Iconoclasts is one of the strangest games I’ve played in a while. It has as many great qualities as terrible ones. I can’t say that I liked it overall, but I did like many parts of it despite my frequent deep frustration with the game.
The story is a clear commentary on religious authority. The world is ruled by an autocratic theocracy that rigidly controls everyone’s life, killing sinners or destroying their lives whenever they step out of bounds. There is a lot of religious dialogue that is a lofty poetic cadence of speaking, a holier than thou type of condescension, that is both cool and awful. The rebels are often funny and sarcastic and offer a much needed break from the word vomit of the enemies.
While the themes of the plot are cool there is just A LOT of confusing and choppy dialogue. It’s not quite as bad as that fake olde English in Octopath Traveler but it creates a similarly annoying feeling.
There’s a lot of intriguingly bizarre scifi stuff in there that makes sense within its own world but can kind of get lost in the shuffle of all the repetitive religious-speak. The game is also pretty dark with characters routinely being murdered which rarely felt properly foreshadowed. The writing is often an exercise in what not to do: repeating obvious things over and over, purposely being confusing, and forced weirdness. The plot itself is awesome and doesn’t need to be as overly explained as it is.
The core gameplay of Iconoclasts is a lot of fun. You’re a mechanic and therefore have a wrench which you use in all sorts of cool ways (with accompanying fantastic audio design) to solve puzzles and kill enemies. Jumping and shooting is all generally really smooth and fun to do. If this base part of the game wasn’t so much fun the game would be unplayable.
There are a lot of cool and clever puzzles, but sometimes they’re too convoluted to easily figure out. I frequently looked at Youtube because sometimes it was just so unclear what I was supposed to be doing and I’d die over and over again in frustration. Other times the puzzles really shined and made some boss fights a lot of fun. Most of the areas are great to explore but a couple are too bland and circular - there is a large tower at one point that felt just way too long. This was one of the highlights of conflicting qualities in the game for me - I’d get through one puzzle area I loved only to immediately be confronted by another that was instantly annoying.
There’s also a customization system that requires collecting items to upgrade your skills that is....completely pointless and in no way affects the game. I have absolutely no idea why it’s in the game. The only useful skills are the ones that improve your health by blocking hits. There is no reason to seek out any of the many hidden chests containing resources for these upgrades.
The graphics are a great homage to retro games with an absolutely beautiful art style. The game is incredibly colorful and always fun to look at. There are a couple blander more industrial locations but even those look good and offer a nice counterweight to the more colorful areas.
The art design is probably the best all around aspect of the game. There are so many awesome looking creatures, areas, bosses, etc. and even the individual characters, despite being small, are unique and cute. Just looking at the game is always enjoyable. The sound design is also pretty fantastic, with a lot of great clanky sound effects and dramatic tunes that fit well with the darker story.
So should you buy it?
It’s hard to say. There are definitely people who will like this game. It’s not a metroidvania, it’s not a roguelike, so it’s more of a traditional single path type of exploratory action game and that will appeal to people who don’t like those other genres. If you’re someone who doesn’t mind badly designed puzzles and have a lot of patience and can scroll through lots of dialogue then you’ll probably have a good time playing it. If anything I listed sounds like a turn off then there’s just better indie games out there to play and you should avoid it as the experience is ultimately frustrating as hell.
Iconoclasts, much like its plot, is a bizarre mesh of fun and annoyance. It’s got some great ideas and some that seem like they forgot to playtest parts of the game. Whether or not you enjoy it will be decided by what kinds of faults bother you the most.