Iconoclasts is an impressive game in a number of ways. It seamlessly shifts from story to action to puzzle play, showing the developer’s sharp sense for pacing. It looks beautiful, filled with tiny details and unique characters and bouncy movements that give the world a feeling of life and personality. It provides solid action against complex bosses, all while allowing for some tiny yet impressive tweaks to a sidescrolling shooter that makes it control like a dream. It also tells a story that easily bounces between laughter and heartbreak. It’s a staggering feat from a single developer, and one that is well worth your time.
Iconoclasts puts players in charge of Robin, an unlicensed mechanic in a world where working with machines is illegal unless you’ve been approved to do so. This may sound like an odd premise, but developer Joakim Sandberg uses this to tell a story of machines and religion that makes for some riveting sci-fi entertainment, as well as provoking some deep thought on religion and our use of technology. Despite what may appear from its screenshots to be a silly, lighthearted game, Iconoclasts still combs through many complex topics, weaving a story that draws the player in as much as the action.
That action is a huge draw, too. Players will work their way through a range of detailed landscapes with varying kinds of challenges. Expect to blast away at enemies with several weapons that feature differing uses, like the timed bombs that shoot out in an arc and require a few moments to explode to the straight blaster and many more. These weapons can all be charged to an alternate fire mode as well, letting players fire missiles, huge energy blasts, and other damaging attacks at foes.
Knowing which of these to use on what enemy is key as well. To increase the challenge, Iconoclasts provides enemies that have different weaknesses, so not every weapon will work on any old enemy. Players may need to knock back explosives, land a shot in a foe’s mouth, or use a particular charged up weapon to get by. Figuring this out adds some depth to each encounter, rather than just letting players get comfortable with one weapon and mow through everything with it. Players will need to know their entire arsenal as they play through Iconoclasts.
Iconoclasts doesn’t just challenge with enemies, though. As Robin is a mechanic, there are machines and mechanisms all throughout each area, creating some large, complex puzzles for players to work through. With a mixture of timing, weapon use, and smart movements, players will have to figure out various puzzling setups, all forming a welcome break from the action to challenge the player’s mind.
Puzzles and enemy complexity come together wonderfully in the game’s bosses. Each of these fights is an exercise in combat reflexes and discovery, tasking players with shooting down aggressive foes that often require some complicated mechanisms to be understood before they can be harmed. One particular fight involved multiple characters, several different machines that needed manipulation in their own ways, and a foe that was relentlessly attacking. Each of the game’s bosses is an exhilarating experience because of this, pushing the player to think and move and juggle multiple tasks during the fight.
The pacing between puzzles, combat, and story is something Iconoclasts also excels at. Rarely does the game linger on any one play type, ensuring players don’t get too tired from exposition or figuring out locked doors. Not only this, but it mixes up the traditional structure of these items, where players might expect a little story, a little dungeon crawling, and then a boss. The game often tosses plot developments or a complex boss in without any notice, upsetting what is often an accepted structure in games.
The result is that Iconoclasts often surprises with its pacing, keeping the player from becoming complacent in any one play type. You aren’t allowed to let your guard down because a boss might start a fight in the middle of a dungeon. A new, exciting plot detail may come at an unexpected time. Action may give way to a puzzle players need to solve while in danger. It endlessly excites, leaving the player wondering what will be on the next screen.
With this driven pacing comes some interesting play tweaks that, while minor, make for smoother play. For example, anyone who’s played a sidescrolling shooter can think of a time they were hopping up and trying to shoot at something on a higher platform, or aiming up at something and trying to get that perfect angle on their shot. Iconoclasts’ basic gun auto-homes in on what it thinks the player’s intended target is, curving shots slightly so that players aren’t constantly adjusting their aim a few pixels just to line up their shot. It knows what the player wants to do, and makes an effort not to waste their time by fiddling with blasts. The game features many little things like this that make for quicker play with less messing around, and it feels so much sharper because of them.
One weak point could be the game’s odd power-up system. There are items that are hidden throughout the environments, but rather than direct power-ups, they’re items players can use to build their choice of power-ups. These things can give players a free hit, a little extra movement speed, extra oxygen underwater, and more, but they only offer a few minor improvements. Also, they only work until the player takes a hit, deactivating until the player defeats enough enemies to recharge the power. It seems interesting at first, and can make a minor difference during play, but they provide so little improvement and (for clumsy players) are off so frequently that eventually, I no longer wanted to bother with them.
Despite this one setback, Iconoclasts is a near-constant delight, offering story that can be charming or silly or insightful, combat that is involved, puzzles that challenge the mind, and a feeling of excitement and adventure.