Iconoclasts

My most nostalgic console that I have an endless love for, is the Game Boy Advance. I adore this 32-bit system both for its ports of fantastic SNES games and the titles made specifically for it.  In fact, since it was not as powerful as the sixth generation home consoles, developers could not simply port titles from those systems and had to make exclusive titles for the handheld instead. One of my favourite examples, is how the The lord of the Rings 2 and 3 were hack & slash-titles on the home consoles, while the GBA versions were made into isometric action RPGs.

The ports also provided opportunities to fix minor issues or add in new features to the old SNES games, such as colouring Yoshi’s arm actually green in Super Mario World or adding multiplayer to A Link to the Past. Of course, having it all on the go just sweetens the deal. This was pretty much the reason for why I was intrigued by Iconoclasts, as it reminded me of a solid GBA game. When I saw it was going to be a metroid-title, memories of Castlevnia: Aria of Sorrow and Metroid: Zero Mission came to me, and I ended up buying Iconoclasts the day it came out. Then I bought it again for the Switch, because this game did more to me than just play with my nostalgia.


Cleverly makes you pay attention

In this strange world run by a theocratic society, we meet our protagonist Robin, an unregistered mechanic who simply wants to help those in need. One day while she is fixing the house to her brother Elro, she is caught red handed by the agents Black and White. She is labelled as a heretic by them for her doing and taken prisoner, while Elro and his family are to be executed for accepting her help. Thrown into a cell, she comes across a “pirate” named Mina, who suggests that they should team up in order to escape. With no time to waste, Robin agrees and hopes that it is not too late to save her brother and his family. 

Throughout this adventure, you will meet plenty of characters affected by these agents’ tyranny, and it is interesting to witness how the different cultural and religious groups react the theocratic rules and the actual religion itself. All of this is shown through events, visual cues, and intriguing dialogues, making you always experiencing this diverse world up close and it is wonderful. One of my favourite takes on this, are the “pirates” who call themselves Isi. They live in hiding under water, have attires based on African culture, and are rather a philosophical group that focuses on ancestral worship. This is incredibly creative and just a taste of what you will be experiencing. Even the save stations are different and based on what beliefs or ideals the inhabitants nearby belong to.

Speaking of, each area is diverse, different, and imaginative also in terms of style. It is truly amazing how interesting every location is, such as the first city consisting of a naturalistic environment with white blocks being houses, and the desert with metallic constructed backgrounds that almost feels like a strange military settlement. There is always an interesting setup that blends in nature, technology, and beliefs visually, giving the game a subtle undertone that enhances the game’s overall theme through what you see on the screen, which is simply magnificent.

All of the characters you will meet in this story have impressive depths to them and even goes through arcs by being affected by the journey you take them on for the better or worse. This makes them both believable and relatable, to the point where you will even sympathise with some of them despite their negative actions. A good example is the pirate Mina. She seeks to win the fight over the agents in order to save her home, but also finds it difficult to stay there for long amounts of time. This strange relationship is explored upon throughout the story, with emotional scenes and dialogues that actually changes our companion subtly, making her grow as a person.

Every character has something similar in terms of personality and arc, which even includes our main protagonist. Robin is a silent character, though shows emotions and thoughts through her visual expressions, and has a clear determination to help everyone she can. I love this representation of a hero, as she has a strong personality, always reacts to the events occurring, and is simply a heartwarming human being. This truly makes me root for her and always feel with her. There is even a clever reason for why she does not speak, with an intriguing backstory being provided to her as well. I also love that she uses a picture of an actual robin to tell her name. 

What ties this entire story together, are the different beliefs and philosophies that intertwine with both the characters’ goals, and the connections they have with each other. It is all told beautifully through scenes tied to the main plot, and this even goes for the optional dialogues that can be missed. This is simply fantastic, as it makes it easy to follow and get a full story, but also be able to find more lore should you wish to do so. The story takes itself seriously enough in order to showcase how dire and dangerous this world is, while simultaneously dealing with themes of acceptance and identity. Some scenes can be outright terrifying and truly made me loss for words.

However, Iconoclasts is not afraid to be lighthearted and funny when it is appropriate. My personal favourite moment in this regard, was when I had to escape the jail at the beginning of the game. To do so, I had to crawl through a vent while the soldiers laughed so they would not hear me. If you actually take time to read their speech bubbles, all of the jokes are incredibly silly puns that I admittedly found hilarious, with one sad exception that created an awkward silence. Such interactions are constant and makes this world feel alive and diverse, even with clear villains being presented.

The only minor issue I have with this title, is that some characters do not get enough time to shine and be more elaborated upon, which is a shame when everyone are fascinating and intriguing. Still, it is hard to make this a big fault with how fantastic the story, characters, and world-building are overall. When a scene features two philosophers discussing a book and the arguments seems to end peacefully until one of them is kicked off a cliff, you know you are in for something creative and memorable.

Story Score: 9.5/10


Crank it up!

After a perfect tutorial stage showcasing the game’s mechanics, you are set in a fast-paced metroid-title where the focus is on exhilarating platforming with some puzzles accompanying it. Robin possesses the ability to grab ledges and control her jump in midair, as well as crawl and ground stomp. However, what will be her most important asset for traversing, is her giant wrench and the game takes full advantage of her unique tool. While it will be used for activating machinery, it will also be used for platforming off bolts, travel alongside electrical connections, and much more. It is impressive how one single tool can have such a vast amount of uses.

Each stage is designed to make every platforming segment fast, diverse, and engaging by having varied obstacles testing your reflexes. Not to mention, the different guns you will acquire will also be used for puzzles and platforming alongside your wrench. You will for example use Robin’s bomb gun to push platforms in the correct order, while jumping on them at the right time with the boost of a normal gun that functions as a second jump. This form of testing your skills in both platforming and puzzle solving are constant, and never becomes dull or uncreative.

You will acquire upwards to three guns and multiple upgrades for your wrench throughout the story, all being useful for fun progression. However, they will also be used for simple and engaging combat. Robin can swing the wrench, which will extend into a spinning attack in front of her. This move can be used for creating continues damage, stunning the enemies, and even reflecting projectiles, giving her simple setup a lot of practicality. This also goes for the three guns, as each have an unique normal and charged attack, can aim in four different directions, and auto aim towards the closest enemy, making you easily versatile and quick with your attacks. You cannot spam the shots luckily, thanks to a cooldown meter forcing you to plan when to attack and when to be defensive.

I love how every item used for traversing is also used for combat in different scenarios, giving them multiple purposes and becoming more iconic. The enemies add to this by being varied in attacks and weaknesses, making you always learn new techniques on how to take them down quickly and deal with a varied amount of them. This creativity can also be seen in the plenty of boss fights, as all will require quick movement, thinking, and the right weapons. Most are fantastic and fun fights, be it one where you must play hide and shoot with your opponent or another demanding different weapons and timed attacks, just to give a few subtle examples. The only exceptions are two fights that had obvious and dull patterns, though they were short and the only negatives in this regard.

Although, you are not always alone. At specific moments, you will have companions helping you out in fights or be playing as them in specific segments. While these parts are short-lived, they add in unique elements in order to provide entertaining variety. For example, you will be controlling Mina for a couple of levels, and since she uses a shotgun where you have to stand still for accurate aim and can also a slide attack, she is much more combat oriented and a fun change of pace. This is where my minor criticism to Robin’s gameplay comes in: I wish I could stand still and aim simultaneously as her. It is usually not needed, but would have helped in some parts of the game.

While it is a fast-paced platformer with great puzzles and fights accompanying it, Iconoclasts is also a metroid-title where you can find materials in chests hidden around the world. These are for making tweaks to Robin’s abilities and stats, with her being able to equip upwards to three in total. They can increase your health, make you run faster, perform longer spins with the wrench, and more. This concept is a nice addition for giving a slight support and possibly add to your playstyle, while making sure they are not overpowered.

You can also find blueprints to make even more tweaks, which is fun to experiment with. Though by taking damage, the equipped tweaks can be destroyed and thus become ineffective. The only way to recharge them is by acquiring yellow bits from fallen enemies or destructible objects. I really think this is a neat addition and works well, as you can even arrange them to make sure which one are in danger of being destroyed first. One strange design-choice to this though, is that while the tweaks must be made on crafting tables scattered around the world, you can only equip them at save stations. They are usually not far from each other, but it is a strange approach.

Iconoclasts is fantastic due to having diversity within its core setup throughout the entire game and never lacking in creativity. It has you exploring plenty of places in a fast manner, the objectives are always clear and easy to find thanks to a solid map, and the journey provides a good flow with every new and old ability being used. It is an incredible adrenaline rush that is only held back by minor oddities that should not hinder your overall experience at all.

Gameplay Score: 9.5/10


GBA + SNES = ❤

I put it like this as Iconclasts takes inspirations from the graphical powers of the GBA due to its 32-bit approach, though with a larger screen and slightly better audio similar to what the SNES offered. The worlds are colourful, with each location brimming with style as mentioned. I especially love the purple forest with mythical creatures in it, that also contains a metallic tower reminiscing of a hotel of some sort. This creativity and interesting setup makes each area visually memorable and inviting.

The same strength in imaginative designs also goes for the animals, as they are always in tone with the areas you are in, like the bizarre underwater creatures looking like an alien take on our traditional fishes. I truly love it when there are clear setups to make each place distinct, and it is all further enhanced by the multilayered backgrounds, as they add to make this world seem ginormous and mysterious. It is impressive to see the mix of industrial and naturalistic environments blend in so well, and still be so colourful and creative. Every single detail feels carefully thought out.

The characters you meet are no different. Every person you come in contact with has a design that showcases cultural backgrounds and unique features about the person. While these are strong, the game never goes too far with the clothes in order to avoid stereotypical or overdone designs, making every character believable and memorable. I especially love Robin’s getup, as her attire makes her fit in with the town she lives nearby to, but also has practical elements to it in order to showcase her line of work, with a hairband added for a cute touch.

The boss fights and monsters share the same form of quality creativity, such as the cacti with gaping mouths, the giant machinery that has a design inspired by old cultures, and a pulsating mass off puss that made me realise just what I had done. All of these are sights to behold, and the fluid animations every single creature has are impressive and adds to the gorgeous designs. To top it all of, the subtle weather effects are neat and endearing to make the world itself come alive. 

The soundtrack consists of varied music genres, complementing each area beautifully. Your hometown is a great example of this, as it consists of an uplifting and strong tune, showcasing both the peace and excitement by mixing in light electronic, a jazzy bass, what resembles a comforting piano, and even a scratchy DJ. Every other track consists of similar amounts of varied instruments to showcase a mood, but also lets every instrument shine themselves. It creates a diverse and distinct soundtrack that enhances each area uniquely, mixing even rock with Indian instruments. The different sound effects are just as impressive, as they are strong and makes every victory or harsh cutscene feel real. 

Presentation Score: 10/10


Definitely worth another run

After beating the game the first time, you unlock a tougher difficulty than hard, a new game plus mode that carries over materials and tweaks from a finished playthrough, and a fun boss rush mode. Playing through the game a second time with stronger opponents is exciting, and the boss rush mode is a decent distraction. Due to how fast-paced the platforming and combat is, this is a fantastic game to also attempt speedrunning through, making it quite the exhilarating game to revisit.

Sadly, the exploration aspect is not very engaging. It does lead to some great platforming segments, but the rewards are not worthwhile and that can make it less engaging to search every nook and cranny. The side quests are arguably worse, as they are just fetch quests with nothing interesting to them. Still, playing through the game all over again provides a good time in itself and the different options just sweetens the deal.

Extra Score: 7.5/10


Verdict

Iconoclasts is a beautiful mix of a fascinating metallic and naturalistic world, interesting characters and plot, platforming and combat that are fast and exhilarating, great puzzles intertwined with the game’s core level design, and a style that is memorable and creative. If you have been missing a solid metroid-title, there is no excuse to not pick this one up. With this and Teslagrad, I truly feel proud of being a Scandinavian.

90/100

Published by slionr

A guy who likes to talk about video games and loves tabletop gaming. Writer for corruptsavefile.com, you can always follow me on twitter @GSlionr if you ever want the latest article from me :)

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