Developer – Konjack – Publisher – Bifrost Entertainment – Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC, Mac – Release Date: January 23, 2018
What You’re Getting
An inventive action-platformer with a lot to say about the abuse and exploitation of religious conviction.
What’s The Story?
Prior to playing, I had no idea what an iconoclast even was. To quote an online dictionary, it’s “a person who attacks cherished beliefs, traditional institutions as being based on error or superstition.” Taking the game at its lighthearted exterior, that’s a surprising subject matter to tackle. Even more unexpected is that Iconoclasts does so remarkably well.
In Iconoclasts’ world jobs are assigned to citizens by the whims of Him, a mighty deity at the center of a strict religion. Ivory, a mysterious power source, acts as the backbone to this theocracy on both an economic and spiritual level. Besides powering technology it can also grant chosen followers of the faith unearthly abilities–laser eye beams, accelerated healing, to name a few. Because of Ivory’s value, only designated “mechanics” are permitted to handle it.
Robin is one such mechanic, albeit an illegal one. Utilizing her self-taught skills to improve her village, her altruistic acts draw the ire of One Concern. This military branch enforces the will of Mother, the oracle to Him and the organization’s leader (and, by extension, the world). After Robin’s family suffers the wrath of the Penance, a sky-borne attack described as divine judgment for sinners, her mission gradually evolves from saving herself to dismantling the governing regime.
Got all of that? Good. The set-up might seem confusing but an impressive amount of thought and detail is put into how this belief system operates. Instead of painting picture of how society functions upfront, Iconoclasts reveals its concepts out of context and fills in the gaps as the game progresses.
As such, it can be easy to get a little lost at times during the early goings. However, the story doles out just enough details to get players by for a while before divulging more later. Sprinkling info like this kept me pressing forward; the ideas presented were fascinating enough to make me want to learn more about the world. Iconoclasts also answers its burning questions in largely satisfying fashion.
The cast of likable cast of characters are nicely written, notably in their individual beliefs. Robin’s pirate companion Mina staunchly condemns One Concern while ignoring clear parallels between their teachings and those of her own people. Another ally, Royal, is heir apparent to Mother. Despite aiding Robin, Royal doesn’t predictably cast aside his faith. Rather, he remain devout but convinced that the problem lay in the people in charge rather than actual deity. The villain General Chrome interprets the creation of idols as a plague to the faith. Religion is a tricky beast with a lot of layers so I’m glad to see that reflected with a flawed cast of varied, arguably valid, perspectives. They come off as real and complicated, with their mindsets evolving in believable ways.
Iconoclasts takes some surprisingly dark, violent turns that reinforce its high stakes drama. Even still, several humorous moments dilute some of the heavy stuff to create an appropriate balance. The final reveal left me scratching my head but the compelling narrative arguably ends up being the game’s primary highlight.
How Does It Look?
Crisp and vibrant, Iconoclasts sports the “modern-retro” look seen in many indie games. By that I mean it evokes nostalgia while boasting effects and animations that likely wouldn’t have been possible on 16-bit hardware. The neat way enemies warp when stomped on or the elaborate boss transformations make Iconoclasts stand out technically. Areas sport interesting design elements that make you ponder their meanings, like religious monuments to the fractured moon in the night sky. Enemy and especially boss designs look great, as do the character’s expressive animations.
How Does It Sound?
The soundtrack provides decent tunes but ultimately none of them stuck with me after the credits rolled.
How Fun Is It?
On the surface, Iconoclasts gameplay resembles any of the myriad of action platformer games out there. But once you delve deeper, it doesn’t take long to experience the many cool elements that give the game its own identity.
Robin utilizes two attack types: a wrench melee weapon and a ranged firearm. Both weapons feel great. The gun especially, which features an auto-aim that makes blasting awkwardly positioned enemies a breeze. Robin’s arsenal evolves during the course of the game, gaining abilities that not only affect combat but also play heavily into exploration. For example, her wrench eventually becomes electrified, allowing her to travel high-speed wires. The blast of the bomb gun can not only blow apart blockades but also propel certain platforms to new positions. Using these tools to solve Iconoclasts wonderfully inventive environmental puzzles feels awesome and unlike many games of its ilk.
Exploration calls for more puzzle-solving than the average Metroid-vania. Unlocking a new power doesn’t simply open some locked doors. Rather, it adds another piece to unravel the complicated environments, a few of which feel like giant puzzle boxes. Admittedly, I sometimes became flustered figuring out how to proceed. However, there’s always a logical solution if you closely examine the surroundings and think outside of the box in terms of your weaponry.
Though tutorial signs explain basic gameplay functions, it’s up to the player to discover the full versatility of their abilities. I spent minutes bumping around a dark underground zone before realizing that the aura created by charging my electrified wrench also turned me into a human lantern. “A-ha!” moments such as that pop up regularly, as impressing me with how Iconoclasts’ level design continually squeezes juice out of Robin’s talents.
Creativity bleeds into the entertaining boss encounters. Most battles incorporate an A.I. partner that either acts on their own or must be “tagged in” to satisfying effect. An early battle calls for Robin to screw a machine’s robotic tentacle in place, allowing Mina to dial in a shotgun blast to its weak point. A cool stealth battle involves two characters hiding from an invisible foe and figuring out how to strategically trap their target. Whether you’re controlling both characters or relying on the A.I. having a buddy never feels like a burden or unnecessary. That’s tough to pull off but Iconoclasts does so with relative ease.
A few sidequests can also be undertaken. Though they entail little more than delivering items to NPC’s they can lead to humorous moments. A captured enemy had the gall to ask me to deliver his RSVP to a bad guy gala and culminated in a darkly comedic ending I won’t spoil. Though not a major part of the experience, sidequests add another activity during return trips to previous areas.
From beginning to end, Iconoclasts consistently serves up cool surprises, from its thoughtful narrative to its inventive gameplay. The fleshed out fiction offers a compelling commentary on the dangers of religious fanaticism. A million of these types of games release each year so it’s refreshing to come across one that feels truly unique and like a step forward for the genre. Don’t miss out on one of 2018’s earliest hidden gems.