Platformers are a delicate art form.
They have to be fun, but not repetitive. The puzzles have to be difficult, but not too difficult. And, if you don't have an incredibly interesting story - then you better have some damned fun gameplay. It's a tricky rope to walk - and a lot of them times people stumble.
Joakim Sandberg's Iconoclasts manages to balance perfectly. The game's Metroidvania style of exploration combined with a fun, quirky combat system makes this game feel both incredibly familiar and refreshing. It's brilliant, and even if it does have a few misses here or there, that should not detract from how wonderful of a game it is.
In Iconoclasts, you play as Robin, an mechanic who assists the other members of her village, Settlement 17, against the laws of their totalitarian religious regime, the One Concern. Non-Concern approved mechanics have been outlawed, due to the Concern's control over the Ivory Oil industry - and anyone who breaks this law will be subject to Penance, a powerful machine that destroy houses and villages that go against the Concern's wishes. Unfortunately for Robin, it seems the Concern is onto her - and the people she's supposed to be helping.
First and foremost, I need to talk about the sheer amount of story and lore that this game presents you with. After completing the first little puzzle you're presented with, you come upon Settlement 17. It's a small village, and you are well-known there as both a mechanic and friend, but people also fear you. As you progress through their first section, you learn that you are operating against the laws of the land, and people are blaming you for the destruction of their village.
There's a lovely, sad moment in the very beginning when you enter the house of an older woman and her young son. They are housing a man who has lost his home and his wife to Penance. He doesn't understand why their god has looked down on them - they never did anything wrong. Afterwards, you talk to the older woman - her son brings in a wrench of his own - and his mother freaks out! She can't have her son breaking laws, and sends you away for being a bad influence.
[LXBII91517213704] You, with Mr. Andress, the main staying with the woman and her son. 1.bp.blogspot.com
All of this happened so fast, and it told me so much about the world that Sandberg is attempting to create. Beneath the vibrancy and fun colors, he's created people who are hurting - and it mostly works in the game's benefit.
Of course, that's not to say that this game is incredibly serious and dramatic. It does a good job balancing the serious moments with the fantastic and/or humorous. The fast-paced game-play also keeps you from getting too bogged down in reading a lot of lore - you are able to learn things organically and through story-related cut scenes. And, much like most exploration-oriented games, you have the option to explore deeper and learn more if you wish.
Another brilliant part of the game is it's diverse cast of characters and companions - the first of which you meet within the first two hours of the game. I can't speak for all of them, because I'm still making my way through the rest of the game - but the characters I've met have been some of the best I've seen. Even compared to most AAA titles - I have cared more about these characters than most other game characters I've seen.
I think that this game suffers from the same problems that a lot of games of this kind have - difficulty spikes. Listen, I know that games - especially platformers - are supposed to have level of difficulty when it comes to both puzzles and creatures fought, I understand that, but it really hurts the game in my eyes. It breaks the immersion and often has me wondering why it was even added.
Difficult should increase gradually as the player plays the game, unless the game was created to be difficult, which is not the case here. Of course, this isn't an issue that everyone has - and I accept that. But when you have a game that's as surprisingly story-driven as Iconoclasts, then it needs just a little more balance than what we were given, okay?
There's also an issue of tone. As I said in the GOOD section, the game has a lot of darkness beneath it's poppy, pixelated world - and I feel like the vibrancy can almost distract from that. I know that it was a choice, but I don't think it was a totally right one most of the time. That's all I can say without getting too spoiler-y, but let me know what you think.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Iconoclasts is a brilliant platformer - and despite it's issues, it's definitely worth a play through. It's a solid game with a lot of content, and it's only $20 on Steam - so it's not like you're throwing away a lot of money. So, go ahead and play it, and be sure to tell me what you think!
Shann Smith is a lover of video games and has played games since he could hold a controller. He is a freelance writer, playwright, screenwriter, and also writes the Video Gay-Mer column on Popdust! If you have any games you'd like him to unpack, hit him up!
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