Off the Grid: Iconoclasts
Allison Winters is ready to go space truckin’.
It’s been a while since I could say I thought about a game as deeply as I’ve thought about Iconoclasts. I mean, I sit around enough pondering useless topics already, so it’s a nice break from that monotony to chew on something worthwhile. My thoughts can be broken down into two categories: do I actually like this game? And what the heck was Iconoclasts’ story even about?. So join me for a little more meandering and possibly spoilers…probably spoilers. For the most part I do enjoy Iconoclasts: it’s a solid metroidvania game with easy-to-learn gameplay, which doesn’t seem to expect that much from the player. A perfect contrast to the story, which really expects the player to pay attention and understand it’s hard-to-love characters.
Our cute leading lady/Samus Aran stand-in is Robin and she represents everything good about this game. She hops, bops, and explores her way through a colorful world that is slowly dying from a shortage of a substance called Ivory. She wields a wrench that would make a lombax jealous and uses it for swinging around on naturally occurring metal bolts, whacking the local wildlife and occasionally repairing machinery. The wrench feels like a natural extension of the player, and even just swinging it around feels fun.
Despite Robin being a crack shot, I never felt an urge to use the guns I was handed outside of puzzles requiring them due to how much fun I was having with the wrench. Adding to Robin’s arsenal are a variety of optional upgrades called “Tweaks. They enhance her body with a few extra hits or a stronger wrench. However Robin doesn’t seem to really need them as they’re effects are negligible. Whilst finding materials to make them and tinkering with them is wholly in her character,in actual gameplay the tweaks are pointless therefore finding the materials are as well making exploration useless. Despite this, navigating the world with her quickly becomes second nature and her more silent nature gives the player something to latch onto as the story and characters around her take a nosedive into luancy.
It’s probably for the best that Robin stays mute outside of spordiac dialogue options because I get to imagine that she is muttering obscenities under her breath at her compatriots’ childish behavior. Her brother, Elro, is desperately clinging to Robin after losing the rest of his family. I understand why he is how he is but his failure to see the bigger picture and chauvinistic attitude, he acts like every female in the game is inferior to him despite showing him up multiple times. Robin averts the end of the world as we know it and his response is ”Maybe you’ll be okay on your own.” If I needed to be judged by a man I’d talk to my dad, thank you very much. The issue comes to a head when he goes through an entire boss fight with one arm to reach a button to launch a rocket that could save the land and refuses to push the button because the world is ending and he just wants to go home with Robin. He comes as more of a coward using Robin as a crutch to justify his own selfish needs.
Robin’s new found friend, Mina, fares no better as while she is more reasonable, she still acts like she’s better than everyone. True, it is to hide her own self-worth issues and her fears of rejection for her sexuality. So in all honesty I’m mad at her for reminding me of myself. Rounding out the main cast is Royal, who is blessed with psychic abilities but unfortunately is a sheltered child who doesn’t think his actions through. However he grows and I found myself attached to him.
Royal also has the distinction of being a convert to your cause from the world’s major religion, called One Concern, which also serves as the leading provider of the game’s bosses, antagonists ,and likable characters. Covering all three fronts are “The Agents,” a group of superhumans filled with Ivory. Despite my latching on to them, most of the agents have rather one note personalities, with Agent Black being the outlier. Throughout the game she is constantly a thorn in your side but every encounter with her has her lose more and more reasons to live till the end where she has latched onto the sole goal she has left in life. It’s hard to watch in all honesty, and her boss fights left a nasty taste in my mouth. Though she is more a product of the awful state the planet is in at this point in the story.
Iconoclasts’ story is the kind that leaves you thinking, mostly about what the hell happened near the end. Our story starts out easy enough, with Robin fixing things and eluding the One Concern. However once we defeat our first agent, White, the story descends into a rather dark abyss that it never tries to escape. The body count starts piling up, characters start committing morally questionable acts,the apocalypse is narrowly averted through almost dumb luck, and to top it off we learn that we are nothing more than pawns for a being we can’t understand. So again I’m left to clinging to Robin and her pure goal of helping people so that I can keep going. It’s the type of story that begs to be dissected and thought about and that’s fine. There are loads of minor details and plot points are left vague enough that trying to extrapolate meaning from them is enjoyable.
Iconoclasts’ sole feature that I’m in no way conflicted about is the boss fights. Every single one feels fresh and adds an interesting mechanic that is not usually seen outside of that battle. The mechanics introduced are easy enough to grasp and, like the main gameplay, feel natural. Special shout out to lone boss fight where Elro is playable that in all honesty he should have lost seeing as his opponent is a well armed superhuman and he’s barely stumbling along with one arm. It invokes a weird determination as Elro just will not stop trying and in a game full of memorable boss fights this is the one that stuck most with me.
In the end I honestly can recommend Iconoclasts to anyone who has a passing interest in the metroidvania genre. Those willing to stick through the unlikable characters will find a game that offers much to think about. Heck, I’ve spent a week debating with myself on random elements of the game and that’s more than I can say for many games I played. In hindsight maybe I need to play deeper games.
Allison Winters is a writer from Ohio who dreams of making a pun so wonderful the whole world tells her to shut her mouth. If you like what you read then you can check her out at her blog or Twitter.