Back in 2002, I became friends with an alien called Ratchet and a robot called Clank. They showcased the pure simplistic joy of whacking foes with a wrench and exploring new worlds through pitch-perfect platforming. At nine years old these two lovable heroes found me at an age when I had no friends, was just starting school and becoming my own person with my own identity. Ratchet & Clank is a flagship game in my gaming life and crafted many weekends of pure platforming pleasure and helped me discover myself. Fast forward to 2020 and Iconoclasts has released on Xbox One – a Metroidvania which was previously released on other platforms. Armed with a wrench and a whole world to explore, Iconoclasts brings me back to those magical days, locked away in my room all day and night on my PlayStation 2 with that lovable duo.
An iconoclast is a rebellious figure; a person who seeks to lash out against a specific belief or constitution. As Robin, the protagonist of this tale, you’re in a world which has stripped away the need to repair unless the government sees fit. The trouble is, Robin is a self-certified mechanic with a desperate need to help people. Standing up to the system and fighting for what you believe in, Iconoclasts is a Metroidvania adventure spanning multiple biomes. Imagine The Hunger Games meets Castlevania – a peculiar combination that works.
The lore behind Iconoclasts does its best not to exposition dump too much into the story. Instead, what we see is how the world functions. Early moments see characters fleeing from Robin in terror, at the fear of being caught by the government for the use of repairing devices. It’s a world which attempts to teach you ‘if it’s broke, don’t fix it’, and why Robin must stand against that. It’s refreshing to have a Metroidvania that focuses not only on intricate level design, but to create a functioning world and a story to become invested in.
As for its exploration, Iconoclasts is fantastic. Immediately the world teases you of secret areas to return to later when you have the appropriate upgrade. Robin’s adventure sees her spanning across increasingly varied environments and overall design accommodates her skills as a mechanic. Armed with her trusty wrench; doors can be opened, cranks can be pulled, and enemies can be squandered. Every new room experiments with her abilities and use of her wrench to invent different methods of navigating the world. A handy in-game feature also functions superbly to alert you of areas which still require your keen eye to discover the last scraps of treasure.
Platforming remains tight and precise, which is essential for a game of this genre. Iconoclasts is a fairly long game, clocking in at around 15 hours – or more for those who wish to peel back its secrets even more. The fact that it manages to be this engaging through its simple premise is a pretty amazing feat – especially when backed with interesting world building. It’s not without its missteps however, as some early moments feel unnecessarily punishing, mostly down to poor platforming placement instead of player skill. While this is few and far between, it does manage to blemish what is otherwise a fantastic platforming adventure.
None of this navigation would be fun unless Robin was equipped to the teeth with a plethora of upgrades and abilities. Fortunately for her, she’s ready to fix this world and is more qualified than any handyman would ever be. Starting from a wrench, a stun gun is quickly unlocked and is followed by other weaponry such as the ability to fire bombs. The wrench also sees various facelifts with later abilities allowing you to electrocute other objects in the environment. Iconoclasts regularly distributes these tools, but allows enough time and freedom to ensure they all feel useful. It’s a hard balance to strike, but it’s done beautifully here as the constant sense of progression maintains the momentum to see you through to the end.
This utility belt of utensils is also required for what seems like an endless supply of bosses. Honestly, it feels as though you can’t catch a break when it seems every corner is hiding some mechanical monstrosity, hellbent on halting your progress for good. What makes the bosses so great is the constant need to use everything you’ve learned thus far and ensuring all your gear is used in varied and interesting new ways. An early boss required me to stun it with my newly discovered bombs, before slamming down on its head for devastating effects. Most bosses also have multiple stages and health bars, meaning that the rhythm of the battle antes up as you cause more devastating damage. It’s a great way to keep your guard up and reinvent the rules of battle.
There’s also a little bit of upgrading when it comes to Robin as well. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t be Bob the Builder by the end of Iconoclasts, but you’re able to tweak yourself with a few upgrades. Materials can be found in chests around the world, which in turn are used to purchase upgrades such as faster running speed or more damage. It makes exploring the world more engaging when you’re constantly rewarded with something to build up Robin and cater the experience to your playstyle.
Iconoclasts and Ratchet & Clank may be two very different games, but they’re both about a hero with a wrench, and they’re both incredible titles. There’s a constant onslaught of Metroidvanias that seem to populate the store like rampant rabbits, so much so that it gets hard to decipher the quality from the scrap heap when searching through. Iconoclasts on Xbox One stands out from the rubble and manages to build itself into not only a great Metroidvania, but an amazing game with an identity of its own.