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Iconoclasts Reviewed by Cyril Lachel on . Iconoclasts works as not only an exciting run 'n gun-style action game, but also a great story filled with likable characters. Joakim Sandberg has spent the better part of a decade crafting a fully-realized world with a strong emphasis on puzzle solving. There are times when the game veers too far into Metroidvania cliches and the combat isn't as tight as it should be, but Iconoclasts is one of the most unpredictable action games you're going to play this year. Rating: 85%
Iconoclasts
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The thing I love about games like Castlevania and Axiom Verge is how much time I spend studying and exploring the fully-realized setting they've constructed. But what I love about the new game Iconoclasts is that it not only gives us an interesting world to discover, but also spends a lot of the time fleshing it out with a gripping and emotionally satisfying story. This is one of the few Metroidvania-style action games that made me genuinely care about the characters.

Iconoclasts is the passion project of Joakim Sandberg, who started this love letter to classic 16-bit games all the way back in 2010. He was inspired by games like Monster World IV and Metroid Fusion, adding his own spin to the formula and writing an ambitious story filled with major twists and political intrigue. The result is a masterfully designed action game that is a lot deeper (and longer) than you might expect.


This is the story of Robin, a recently orphaned teenage girl with a strong penchant for fixing things up. She lives in a dystopian fantasy world controlled by an authoritarian cult known as The One Concern that controls access to all the world's tools and technologies. This is a world where everybody has assigned jobs and you don't dare step out of line. But when Robin finds herself on the wrong side of the government, she flees and sets off on an adventure filled with action, intrigued and a whole bunch of memorable characters.

What we have here is a game that looks like it's going to be just another Metroidvania throwback, but ends up subverting the sub-genre in some important ways. Instead of just doing the usual action stuff, Iconoclasts gives Robin a lot of reasons to use her giant wrench. This isn't some 2D Ratchet & Clank game, but rather an adventure with a heavy emphasis on puzzle solving.

The game does a good job of throwing you into these isolated levels filled with puzzles to work out. There's still the usual exploration and studying you get from this type of game, but it has been mixed with a bunch of brain-teasers. At the same time, these stages are still connected to the rest of the larger world, so there's still a fair amount of going back and using your new abilities to find hidden items and fill in the map.

Speaking of which, Iconoclasts avoids a lot of the cliche weapons and upgrades you normally see in this type of game. What we find is that both the wrench and gun will be upgraded multiple times throughout the lengthy quest, eventually giving Robin the ability to shoot rockets, create sparks and even teleport. And every time we get one of those upgrades, it opens up all kinds of new challenges to work out. Even when a weapon or ability seems geared for combat, the game still finds a way to weave it into the puzzle solving.

Iconoclasts (PlayStation 4)Click For the Full Picture Archive

Iconoclasts also introduces a crafting system that will allow you to build perks out of the rare materials you find scattered around the world. You'll be able to create a number of perks that will do everything from give you extra health to increase weapon damage to giving Robin stronger lungs so she can breathe underwater longer. These are a small part of the game, but it gives you a lot of incentive to explore every part of this large, connected world.

What this game does well is find ways to change the stakes. In a lot of Metroidvania-style games you'll get thrown into a large world and asked to look around, usually with one central goal in mind. In the case of Iconoclasts, the mission is always changing. Every time you think you know what's going to happen next, Iconoclasts finds a way to rip away that comfort and mix things up in refreshing ways. And it's long, clocking in at well over a dozen hours. Joakim has packed a staggering amount of story beats into what could have very easily been just another retro-themed action game.

And that brings us right back to what this game does best -- it tells a compelling and well-written story that doesn't always go the way you expect. Robin is social and always running into memorable new faces. She'll even team-up with some of the characters in order to solve quests and take down The One Concern. This allows the game to flesh out these characters and give them a real arc, something you don't always get with this kind of adventure game. This goes a long way to make this dystopian world seem real, which in turn goes a long way to helping you care what happens to Robin and her friends.

The weakness this game has is that the combat never comes together like it should. I love the puzzle solving and the exploration, but found the running and gunning elements to be a bit lacking. Maybe even sloppy. Instead of giving us the typical dual-stick aiming, we're treated to an auto lock-on system that doesn't always work properly. This feels like a concession made at some point in the last eight years and not an inspired gameplay decision. Whether intentional or not, the auto aim doesn't always get the job done.

Iconoclasts (PlayStation 4)Click For the Full Picture Archive

Sadly, the combat does not improve when we're forced to switch to Robin's traveling companion, Mina. She's a good character and ends up having one of the most interesting storylines, but the shotgun she carries is unwieldy at best. The aiming is slow and cumbersome, leading to some of the most frustrating moments in Iconoclasts. But even when you're controlling Robin, you'll wish the combat was tightened up a bit.

On the other hand, I can't imagine the game looking any better than it does now. Joakim absolutely nails the mid-1990s pixel look, giving us a game full of vibrant backgrounds that are constantly changing. And it's not just the 16-bit look, but also the animation. There were so many times where the game will throw in an extra frame or two that most games would normally ignore. It's the way Robin not just runs in for the hug, but then settles into the embrace. There are small touches like this scattered throughout the adventure. I can't imagine anybody being disappointed by the graphics on display here.

Iconoclasts works as not only an exciting run 'n gun-style action game, but also a great story filled with likable characters. Joakim Sandberg has spent the better part of a decade crafting a fully-realized world with a strong emphasis on puzzle solving. There are times when the game veers too far into Metroidvania cliches and the combat isn't as tight as it should be, but Iconoclasts is one of the most unpredictable action games you're going to play this year.
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