Review: Iconoclasts (PS4)
Posted again on Wednesday 28 November 2018: We bring this review from the files after the announcement of December’s PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text is the following.
Iconoclasts is the brainchild of Swedish developer Joakim Sandberg. Working alone on the game for seven years, this is a true labor of love, and that’s clear from the moment you begin your pixelated adventure. From a purely visual point of view, it looks like a fairly simple platformer and, in a way, correct, but if you dig a little deeper, you will discover a title that is more ambitious than you expect.
You play as Robin, a 17-year-old mechanic who loves helping people. The problem is that he cannot practice his trade, since only blessed workers can operate legally. Any work that she does is considered a sin, and in the world of iconoclasts, there are very severe punishments for acting against the will and laws of the two divine figures, Mother and He. Of course, Robin gets involved in a series of events that see her travel far and wide, meeting a colorful 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 lines that are deftly intertwined. Plots about Robin and his immediate family, a shortage in the supply of the planet’s main resource, ivory, and the questionable morality of the world’s religions and his followers all come together perfectly. It’s somewhat compelling, and skillfully written. The story takes you on a roller coaster of emotion, going from some pretty dark spots to moments of sudden humor through the game’s dialogue scenes.
The other thing that surprised us was the length of the iconoclasts. We’ve clocked in about 14 hours, basically doubling our expectations. There were a couple of moments where we felt like it went on longer than it needed to, and some speeches could easily have been cut in half. Fortunately, the story kept our interest for as long as it lasted, and the game unfolds at a good pace, mixing story segments, puzzle platforming, and a wide range of boss fights.
The game is structured similar to a Metroidvania, with certain areas and items inaccessible until you’ve purchased the appropriate upgrade. Robin carries a stun gun and wrench, both of which receive various upgrades throughout the adventure. However, they are not only used as weapons, but are also essential for navigating the various environments. Yellow-veined rocks can be killed with the stun gun’s charge shot, and certain platforms only move when subjected to an explosion from one of his stun gun’s bombs. The key can turn nuts, bolts, or gears, which will unlock doors or move platforms. It can also swing through the gaps and, once unlocked, create an electrical charge to go over the wires.
Robin herself can also be upgraded. Inside the large blue chests dotted across the maps are various items, and these can be turned into Tweaks. You can equip up to three Tweaks to boost Robin’s health or abilities, but losing too much health will also disable them, encouraging you to stay on your guard.
There are many ways in which levels force you to use all the abilities at your disposal. Much of the game is spent navigating through labyrinthine areas with platform puzzles that test your knowledge and skills. Another large portion of your time will be spent in combat. The smaller enemies are all susceptible in one way or another, while the various bosses will test you. Not all of 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 really solid experience. You will stay engaged the entire time, because the narrative is the engine of the story and vice versa. In the end, we felt like we had been on a real trip with Robin and her friends.
One of the most impressive aspects of the Iconoclasts, however, is how polished everything is. The presentation, the level design, the characters, the gameplay – it all feels tight, cohesive and well-tuned. As a complete package, the game hits a lot more than it misses, and combines a lot of good ideas into something that feels fresh.
Iconoclasts combines a complex story with a clean puzzle platformer, and it does so with great flair. The length of the game sometimes works against it, and the boss fights aren’t all win-wins, but the story is worth watching through to the end thanks to a memorable cast of characters and plenty of variety along the way. It’s just a very robust and unique game that would be a tool you would miss out on.
Review copy provided by Bifrost Entertainment