Two of the most common metrics used when hyping up an indie game are how long it took to make and how many people were involved in making it. It doesn’t take a lot of thought to realize that neither of these are very accurate measurements of how much the game might or might not be worth playing. Sometimes, though, the numbers can still sound impressive and the game in question can still be pretty good. Iconoclasts, for instance, took around a decade for one guy to make…and it’s actually a pretty great experience that’s worth checking out. (That’s the bit that would get me to buy, by the way.)
In a world where all power and technology are controlled by the theocratic One Concern, vigilante wrench-slinging can be dangerous. Robin doesn’t care – she just wants to fix things and help people. The Concern, of course, is having no part of this equal-opportunity repair nonsense and sets out to stop Robin; that ends up being their downfall as the gets a gang of like-minded individuals together to save the day and fix the world. I think the moral is that you shouldn’t get between a girl and her wrench.
Iconoclasts is a Metroidvania from the now-old school; it’s clearly inspired by the indie classics like Cave Story that, well, clearly inspired so many other indie games. Robin’s got a zappy gun that can be upgraded to fire different things, her trusty wrench which can be used to manipulate the environment and “manipulate” enemy skulls, a stylish stomp attack and other abilities that are added as you progress. Combat is nice and kinetic; that stomp in particular feels absolutely devastating and is a personal favorite. Enemies tend to require a little softening up via the wrench or a stomp before you can kill them, so combat feels a little more exciting than just mashing the shoot button and hoping for the best. Bosses, meanwhile, tend to have multiple mechanics that your singular mechanic will need to grasp in order to win, so these fights tend to be the best parts of the game.
Much of the gameplay revolves around progressing through an area, diverting off from the main path to use the wrench and open new pathways, then backtracking to make further progress. Iconoclasts absolutely loves its backtracking. Somewhat similar mechanical adventure Hob was big on this as well; there’s a degree of spectacle in watching as your actions make large-scale or critical changes to the environment. Like that game, Iconoclasts suffers somewhat from trying to pack a ton of gameplay into a comparatively small space at times. What was originally an exciting eyes-forward feeling as I proceeded through the levels eventually became tinged with annoyance as I pondered how many nuts I’d have to turn, how many enemies I’d have to stomp (despite the stomping being great!) and how many times I’d have to return to the main path before I could progress another five virtual feet. It’s not the end of the world but there’s definitely some patience required.
You might find that patience a little easier to come by if you appreciate beautifully-presented games; Iconoclasts, like previous titles from Konjak, looks and sounds fantastic. Retro-styled indie games tend to get a lot of flack these days. I won’t even say it’s not deserved a lot of the time; a community that’s so outspoken about innovation and trailblazing should be able to do better than See, It Looks Like Those Games You Played As A Kid. Iconoclasts, though, is something special; there’s a ton of personality packed into the art and style here. You can get a great idea of what Robin is like based on how she acts despite the fact that she doesn’t speak. There’s also a lot of wit and humor in an era where indie games have often equated “artistic” with “morose;” Iconoclasts’ long development cycle may have had something to do with this, allowing for a game from a time when games were still allowed to be fun.
Really, that’s what all this boils down to: Iconoclasts is a game from a time when games were still allowed to be fun. There’s certainly a message here, as the plot summary above might suggest, but it’s presented in interesting and tactile ways; you can engage with Iconoclasts’ themes through gameplay and introspection. That entails a level of respect for the player that’s become less and less common over time; being able to read between the lines has taken a back seat to having a message spelled out for you…on a giant club…that’s then used to smack you over the head. The comparative level of delicacy and respect here, diluted though it might be by the amount of required backtracking, is enhanced by the overall competence of the gameplay. In other words, I can wholeheartedly recommend Iconoclasts.