in order to survive the strange and dangerous world of Iconoclasts.

How does the gameplay tell the story?

As an action adventure platformer, Iconoclasts is all about helping Robin travel safely from story event to story event. Fighting enemies, navigating the landscape and using all of Robin's tools to solve challenging puzzles and defeating various bosses (of which there are 20+). As you play Robin will encounter upgrades in order to improve her skills or gain modifications for her pistol and wrench. These game mechanics along with the player's own inputs demonstrate Robin's skills and her self-sufficient nature. Though she is mainly a silent protagonist, with the side characters doing most of the talking, Robin is capable of talking with the player being allowed to choose some of her responses. These choices don't really change the story in any way, I do enjoy the opportunity to play Robin as the strong but silent heroine or a quirky mechanic who loves to throw bombs at enemies.

The level design is unique compared to Konjak's previous games due to how much players can backtrack. With each new area interconnected with previous ones, allowing the curious to go back to the first few levels with new power-ups to access chests they were unable to reach. It gives a great deal of cohesion in the world as Robin can, at any point, stop back at her house and get some much-needed rest as she passes by to a new area. Unlike Noitu Love 2, which was a straight action game, Iconoclasts has a lot of puzzles to offer in both levels and bosses. None of which the game spells out for you. While this could prove frustrating on some of the later puzzles, the elation I felt when I finally put the pieces together of what the game was asking me to do was very satisfying. Triumphing over any of the game's many bosses is also a great feeling, especially when that boss has context within the story.

Agent Black is hot on Robin's heels for her "sins" against the One Concern, and perhaps another secret vendetta?

Most of the narrative's context is told through cutscenes and dialogue, which is standard for a game of this type and I would be lying if I said it wasn't occasionally hard to follow. But there still are plenty of great moments that were a wonderful reward after beating a difficult boss or at the very least had some genuine surprises along the way. The side characters: Mina the Pirate, Royal the heir of the Mother, and Robin's brother Elro, are all well-established characters with their own desires and problems. However, some scenes with them can fall a little flat since most of the game is just Robin navigating each area one by one. Which is a shame, cause I wanted to know more about them and what made them tick. From Mina's conflict with her family, Royal's self-confidence in his 'destiny' and Elro's struggle to keep his sister safe are all compelling on their own. Even some of the bad guys get some great development with Agent Black being one of the most satisfying bosses in the game by far. Other stands out scenes are again in part to the game's mission to not hold the player's hands and let the player's experience say everything.

Spoilers incoming!

One of my favorite examples of this is near the end game, where a side character (I won't say who) and Robin must escape from an exploding facility. Robin is forced to carry said character in order to access the doors to escape. Until one of the door's breaks meaning the character MUST be left behind in order for Robin to survive. There is no dialogue, apart from the side character's own lamenting, and the game doesn't do anything to warn you that this event is coming. It just presents a dire situation and depending on the player, each scenario can be unique. Some players could drop the side character like a rock and make a break for it. Others stay with the side character trying every tool in their arsenal to save them, even if it ends up being futile.

Spoilers End

There is a sort of brutal honesty in Iconoclasts' narrative and while I can't say it's my favorite video game narrative, I can say it is well executed.

A mechanic has to be ready for anything, especially when the whole world is at stake.

How is the Animation Unique?

Iconoclasts was brought to life via sprite animation, mainly due to the fact that the developer, Konjak, prefers this type of animation rather than any artistic reason. In fact, if you look at some of Konjak's previous games you can see some similarities in how the characters are animated in-game. Still, due to the number of years dedicated to this game's development, and Konjak's passion for the project, this is still his best looking game by far. The art conveying the world of Iconoclasts can make it feel quirky and welcoming to dark and sinister from one moment to the next. I also have to give credit to the animators for bringing to life not only the characters themselves but the multitude of strange machines and monsters that Robin is forced to fight. Some bosses are downright horrifying to look at drives home the urgency of the situation. While the art of Iconoclasts may not have been the focus, the artwork that is present on-screen goes a long way to give the game charm even in it's darkest scenarios.

What are the game's flaws/problems?

Ironically, one of the aspects this game for the most can also be a potential drawback. While it can be satisfying on solving a challenging puzzle or figuring out how to beat a boss, sometimes it can be really tricky to figure out what the situation is asking from the player. This can involve a great deal of trial, error and become well acquainted with the game over screen. If you are up against a boss, the game is nice enough to allow you to restart at the start of the boss. However, if you die on a level then you had better hope you saved recently because you'll be sent right back there (no matter how far away it was). Forcing you to retrace your steps all over again. This backtracking to solve area puzzles was one of my biggest problems with the game since I had to continuously go back and forth trying to piece together what I was missing. Occasionally, even when you know how to solve a puzzle, executing it the right way can lead to more than a few aggravated grumbles and potentially putting down the controller out of frustration. Much like Dark Souls, the solutions for each problem IS present, but it will take a keen eye, outside the box thinking, and perfect execution in order to make them successful.

Robin converses with her older brother Elro.

Final Thoughts

Needless to say, given how long I've been talking about it, I had a blast with Iconoclasts. While it didn't meet all of my expectations, I'm surprised to say that I'm glad it didn't. It subverted my expectations and gave a solid gameplay experience with a fascinating science fiction narrative that always kept me guessing.

Is it for the faint of heart? Absolutely not.

But for the people who are willing to put in the time and hard work into it, you will get just as much satisfaction out of the experience.

FORMATSSteam/ Playstation 4
FROM Konjak/Bifrost Entertainment
RATINGT for Teen

IN A NUTSHELL: Forge your own path and make the world a better place.