Thursday, March 1, 2018

Iconoclasts Review

Iconoclast - a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions. A destroyer of images used in religious worship. A critic, skeptic, heretic, rebel, renegade, an infidel. That’s the definition of iconoclast. It should give you a pretty good idea of where the story of this game is headed. Iconoclasts is a side scrolling action adventure game from developer, Joakim Sandberg. Maybe you’ve heard of Noitu Love or Legend of Princess. It's that guy. Iconoclasts is available on PS4, Vita, Mac, Linux, and PC for $19.99.

Iconoclasts is set in a world ruled by an organization known as One Concern. One Concern tells people where they can live, chooses everyone's jobs, and decides who can have babies. They're led by a woman known as “Mother”, who is the only person that can talk directly to “Him”. “He” is their God, who lives on the Moon. High ranking members of One Concern have Ivory blood, which gives them superpowers. Ivory rules everything in this world. It's basically a metaphor for petroleum. It's extracted from the earth, it powers everything, and the extraction of it is causing the planet to literally break apart.

You play as Robin, a young woman who recently lost her father, and is following in his footsteps as a mechanic. There are cars in this world, but I never saw Robin working on one, so I don't think she's that kind of mechanic. In this world, only the One Concern are allowed to be mechanics, because mechanics fix things that work with Ivory, and commoners are not allowed to handle Ivory. Robin is a rebel who illegally fixes things for the commoners. She's not going to let the man tell her what she can and can't fix!

The story is kind of a mishmash of different videogames and anime, but it's entertaining, and it has some cool characters. Even though she's a silent protagonist, Robin is very emotive and has a bunch of cute animations that always let you know how she's feeling. All of the characters that join Robin along the way have interesting backstories, and are likeable in their own way. I especially liked Robin’s friend Mina, who's a brash Isi pirate. She lives on ship in the sea, but it's an ancient spaceship underwater, which is more like Atlantis than the Merry-go. The Isi are a sort of Mexican inspired people who revere their dead ancestors, and seem to have Dia de los Muertos style traditions.

My biggest issues with the game are its dialogue and storytelling. Robin and Mina are lovable characters, and the story gives context to the gameplay, but the way the story is told is a little heavy-handed and predictable. If you’ve played games like Half-Life 2 or Xenogears, you’re going to start seeing where this game’s story is going right away. The name, Iconoclasts, is a pretty big hint, too. I also thought some of the acts of violence seemed out of place, like they were there for shock value. The dialogue is full of flowery language, and characters often ramble on and on during story sequences. This, combined with the sometimes awkward translation, made it hard for me to to pay attention whenever some of the main villains were talking.

I think the gameplay is where this game truly shines. Robin’s basic actions include jumping, shooting her guns, and swinging her giant wrench. Robin can use her wrench to hit enemies, turn nuts to open doors and flip switches, and even glide on zip lines. You only get 3 different guns in the game, but you can use them in many different ways, so they're more than just 3 attacks. Robin can combine her 3 basic actions (along with upgrades) in different ways to do everything in the game. For example, after getting the electric wrench upgrade, you can charge up your wrench to add an electric charge to your grenade launcher and shoot electric grenades, which can power switches out of your reach. I love how much mileage the game gets out of these few abilities.

Combat in Iconoclasts feels really good. There's something about the hit stun and flash that happens when you hit enemies that feels very satisfying. It's kind of like the little pause that happens when you attack in some Zelda games. It makes attacks feel like they have weight behind them and have a lot of impact.

The environments always make sense within the story, and they're all full of creative puzzles, challenging enemies, and light platforming. This game is more about the puzzles and exploration, but it mixes platforming in with some of the puzzles in cool ways. A lot of times, you'll be rewarded with a treasure chest after completing a platforming challenge. These chests all contain crafting materials. Robin can use these to craft many different types of “tweaks” which upgrade her abilities in different ways. She can equip up to 3 of them at a time, and they do things like let her hold her breath longer underwater, increase the attack power of her wrench, and make the electric charge of her wrench last longer. I crafted and equipped a few tweaks early on in the game, and then pretty much ignored them for the rest of the game. I never felt like I really needed any of the tweaks I found. This made finding chests much less exciting.

The graphics in Iconoclast are among the best I’ve ever seen in a 2D game. The art style is cute and colorful, and reminds me a bit of Cave Story. The style is simple and cartoon-like, but the environments are full of details. Nearly all space on the screen is filled with something, even the spaces behind walls most of the time. You can see landmarks in the background, leaves falling in forested areas, and weird details that will only make sense once you know the story of the world, like the weird cube shaped rocks and bushes.

The music in Iconoclasts is also very good. I especially like how varied it is. The title screen music sounds like some kind of synth-pop Devo track. The cheerful videogamey music around Robin's house at the beginning of the game sounds like something out of Wonder Boy. There's even a few tracks that sound like they're referencing Castlevania and Metroid music. My favorite track is the desert theme, which sounds like upbeat South American pan flute music.

I had a really good time with this game. It was one of those games I kept thinking about when I wasn't playing it. The storytelling isn't great, but the characters are cool, everything makes sense within the story, and the graphics and music are really nice. This is definitely one of the better indie Metroidvanias I’ve played.