In development since 2010, Iconoclasts has been the passion project of a single, driven creator. Stating it as his “long-term, life-commanding game,” developer Joakim Sandberg can finally breathe knowing he’s completed a job well done. Sandberg is clearly looking to leave an impactful message, however, with a heavy, intense story that belies the chipper 16-bit visuals. Fans of the genre are sure to find plenty to love here, but be aware your critical thinking will have to be on-point for more than gameplay puzzles.
I think it’s important to take a moment to mention the definition of the game’s title. It’s instrumental in understanding where the characters and the game’s narrative are derived from and it colors everything in the world. An iconoclast is, “ .”
Iconoclasts is chock full of faith and spirituality, though from the perspective of our protagonist and her world, it’s all a destructive, controlling force. The government uses faith as both a means to control citizens with fear and, more often than not, eliminate any dissenters. The game’s villains are all characters who subscribe to the government’s religion. They pray to a deity that ultimately is shown to be a sham, and they worship this deity’s intercessor as divinity. On the other hand, the pirate faction has a completely different faith, rooted in totally flipped perspective, but it’s ultimately portrayed as folly here. I dare say Iconoclasts wears its voice of anti-religion on its sleeves.
By and large, Iconoclasts is full of cartoon violence. There are some rather disturbing scenes, however. One character has their arm ripped off. Others explode or are beaten to death by fists.
The game contains the sort of language on par with a PG-13 movie. D***, S***, and H*** are used fairly regularly and, though I may be mistaken, I believe G**D*** may have been used once for effect.
There is nothing visually or graphically suggestive in the game. There is one scene where a bunch of soldiers are talking about their exploits with ladies around the various settlements, employing a variety of innuendo.
I don’t recall any mention of alcohol in the entire game. The closest thing to drugs in the game would be the use of ivory, which represents the life force of the planet. It’s not used in the way a narcotic is, but as a sort of catalyst for physical change in a religious rite.
Other Negative Themes
Abuse of power is an overarching theme for Iconoclasts. Again, however, much of that is tied directly into how the religious members of One Concern and their group are. It’s also stated that both religious groups in the game are causing the destruction of the planet through their mining of ivory.
Perseverance and friendship are themes that remain strong throughout the game. No matter the odds, and often in the face of certain danger, Robin and her band of cohorts will run into a situation simply because it’s the right thing to do. They also take a stand against what is clearly an evil government and its shady underbelly.
It’s clear Konjak took a considerable amount of time developing Iconoclasts’ narrative, fleshing out each story beat, and creating a rich, believable world with characters driven by motivations from a variety of backgrounds. Much like mako in Final Fantasy 7, Ivory is the life force of the world and mankind is mining it dry. They use it to power their homes, machines, and even infuse it in people willing to undergo spiritual rites for a chance to become “blessed” with the power to wield ivory-derived magic. The government, which controls everything from assigned jobs to punishments by way of religion, has put heavy restrictions on citizens getting their power source from anything else, but it’s clear the world’s supply is getting dangerously low.
Robin, our protagonist, has followed in her recently-deceased father’s footsteps as a mechanic. With the help of her trusty wrench, she’s able to repair and interact with the world in a variety of different ways that break the laws established by the government, making her a sinner and enemy of the state. Through a crazy set of events, Robin meets up with a fantastic cast of characters from misguided religious villains to lake-dwelling pirates, the progeny of a deity, and her brother, a government-employed chemist who had his house destroyed as penance.
Review aside for a moment. The resulting narrative isn’t just entertaining; it’s also thought-provoking. Coming from a Christian background (as we at Geeks Under Grace do), Iconoclasts’ take on religion is a sad one, though not unfamiliar to many of us. Mankind has either mistakenly or maliciously abused religion from time immemorial. Jesus argued with the Pharisees and Sadducees over losing sight of the intention behind scripture. The Crusades are a stain on Christianity that will forever remain. I believe Iconoclasts sees itself as cautioning others from religion and, to a degree, I agree with its message. The entity of religion is not something to be blindly followed. Mankind screws it up too often. We must put our hopes in a personal relationship with God, not pervert the structures around it for our own gain.
From a gameplay perspective, Iconoclasts is right up my alley. Adventure platformers comprise some of my favorite games of all time (Ori and the Blind Forest, Hollow Knight, Valdis Story, and the like). The genre seems to lend itself to great platformer, excellent puzzles, and a vehicle for telling a great story and Iconoclasts earns its spot in my book. The game offers a variety of environments that feature great puzzles.
I’ll admit: Iconoclasts’ puzzle design is impressive. The majority of the game feels fairly straightforward, but every now and then you’ll get some puzzles that utilize a new tool in ways you’ll have to explore to discover. There were times that some riddles felt front-loaded with frustration, but when I finally figured them out, I felt like a genius (and in my book, that’s the mark of great puzzle design)!
Iconoclasts‘ boss designs are intelligent and deliberate. Though they often employed only one or two specific mechanics, each encounter feels fresh with its own set of challenges. On top of that, they look great and are just downright fun to fight. Several also employee environmental puzzle solving, reinforcing the design of the world.
Beyond game mechanics and narrative, I love the look and feel of Iconoclasts. The game features what looks like a 16-bit art style with vibrant, cartoony sprites, but it features animation that feels more akin to 2-D platformers on the original PlayStation. When you combine the gorgeous retro visuals with a satisfying, engaging chiptune-driven soundtrack, you’re in for a treat to your senses.
At the end of the day, Iconoclasts is a great game. It features gorgeous visuals and a fun soundtrack, well designed levels with brilliant environmental puzzles, and a sharp focus on a well-delivered narrative. While the message Iconoclasts delivers is anti-religion, it’s delivered in a thought-provoking way I believe Christians will benefit from engaging with and discussing as well. Sandberg poured seven years of his life into this game, and his passion and dedication show. Though it’s not perfect, Iconoclasts has earned a spot on the shelf amongst my favorite adventure platformers of all time.
Review copy provided by Bifrost Entertainment
The Bottom Line
Iconoclasts is a fun, beautiful platformer with great puzzle design and an engaging, thought-provoking narrative. Be prepared to think critically on multiple levels for this harrowing tale!