Iconoclasts Nintendo Switch Review by SwitchWatch
Developer: Joakim Sandberg
Publisher: Bifrost Entertainment
Release Date: August 2nd 2018
Price as of Article: £17.99 GBP $19.99 USD
Game code provided by Bifrost Entertainment for review
When you get told that a game is made by just one person, it’s the kind of PR speak that is supposed to hook you in and make you support the game. I often take that as a bad sign though because for every Stardew Valley out there, there are dozens and dozens of others that really could have done with extra hands and talent. It took the developer, Joakim Sandberg seven years to make, which is actually a better sign. The fact they’ve not rushed it out, but instead tried to perfect every little facet of their baby, similar to how Owlboy was time-wise. So yeah, the signs were decent, but I couldn’t help go in with a little trepidation.
The story is surprisingly a large focus for Iconoclasts. That’s not something you’d think just looking at it or from knowing the genre. You are a young mechanic called Robin living in a world that is very much a dystopia. Sure it may look stunning and beautiful, but the humans are up to no good as per usual. In an oppressed world plagued by something called Penance, a dictatorship with an iron fist rule has banded the art of the mechanic, the cartographer and many other skills that could pose a threat to the authority’s grip on the world and the religion that people live by.
As you may have gathered from the title of the game, there’s a really large theme of religion here. The game does have a dig at religion as a whole and that may be a tiny uncomfortable for some of you religious folks out there, so be a little warned. Personally, I found it fascinating and well developed.
It’s the story and characters that really set this game apart from others of the genre. Living alone in seclusion, our young protagonist is a little bit of a renegade. Going against the laws of the government and religion by continuing to use her mechanic skills taught to her by her disappeared father, and going about helping the people in her village to fix things.
It’s not long until things start to catch up with her and special agents of the regime attempt to take her in. What follows is a rollercoaster ride adventure as Robin and her newly made friends try to elude the forces of evil. The writing is surprisingly good and I really enjoyed the plentiful dialogue that you’ll experience throughout your journey in Iconoclasts. While the story does have humour it does have a lot of dark places too. It explores loss, loneliness, family dysfunctions and many other surprising topics that really helped me bond with the characters. I really felt like I knew them by the end of the game and it’s been a long while since any game, especially of a platforming nature, has done that. I highly recommend Iconoclasts for the story alone.
Just because the story is of high focus, that doesn’t mean the gameplay has taken a back seat. Iconoclasts plays very well too. An action, puzzle platformer with a just a small hint of Metroidvania that certainly wet my appetite. It’s more on the simpler side compared to other games out there, combat and puzzles are fairly simple and rarely does the game get any more complicated than it needs to be. But that’s okay!
You have a normal gun which you can shoot and charge up and produce a more powerful attack. You start off with just a normal blaster but other weapons are acquired slowly over the course of the game.
Aiming has a somewhat crude lock on to it. If enemies are at diagonals from you, then it may automatically point their way, sometimes you just have to do it manually. It sounds like this could be a large oversight and flaw in a game that has a big focus on gunplay, but in reality, it’s fine as it can easily be overruled by your own inputs, plus combat is always a bit more methodical and tactical. There are a few moments of charging in and shooting everything which I really enjoy.
Then you have a melee attack in the form of your giant contraband wrench. This can be used to beat enemies to death as well as repel some enemy projectiles which always feels very satisfying. This can be upgraded over time too as about 2 or 3 hours in you’ll end up with an electrified version which opens up a whole new world and possibilities.
This is where the light Metroidvania aspect comes in, well, at least the feeling of one. This new electric wrench allows you to cling on to magnetised lines, almost like a cable car, allowing you to access previously inaccessible areas, a feature highly found in the genre. The grenade launcher too, allows you to blow up rocks that you once couldn’t get through. It’s all a facade though as it’s still a very linear game. The game mostly leads you down one path and although there are some little treasure chests you couldn’t get before, you’ll generally be guided from one level-like area to another in a pretty linear fashion. I actually like this as it did help focus the game so much more than if I was wandering around aimlessly because the environments within Iconoclasts are pretty large. There’s no need to retread without direction.
Puzzles can be pretty straightforward. Some small, some a whole giant room wide, they are quite satisfying to do. Being environmentally based, you can mostly see what you need to do immediately, it’s just pulling it off that requires the skill. Often involving moving platforms, using your wrench to unlock doors as well as using your increasingly large array of skills and equipment to help figure it out.
What I really enjoy about the gameplay is just how free flowing and fluid it feels compared to many a platformer out there. You always feel in control and you can always trust the inputs and Robin’s abilities to do as you need, even with the slightly finicky auto aim. Swinging from nuts hanging in the area to reach higher ground, repelling enemy attacks, grounding pounding blocks; it feels very complete in the abilities department.
The pacing too is really top notch. It’s not all breakneck speed action. There’s obviously the dialogue between characters, some slow puzzle aspects, a little bit of combat, maybe sneaking and then the myriad of boss battles which ramp up the pace exponentially. You’re never sitting in the same situation for too long, never long enough to become bored with the gameplay at that time. There are even gameplay switch ups that try to add variety, such as sort the explosive chemicals or some stealthy sneaking while some troops are chattering away. That’s not the sort of depth I expected going in, but I came out extremely impressed with the little gameplay switch ups, no matter how small.
I mentioned the boss battles because they do play a bit part of the game. You’re never too far away from a big boss or mini boss to really test your reflexes and skills. What I like about all of them is that it’s not only about whaling on them as much as possible, there’s also a tactical nature in there too where you bide your time to attack or get the boss in the position they need to be in order to take damage. While some are more thrilling than others, this aspect of the game really hit the mark for me.
One last thing I want to talk about are the augments to your abilities. Around the environments and in the little secret areas you’ll come across treasure chests with materials in. With these, you can craft extra perks for yourself. At set crafting benches you can create a small number of different things like being able to breath longer underwater, take more damage and keep your electrical wrench charged for longer. You can only equip a set amount and their effects are somewhat limited. If I had to choose a part of the game that wasn’t quite as fleshed out as it could have been it’s in this area. I feel like there could have been a little more customisation than what’s actually here.
The game is bright and colourful and I really enjoy it. It’s not the most detailed sprite work that we’ve seen when compared to other games like Owlboy, but the blocky, bold nature of it really makes it stand out for me. I like it a lot.
I love how visually expressive characters are, especially with their body movements. It’s one of the first things that I noticed about the game and showed me the attention to detail that’s gone into it. The way the main character pulls back at something shocking or jubilant when she opens a chest, it just looks fantastic and really endears you to the characters in the game who populate the game’s colourful world.
The audio is top notch too with a retro feeling to it. It may be a bit simple for some and I think it could have done with a bit more variety as the same themes are often found and it is quite noticeable, but what is here is very competently done. As I stated previously this game was made by one person, I don’t know if that entails the soundtrack too, but if does then it’s mightily impressive with the talent they have.
There’s no voice acting which may make some of the cutscenes a little quiet but it’s not a huge deal and that’s always difficult to do right in these 2D platforming action games.
Iconoclasts comes in at $19.99 which I think is decent value for money. Obviously, it’s not a complete steal like Hollow Knight in terms of content and quality for the money, but Iconoclasts is worth it for me. With a solid 10-12 hour campaign with obvious time and quality gone into the game, you don’t have to feel bad about paying the asking price for this one. Sure there may be an issue of replayability, as much as I loved the game I don’t feel the need or incentive to go through it again any time soon. There are multiple difficulties which may motivate some of you, but not for me. Still, these 10 hours have been some of my favourite gaming this year so far.
Excellent story and characters
Great, fun gameplay
Crafting and abilities could be better