This article originally appeared in PC Gamer UK issue 251.
Abandoned and resurrected at least once, The Iconoclasts is an indie platformer project of such lengthy gestation that it's achieved mythic status in dev circles. A heavily truncated alpha has been knocking around for years, but its sole developer, Joakim 'Konjak' Sandberg, still declines to put a year to the game's release. This would bode ill, were it not for the arrival of an expansive new build for the Independent Games Festival, revealing a lush Metroidvania-style world of ambitious scale, snappily acrobatic combat, sporadic puzzling, and a surprisingly involving, funny and philosophical plot.
You play Robin, 17-year-old orphan and secret mechanic: the very idea of tampering with machinery is likely to get you executed by the pseudo-religious militaristic regime, the One Concern. To say much more about its setting would spoil the way the backstory slowly percolates through the witty conversations with Robin's neighbours, and those she meets as she is chased out of her home by the One Concern's supernaturally powerful agents.
Beneath the glib jokes are some surprisingly well-enunciated philosophies and a cast of caricatures that are more fully realised and intriguing than those of most RPGs. There's Mina – impetuous, passionate and rebellious, but haunted by past mistakes and her responsibility to her overbearing invalid mother. Later you find yourself tangled up with Royal – a son of the aristocracy, suffocated by his own place within the regime and more interested in botany than power. But does his loyalty to the status quo prove deeper than it first appears? Alongside these are a dozen colourfully drawn characters, from the big talking Cab Calloway lookalike who props up Settlement 17's bar, to the jovially callous sea captain or the cowboy-hatted, scripture-spouting General Chrome.
"Its cast of caricatures are more fully realised and intriguing than those of most RPGs."
It may be this that really sets The Iconoclasts apart from its platformer peers, but it's no slouch when it comes to the fundamentals of movement and combat. Robin moves with precision, dispatching foes with a flurry of laser fire before using her wrench to swing from a suspended bolt, cling to a ledge and then vault from that to another. The environmental puzzles that halt your progress are a varied bunch – timing puzzles, flip-switch puzzles, sequence puzzles – while the many lurid boss-battles often require lateral thinking and experimentation.
The six or so hours of this build leave the plot tantalisingly incomplete, but feel in a close-to-final state by themselves, awaiting just a small number of tweaks to comb out the less intuitive solutions and occasional grammatical oddities. Will we see its release in 2013? It's not a sure bet – but, on this evidence, it will be worth the wait.