After reading numerous glowing reviews of this game, and finding out it was yet another gem I could play on my Vita, I decided it was time to venture forth and play through. Though I usually find myself playing RPGs, the Metroidvania games also hold a special place in my heart because, like the aforementioned genre, they have a method of building on themselves like the plot of a high-quality serial drama. That comparison is especially poignant in this case as, unlike most side-scrollers, there are some deep topics explored in the script. Concepts of religious zealotry, existentialism, and environmentalism, among others, are used quite liberally, to mixed effect.
Those topics don’t detract too much from the overall fun, colorful experience. All over the screen are bright, pixelated flourishes. Even though pixel art has really blown up over the last few years to point of becoming tired, the art style depicted here is very welcome. Like any form of art, it’s not the style that will draw people in but how developer uses it to construct his vision. The bouncy chiptune soundtrack fits right in with the graphics and other sound effects such as running and jumping round out the experience. While it may seem like the game is leaning too hard into the nostalgia bit, there is great care taken here to only use it at a jumping off point.
What really shines in Iconoclasts is the action and puzzle-solving. The developer continues to come up with inventive ways to get the player thinking about the environment and how to use it to their advantage, both in and out of battle. In the beginning you will be simply whacking the bad guys with a wrench, but by the end you will be bombing blocks while certain invulnerable enemies are on top of them so that the baddie will be impaled on spikes. While these sorts of mechanics can be exciting, especially if the player learns how to employ them before it’s too late, they can also be extremely frustrating. More than once I had to reset a screen or intentionally kill myself in battle because succeeding necessitated careful tactics from the very beginning. One wrong step meant failure.
This leads me to the next issue, as the point of succeeding at solving puzzles usually results in receipt of some material that the player can trade in for an upgrade. I love upgrades! Especially when I can stack all of them and create an invincible character late in the game, thus easily destroying the final boss(es). Unfortunately, in this game only three upgrades can be equipped at a time. In the beginning, I thought that later on I may get the ability to equip more as the game went on, but that never happened. There are also only so many upgrades to buy after which acquiring more materials serves no purpose. It would make the game much more fun if all the upgrades were automatically applied as they are purchased and if there were many more available.
As mentioned earlier, the script can be a little dark. As this genre is derived from two franchises that are well-known for their grim stories (hunting life-draining alien life forms and exploring castles filled with demonic hordes), this kind of tale is expected and welcome. My issue here is that, while the first 3 hours or so induced many chuckles and eye-rolls, after that the writing becomes more and more dour. This fact is exacerbated by the numerous syntactically strange sentences. It’s almost as if normal words and phrases were thrown into a blender and the result pored out onto the screen. It’s tough to sit back and enjoy a story when I have to read things more than once just to understand what’s being said. Because of the tonal shift, the feeling abated that initially grabbed my attention, leaving me to want to skip through much of the text so I could just get to the next battle.
Overall, Iconoclasts is a very capable game. Nothing seems overtly broken and most of my time spent with the title was enjoyable. However, there is a general feeling I get while I’m playing that Konjak was tired of working on this game toward the end and just sort of did what he had to do to get it out the door. That is understandable considering he worked on it mostly by himself for 8 years, but a little more buff and polish would have gone a long way here. As a game gets closer to “perfection,” its smaller flaws are much more noticeable. I can’t say the glowing praise the game gets from most reviewers is warranted, but if you are looking for a good indie game to pass the time for a week or two, I would recommend giving this one a play-through.