Iconoclasts is everything you love about metroidvanias with a pixel-art style.
Iconoclasts, as its name implies, is a game about questioning beliefs and religious establishments. Bonus point for learning a new word today. The irony of the name for me is that the game itself follows almost a religious checklist of metroidvania tropes. This isn’t at all a bad thing — I’ll break it all down below. That being said, you more than likely already know if you’re going to like this type of game or not.
If you are a fan of games like Hollow Knight, Owlboy or Ori and the Blind Forest, you are going to love this game. My experience with the genre is vast; I knew for a fact that I would enjoy this type of game from the moment I laid eyes on it. On the other hand, Iconoclasts doesn’t do much to reach across the aisle. It sticks itself into a corner and feels like it’s afraid to venture outside what it knows.
It should be noted that Iconoclasts was developed solely by Joakim Sandberg and it took seven years. When last I looked, that was a very impressive feat to accomplish, especially with this much polish and personality. Last thing I did on my own was walk my dogs, and I was fairly winded.
Thus the magical adventure begins with a girl named Robin.
Robin is your standard protagonist: quiet, helpful, with a sad backstory and prone to jumping for transportation. The story starts off rather simply and broadens your view of the whole colorful world as the game progresses. Robin has a secret: she likes to tinker with technology. The world is governed by a religious group which has a sort of caste system in place. If you are a carpenter, that’s your job for life. If you are a cook, then you cook… but don’t think about doing anything else. Sadly, Robin is not an ordained engineer, thus her wrench and side activities are looked down upon and lead to some divine punishment.
In all, the story itself has a very anime flair, in that the characters tend to feel extreme or over-dramatic. You eventually gain other party members who show the different viewpoints of the religions and indigenous people, but the story is mostly about Robin running and dealing with this stuff called Ivory, which is a controlled source of energy. Ivory is becoming rarer and people are being religiously persecuted more than normal. This leads you into a whirlwind, globe-trotting adventure to discover the truth of Ivory and perhaps more about Robin.
While I don’t want to get too spoilery, I enjoyed the story. Mina, a party member you get later on, was an especially delightful addition. She is spunky, cute, prone to hot-headed decisions and — unlike everybody else — seems to react to all the craziness of the world. It just seemed like everybody was too cool for school compared to Mina, who seemed more real.
Speaking of other characters, some of the characters do get rather chatty and are super vague. The game plays like you should know everything about the world because, you know, Robin has grown up in it — but at the same time it’s not very fair to you because all that name dropping means squat. This sometimes leads to many conversations feeling long and drawn out. It does get easier, though, as you get deeper into the game.
One thing that I felt a weird disconnect on was Robin’s engineering skills, which as far I could tell was just being able to twist a wrench on things. This seemingly sacred act is only performed by ordained engineers, but a trained monkey could do this. I wish we could have seen Robin doing a bit more engineer-based stuff like making gizmos and gadgetry. You are at one point confronted by the bad guys in the game and they are cool with your gun, but not the idea of you owning a wrench. They just really don’t want people to twist them knobs? Now the way I figure it, this is a jab at the absurdity of religious rules. Still, this one thing kind of slides under the radar for the game — which brings me to the gameplay.
Jumping: check. Collectibles: check. Doors, levers and switches: check. Upgrade system: check.
Iconoclasts, like I said before, hits all the bases when it comes to what you would normally expect in this genre. If, however, you don’t know what a metroidvania is or have never heard of one, let me explain. Basically, you usually have a map with many different areas; not all of the areas are accessible at the start, but they are there. You need to collect power-ups to access those areas and progress the story. In Iconoclasts’ case, examples are magnetically charging your wrench, a bomb upgrade for your guns, etc. One of the major staples of the genre is tons of little secrets and minor power-ups. By the end of the game, you can explore every area with a bunch of cool abilities and discover something new in the first area of the game.
I am happy to report that it’s all there, and more. You’ve got plenty of areas to jump around in and secrets abound. The puzzle/platforming is pretty much dead-on. It falls into that category of mostly doors and switches, though. I also felt that Iconoclast definitely has a difficulty problem. The game is way easy. Play this game on hard from the start, trust me — the random monsters you fight are dumber than a bag of wrenches, more annoyances than they are actually dangerous. Bosses are a bit more reactive but are mostly difficult because you don’t know how to hurt them ninety percent of the time. It usually took me one to two deaths before I figured out what needed to be done or how.
The controls are fairly simple and responsive. While a controller is best, you can play this with a keyboard (kudos for rebindable keys, as well). Moving on, the beauty of Iconoclasts is that it all feels very natural. No one element is overplayed or overstays its welcome. Actual new powers are game changers despite being kind of rare. Then you have the minor power-ups, which are your reason to treasure hunt. This is the area that felt the weakest for me. You can craft little buffs for Robin, such as more wrench damage, faster run speeds and more breath meter. These buffs need to made at workbenches first with random materials you find in chests all around the game. Sounds great, right?
The problem is that it’s not all that necessary in an already easy game. I made three power-ups and almost forgot about the system completely. Another problem lies in the way these minor perks are handled. Each perk has an icon beneath your health; if you take any damage, these perks instantly break and must be reconstructed by smashing stuff or making progress. This means that, in boss fights, these are pretty much useless and only really relevant when moving about the map. Unfortunately, this kind of zaps the fun of treasure hunting, as the reward is not that great. With no power-ups for health or anything else, it’s a little bit of a letdown. One thing I do appreciate, though, is that the map clearly indicates where most of these items are, so you don’t waste time looking for them.
Like I said at the beginning, Iconoclasts does most things right but it doesn’t stray far from the formula. You have fun bosses to smash, great charm in the world (more on that in a bit), and fun puzzle design. I just wanted a bit more to indulge myself in — at least going into more depth on the fact Robin is an engineer.
Dat world-building, though.
Iconoclasts’ best selling point is its vivid pixel art and unique world, which is why I have nothing but praises for the art of the game. Iconoclasts is gorgeous but also has plenty of fun with its themes as well. Running from a giant earth-eating machine is as crazy as it sounds. Each character sprite and design is fantastic and very fun — although I swear Robin is the descendant of the main girl from Crypt of the Necrodancer, but that’s my own crazy theory.
One thing I loved was that each town and area had great levels of detail to them. Mina’s underwater hometown, while amazing, also had these little paintings of lovers displaying their unique culture’s view of marriage. You could tell that this was a world the developer loved and knew every nook and cranny of.
On top of all that is the excellent soundtrack, which does not disappoint. I was kind of shocked, given that usually the soundtrack is the first thing to go when you have to do everything yourself. The sounds are great, the music matches the tone of the game perfectly and not once did it ever become grating on the ears. Iconoclasts’ soundtrack can also be purchased on Steam.
Overall game length is about seven to ten hours depending on your passion for the collectibles. When it comes to replay value, I would say it’s a one-and-done type of deal, but your mileage may vary from mine. Extra goodies come in the form of achievements and Steam cards.
To wrap up, I think just about anyone can enjoy Iconoclasts. It’s also a great entry point into the metroidvania genre. The story is unique, the gameplay is fun and easy to digest and the game is bug-free. I obviously recommend this game, but just keep in mind that Iconoclasts focuses more on your enjoyment and less on ripping your hair out in difficulty. At the end of the day, I just wanted more to enjoy, as most aspects of the game are done very well. To be fair, seven years was already long enough to wait.