The Iconoclasts

Developer(s): Joakim Sandberg

Platform(s): PC

When I stumbled across this game, my expectations were standard, but those expectations were gradually blown away, one-by-one. The Iconoclasts showed me the capabilities of a single human in developing an unfinished game. This unfinished game is more impressive to me than many games which have been completed and developed by entire teams of people with money in their pockets.

The last time I was as impressed by a game like this, it was with Cave Story. This game, despite being in its early alpha stages, already deserves to stand among the greatest 2D platformers of all time (at least, in my opinion). Now I know these are bold words, but I will explain why this game is so impressive, and if you don’t believe me then you can try it out yourself.

The Iconoclasts is (as of this writing) available for download in two separate versions, the 2011 Alpha version, as well as the 2012 Alpha version, respectively. For the purposes of this preview, I will be focusing on the 2012 version of the game, and any elements of this game as of now may very well be changed in the future.

The Iconoclasts

The game is developed by a man named Joakim Sandberg. Although he did use third-party software to assist in the development process, most of his code was still done from scratch, and he creates all of the assets for the game in the form of both graphics and music. He creates video games as a hobby, everything you see is simply a labor of love, and whether or not The Iconoclasts will be finished is entirely dependent on Sandberg’s motivation. But whether he completes the project or not, it can still be enjoyed for what there is of it.

The moment that you start up a new game, you are treated to some top-notch pixel art. The creator didn’t hold back on the eye candy, and you’ll find that everything in the game will have stylistic details for you to appreciate. Not only that, but the animations are incredible, especially for the main character, Robin. The fantastic artwork and pleasing music would hopefully engross every player enough that you would reach the point where you are introduced to the platforming and combat mechanics.

Sandberg has expressed that one of his largest focuses in game development is ensuring tight controls which don’t feel restrictive to the player. I think he definitely got far in achieving that so far with The Iconoclasts. The platforming feels so smooth, that it provides a very primal enjoyment of jumping between platforms that one would only expect from the likes of Super Mario. Meanwhile, it also presents such ingenuity in its level design which could arguably be on par with that seen in the Donkey Kong Country games.

The Iconoclasts

Not only that, but the combat mechanics are fluid and intuitive. It even goes as far as to allow the player to shoot projectiles in every direction, as well as offering a charged shot for great damage at the cost of a cool-down period. Right from the start of the game, there is already such variety in the gameplay experience, and it makes facing the first boss all the more enjoyable.

The first boss in the game is an interesting one. It is like a ball of spikes that centers around manipulating the floor to accomplish certain actions (which all involve attacking you, naturally). It will create ramps upon which to barrel down towards you, and it will use the floor to launch itself into the air and plummet back down. All of its attacks can be avoided with the platforming mechanics that are made available, it’s not particularly challenging, but it’s still enjoyable and demanding of the player’s attention.

Upon returning to Robin’s home, you are greeted to the first cutscene that the game has to offer. At this point you’re given a taste of the charm that has been injected into the characters, despite the somewhat surreal premise for the story. I’m not about to drop any spoilers, that’s for you to find out. However, I will say that the story is very well done, and I loved how relatable the characters came off to be from the very start.

The Iconoclasts

The next part of the game following the aforementioned cutscene shows you some absolutely brilliant level and puzzle design involving the many abilities which Robin has to work with. When I got through this segment of the game for the first time, it left me wishing for more enemies to tackle, puzzles to solve, obstacles to hurdle, and a general combination of those three things. Despite many of the mechanics and features being virtually at the surface level, they offer so much to the experience and it is very efficient game design.

After you complete the first “level” of the game the rest of the alpha is very story-intensive, introducing new characters and further fleshing out existing ones. The wonderful charm of the characters permeates throughout the experience, even from the nameless bad-guy minions, and it makes playing through the game anything but a chore. As you progress further, you eventually reach the second boss in the game (which is an awesome boss too), and upon defeating it, you are greeted with the  unfortunate end of the alpha…

The Iconoclasts is an unfinished game, yes, and it is so much more than that as well. The well-rounded structure of the game, in addition to design goals that adequately cover all the bases, makes for an experience that can scarcely be outdone by most things. If you don’t take an interest in this game, then you may very well hate 2D platformers entirely. I highly recommend checking this out.