Iconoclasts: Progress Log #4 [END]

[Click here to start from the first progress log]

Wow. Iconoclasts was always a bit high on its own supply, but its approach to religion really turned out to be heavy-handed. Delving into these themes isn’t inherently a bad thing if handled with an adequate amount of subtlety, of course, but this is a game where the three characters Robin spends the most time with have arcs that basically consist of guilt trips that never resolve satisfactorily, and who go into full-blown martyr mode at every available opportunity. Complete with giant text bubbles, even! Because subtlety! Really, toward the end it starts to feel like an atheist sitting around with like-minded friends and being like, “eff religion,” at which point they’re smothered in an endless barrage of high fives. That’s not an example entirely pulled from thin air, either—many conversations take on a confessional tone, so characters’ constant need of that brand of validation doesn’t strike me as trait belonging to them so much as the writer/s; minor details that are continually brought up begin to paint characters as Frankenstein monsters of desired female traits who act as proxies for the writer/s to unload all of their pent-up insecurities onto and subsequently be absolved of (and sometimes not be absolved of).

The chase sequences are endlessly awkward

I’ll be sure to cover how the characters come across as self-inserts and proxies later on when I get into some spoilers (don’t worry—there will be a warning), but for now let’s move on to something that’s awful and bad in the normal, non-creepy way. Namely, chase sequences. I’m not a huge fan of chase sequences to begin with, and Iconoclasts isn’t doing anything to change my mind about that. In the video above, the game turns into an autoscroller, but the thing is that enemies spawn while obscured by visual effects, so you can get hit by something you can’t see while trying to jump higher (1:44). Between the game suddenly dictating your escape pace and that bit of cheapness, this entire sequence can go straight to hell.

This is a later escape sequence, and while it went incredibly well once I started recording, my first couple attempts were much uglier. Basically, you have to use electricity to reveal some bolts to turn, and you have to successfully turn them all the way before the electricity wears off and/or the enemy does a ton of damage to you. I can’t think of a single chase/escape sequence that this game doesn’t screw up.

Of course, the mechanics are still awful

A normal game would allow you to climb a ladder once you’ve reached the bottom part of it. Iconoclasts isn’t a normal game, and little realizations like this can be infuriating. “Of course I need a box to climb this ladder despite normal jumping allowing me to visibly reach its rungs! Of course missiles only work when fired from range! Of course Mina can’t crawl despite that being a basic human ability!”

And Mina can’t crawl. To get through tight spaces while playing as her, you have to slide instead. The first and only time I can recall her ever having to do this is in the video above, which is toward the end of the game. Not great design here.

It’s possible to take damage through solid objects despite other types of attacks (including mines in this same section) being blocked by these exact same blocks. Just one of the million annoying little discoveries that await in Iconoclasts.

All right, spoiler time

What I’m going to do is post a screenshot that isn’t actually a spoiler as a buffer, then a handful of other screenshots that are mild spoilers, and after that it’ll be no holds barred as far as the spoilers are concerned. Even a video title below could be construed as a spoiler, so be sure to stop reading now if you somehow haven’t yet been dissuaded from foolishly attempting to derive entertainment from this disaster.

This isn’t only a buffer, though. Actually, I have no idea how I beat this boss fight, but I wasn’t recording when it happened. In it, there are a bunch of things that can be knocked around with your bomb gun thing, and sometimes the boss shows up and you shoot at her a few times before she disappears. There was so much visual chaos going on that I wasn’t able to tell where the boss was, though, so I ran around shooting wildly at everything around me and suddenly won. No idea how, but I definitely hit her a few times because you can see it in the picture.

Proxies and self-inserts

Something to keep in mind: Robin is a silent protagonist. She can’t respond to anything below, which makes this exchange (and many more like it) incredibly creepy because there’s that added element of helplessness to it. For some back story, Royal is the main male character in the game, and he was supposedly chosen to be the planet’s next leader, etcetera. Some things happen and he’s suddenly plagued by self-doubt, but even before that he’s falling all over himself because of the totally silent Robin. You can probably already start to see where this going.

“If we make it back, I would hope we could meet again, I guess.”

“But, I mean… no… I’m just a clumsy dimwit who failed at every turn.”

“You should probably ignore me.”

“I’m just glad you made it this far. You really are amazing.”

“You’re great…”

And then we leave him to die

Royal’s been a bad boy, and he deserves punishment. That kind of punishment fetish thing is the vibe this entire sequence gives me. “I’m too pathetic and worthless to save, so just leave me to die,” and explicitly so. Then you do leave him. There’s no way to save him, and even if you could get him past the door where you leave him (which isn’t possible), you can’t jump high enough while carrying him to get out with him in tow. It’s not very heroic of Robin to throw him down when he’s not useful anymore and save herself, and it doesn’t fit with her vaguely-defined heroic personality at all, but then, this was never about Robin, was it? She’s little more than a good listener (by way of muteness) and lazy pretense for everyone she meets to launch into a sudden soliloquy about how awful and unredeemable they are.

Then there’s Mina, who’s halfway between Robin and Royal. She’s horribly burdened by problems that she’s constantly making excuses to run away from, but she’s also beautiful and smells bad, and those two things (more the latter than the former, to the point where it starts to read like the writer’s fetish) are constantly being hammered into your skull rather than being amusing one-offs. In fact, one could easily say that these are the things that most define her. But of course, she’s a lesbian and therefore unattainable despite being oh-so-relatable to, say, a self-insert similarly plagued by problems. She hates Royal for most of the game anyway, woe are we that happiness shall never be ours, etcetera. It may seem that I’m reading too much into things here, but self-pity proves to be the connective tissue holding Iconoclasts together, and there’s no redemption, nor is there a satisfying character arc. Royal gets left by Robin to die. Elro is basically tortured throughout the entire game in various ways right up to the end. Mina and her lover kind of sort of patch things up if the credits are any indication, but there are some pretty big issues left unresolved in her life (I mean, she’s a lesbian in a culture that worships procreation).

Sudden Elro gameplay is bad

Robin’s brother Elro gets his arm ripped off at one point. Later on, he becomes playable despite being a lumbering, borderline useless mess to control. There’s even a boss fight that he has to make it through! It’s not a great experience.

Bad fights are the norm

This fight is also awful. It begins with the boss rushing you, grabbing you (and this doesn’t appear to be something you can dodge), and reducing your health to a small fraction of what it was. She does this multiple times throughout the fight, too, forcing you to stop attacking and find health. This isn’t even the worst fight in the game. It’s just emblematic of the endless gimmickry on display here, and the vast majority of fights include something stupid like this. The decent/good ones are incredibly rare.

While we’re here…

If you’ve read this far, then I’m assuming that you’re impervious to spoilers and don’t mind me embedding the final boss fight and ending. The beginning of the boss fight is awful, almost playing out more as a minigame, but the actual boss fights that follow are thankfully among the rare decent ones. And there’s no indication of what that bird thing is, by the way. It’s just some random space bird mad that all of the magical stuff in the planet’s ground is running low. Also, everyone worships the bird’s ship as a giant worm god for some reason. This doesn’t make much sense, but I suspect that the point wasn’t to have a functional plot. Besides, ending on a giant non sequitur is strangely fitting given what precedes it. That’s not a compliment.

Final note: “lead” and “led” are different words, and making that mistake 100 million times over the course of a 10-15 hour game really starts to eat away at one’s sanity.

[Click here to go to Iconoclasts log #3]

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