Owlboy

Welcome to our round-up of the best Metroidvania games. That slightly awkward portmanteau refers to a hybrid genre inspired by Metroid and Castlevania. They tend to be 2D platformers that have you exploring dungeons, defeating bosses, and picking up items that unlock new zones of the map. Within this simple format there is plenty of room for variation and, it turns out, lots of gorgeous art. 

A few of the games on the list have been lovingly crafted by small teams and even individuals over the course of a decade or so. Others, like Dead Cells, experiment with fusing the metroidvania with other genres to create a powerful hybrid. Whichever games you pick, expect lots of 2D platforming and some tough boss fights.

Ori and the Blind Forest

Ori's warmly animated world and slightly tearful opener barely hint at the incredibly tricky platforming challenges that follow. PC Gamer's Philippa Warr has compared this to a teddy bear that wants to punch you in the face—it's a cute and beautiful-looking game, but damn tricky. The pleasant soundtrack puts you at ease while the game rarely does.

 Axiom Verge

One of the very best modern examples of the form, Axiom Verge is set in a dark, Giger-esque alien world populated by mysterious giant mechanical beings and, of course, a slew of bullet hell boss monsters. New paths open up as you discover fresh alien gadgetry, like a trenchcoat that lets you phase through walls, and a device that lets you control a small alien bug to crawl into new cave systems. 

Combat is simple—blast the alien things flapping around each level—but there are loads of weapons to discover, and plenty of secrets if you’re determined enough to glitch or blast your way through secret walls. It’s a sinister and slightly unnerving game with some genuinely dark moments, but that makes it a fitting tribute to the lonely hostile corridors of the original Metroid games. 

Hollow Knight 

This one takes a while to get going, but once you have a few upgrades it’s a spectacular hand-drawn metroidvania with a snappy melee combat system. Hollow Knight borrows its melancholy apocalyptic atmosphere from Dark Souls, and also its currency recovering system—if you make it back to the place you died you can reclaim your last life’s earnings.

Hollow Knight looks gorgeous, and it’s full of interesting bug characters that sell you new gear and give you extra quests. The bosses are challenging and the dodge-and-slash combat is a serious test of skill once you’ve unlocked a few moves and started running into the game’s more serious enemies. The world is beautifully put together, too, and you learn more about the fate of the city as you dash, skip, and double-jump into new zones.

Owlboy

You’ll notice that many of these games are set underground in endless cave systems. Owlboy is set in a floating cloud kingdom. As said Owlboy, Otus, you have to flap around the world in a slightly cumbersome manner befitting a character who is regarded as an idiot by his village. You can teleport friends into your claws as you fly around. Different pals come with different abilities; some will fend off nearby enemies with projectile attacks, others will help you to access new zones in true metroidvania fashion. It’s tricky to say much about Owlboy without spoiling the story, but suffice to say it’s an emotional ride depicted in lovingly detailed pixel art. 

Shadow Complex Remastered

Blast your way through a military compound with machine guns in this futuristic Metroidvania. It’s billed as a “2.5D” game, which means you run and jump on a 2D plane, but can shoot into the background as soldiers and battle robots. You play as an ordinary man called Jason Fleming who gets lost on a hike and stumbles across a high-tech group bent on starting a civil war in the US. The game escalates from there you strap on their armour, raid their armoury and start blasting their mechs. The game was originally released on XBOX Live Arcade, but lives on Steam now as Shadow Complex Remastered.

Cave Story+

Daisuke Amaya’s seminal indie metroidvania is available on PC as Cave Story+, which features the original 320x240 visuals and the updated version. You play an amnesiac boy who wakes up in a cave full of rabbit folk called Mimigas. They are being picked off by the malign creations of a mad scientist, who you need to chase across 15 levels. It’s a big game, especially considering it was made by one very dedicated creator with a clear love for the 16-bit era. An absolute classic and a must-play if you love metroidvanias.

Iconoclasts

From one solo creator to another. Joakim Sandberg spent many years painstakingly designing, animating and composing for Iconoclasts. The result is a cheery and colourful metroidvania starring a friendly mechanic called Robin. This is a relatively shooty one featuring more than 20 bosses, but the worlds are packed with chatty characters. It’s worth picking up to see what seven years of one guy’s life’s work looks like.

Steamworld Dig 2

Approachable, and not too difficult, the Steamworld Dig games deliver a gentle hit of Metroidvania action supplemented by lots of Terraria-style digging. You can pickaxe your way through the levels, but this isn’t a sandbox. You have to tunnel your way to new zones and grab new gadgets to upgrade your hero, a steam-powered cowboy robot in the first game and a blue woman in flying goggles in the second. The sequel has more varied environments and a bigger world to explore, so that’s the best place to start.

Dead Cells

Dead Cells straddles the line between Metroidvania and roguelike, which makes it a warped child of Super Metroid, Castlevania and Rogue. You battle through randomised dungeons, starting from the beginning each time you die. As you chop up enemies in beautifully animated exchanges of sword-blows and bow attacks they drop cells that you can pour into your character. 

This persistent element eventually gives your guy the sturdiness to reach new zones you haven’t seen before, fulfilling the typical metroidvania exploration pattern. Dead Cells is a game about blasting through dungeons as quickly and efficiently as possible. When you arrive in an area a timer starts on a hidden treasure door somewhere on the level, if you can find it before the timer expires, you get access to a room full of special items and sweet cash. Dead Cells is a high pressure game compared to others in this list (bar Ori and Hollow Knight), but if you like action and great pixel art Dead Cells is a good option, though it still has some time to mature in Early Access.

Iconoclasts - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Brendan Caldwell)

egx-rezzed-2018-disco-elysium

Are you going to the glittering Imperial city of London next month for games show EGX Rezzed? I m not. I ve got a stag weekend in Madrid where I m expected to play Gaelic football with a crowd of storming drunks. Trust me, you re better off in the bright glass hallways of Tobacco Dock, especially now that six more games have been added to the line-up, including Disco Elysium, the surreal isometric adventure formerly known as No Truce With The Furies. (more…)

Iconoclasts - Kalli
The Official Soundtrack of Iconoclasts is now available on Steam! Composed solely by Joakim Sandberg, you can find in the DLC section. Relive those multi-stage boss fights!

Patch 1.14 is also live, improving game stability, patch notes can be found in the Community Hub.

We would also like to remind everybody that the Iconoclasts Discord is growing: get help if you are stuck, figure out the most effective speedrunning route and Tweak combos or just hang out with the community!

Thank you all!
Iconoclasts - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alex Wiltshire)

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the difficult journeys they underwent to make the best bits of their games. This time, Iconoclasts [official site].

Iconoclasts is a platformer that feels great to play. As Robin, a daring mechanic armed with a wrench and a stun gun, you ll run, jump and shoot your way through sprawling multi-level areas, enjoying precise movements which balance detail and nuance with smoothness. It s a feel that s down to developer Joakim Sandberg s taste in games. Something I always enjoy in a videogame is that feeling, usually when you ve played it a few times, of being able to push through, he tells me. Flow, essentially.

Almost all of Iconoclasts design features are directly about maintaining this sense of flow, of momentum in which you feel like nothing is getting in the way of your intention. And one feature you ll notice when you first start playing the game is kind of shocking. (more…)

Iconoclasts - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (John Walker)

So many people have been looking forward to Iconoclasts for so many years – we wrote our first impressions of it in 2011! – that it’s dangerous to venture any opinions into the fray.

But I fear no danger. Iconoclasts, properly released after all these years, is fine. Kinda. (more…)

Iconoclasts - Valve
Iconoclasts is now available on Steam!

Join renegade mechanic Robin and uncover the secrets of a dying planet. Explore a big world filled with intricate puzzles, interesting characters and menacing bosses in a beautiful platform adventure that tells a personal story about faith, purpose and the challenge of helping people.

Iconoclasts

Robin is a mechanic, but the authoritarian society she lives in doesn’t want her to be. Jobs like this are outlawed for regular citizens, forcing her to keep her tool-slinging talents a secret from One Concern—the sinister religious regime in charge. Even so, she still helps out around the village with repairs, using a wrench hidden in her basement. You can’t keep a good mechanic down.

But after an unexpected run-in with Concern agents, she decides the thing that needs fixin’ most is the world. And so she embarks on a quest to make it a better place, accompanied by a group of like-minded rebels who share her hatred of the society they live in. It’s an engaging premise, bolstered by colourful writing, lavish pixel art, and superb animation.

Iconoclasts is clearly inspired by games like Metroid and Castlevania (if only there was a clumsy portmanteau to describe a game like this), but it has enough new ideas to stand on its own and not feel like a direct homage to either. It’s also a lot heavier on story than these games usually are, with reams of dialogue to click through, a huge cast of characters to meet, and frequent cutscene breaks. It balances pathos and humour pretty well, although I found some of the jokes a little too goofy for their own good.

A grease monkey is nothing without her tools, and Robin’s best abilities stem from the variety of gadgets she has hanging from her belt. As well as projectile weapons, including a stun gun and a grenade launcher, she can batter enemies with her wrench and spin it around like a Wild West gunslinger. And she can also jump in the air and unleash a devastating butt slam.

But the wrench has other, more interesting uses. Around the large, interconnected levels you’ll see glowing bolts, some of which can be swung on to leap over obstacles, and others that operate machinery. The latter forms the basis of the game’s well-designed environmental puzzles, which involve finding hidden bolts and cranking them to slide increasingly complex networks of doors and moving platforms around, creating a path through the level.

She can batter enemies with her wrench and spin it around like a Wild West gunslinger

Otherwise, Iconoclasts is a fairly standard shooter/platformer hybrid—but, thanks to precise and responsive controls, an enjoyable one. Leaping around feels wonderfully snappy, and there’s a huge bestiary of enemies to fight, all with their own distinct attack patterns and weaknesses. It’s evident a lot of time has been spent refining the controls, making them feel just right.

The art is impressive, with chunky, smoothly animated characters reminiscent of SNK’s Metal Slug series, and some beautifully detailed environments. Robin’s journey takes her to a lush forest filled with weird geometric plants, a sun-baked desert, an underwater city, the roof of a speeding train, and other locations, all of which beam with colour and personality.

It’s a challenging game too, especially when one of the big, screen-filling bosses shows up. While they all boil down to memorising a few patterns, some of them are incredibly fast-paced and chaotic. Often you’re accompanied by an AI partner, including shotgun-toting pirate Mina and Royal, a man with telekinetic powers. And you’ll need all the help you can get. 

The level of challenge is nicely balanced, although a few sharp difficulty spikes did catch me off guard. I also had problems with clarity, occasionally unsure where to head next to progress, or how to take down a particular enemy. Sometimes characters will yell out hints during boss battles about how to beat them, but I found the wording of these confusing more than once.

Upgrades called Tweaks bring a little customisation to the game. These can be crafted by finding materials hidden in treasure chests, and offer useful buffs when equipped: holding your breath for longer, doing more damage with your wrench, running faster. And you get to choose which of these you equip, giving you some freedom to tailor Robin to your own specific play style.

Iconoclasts is a fine game, offering both satisfyingly sharp platforming and shooting, and some really smart puzzles. It’s enormous too, packed with secret areas and other stuff to discover. And although I found the humour a little glib and childish at times, it tells its heartfelt story well. A lot of Metroidvania games go for a bleak, downbeat atmosphere, but Iconoclasts is infectiously vibrant and sunny, even if the story does occasionally venture into dark territory.

Iconoclasts - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Dominic Tarason)

iconoclasts2

It’s an odd experience to have followed the development of a game for almost a decade, only to have it blindside you. Iconoclasts, the slow-cooked passion project from prolific developer and highly talented sprite-artist Joakim ‘Konjak’ Sandberg might look like your average Metroidvania-type platform adventure at first glance, but that’s not the whole picture.

Konjak cites semi-obscure Genesis/Megadrive game Monster World IV as his primary inspiration. That’s not a game I’ve played so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Thankfully, I came away very pleasantly surprised by Iconoclasts’ unconventional flow and strange story.

(more…)

Iconoclasts

Joakim 'Konjak' Sandberg is not very health-conscious. For the past seven years, he's been developing Iconoclasts full-time completely on his own. It's been a heady mix of design, delays and, occasionally, depression, but Sandberg's masterwork will finally release on Tuesday, January 23. When I sit down to talk with him, he says he'll try to remember to take weekends off next time, and maybe he could stand to plan things out a little more. But looking back, he's proud of how far he's come on his own.

We first played Iconoclasts in 2013, two years before it hit Steam Greenlight bearing an optimistic 2016 release date. But Sandberg started working on it in earnest in 2010, and the original idea for it came three years earlier. With art inspired by Monster World 4—an old Mega Drive platformer which was re-released in 2007—and gameplay inspired by Metroid Fusion, it was the biggest idea Sandberg had ever taken on. Compared to his previous projects and experiments, Iconoclasts stands out because of its size alone, but also, he says, because of its ambitious story.  

Iconoclasts is set in a world where everyone's jobs are decided by The One Concern, a sort of government overseer, Sandberg tells me. It's a world permeated by a fuel known as ivory, which is considered holy and used to power various machines. The mechanics who build and repair those holy machines command almost priest-like respect. So obviously you can't just decide to be a mechanic. That doesn't stop Robin, the main character and a so-called 'rogue mechanic', from doing just that after learning about machines from her father. 

Robin's nest  

"It is quite narrative-heavy," Sandberg says. "It's interesting, because I didn't have a script. I made the whole game just like I made games before: I make it as you play it. Which is not something you really should do if you want to have a view of your scope. You don't really know when it ends when you do that.

"At the beginning, the story is how I was thinking at the start of my 20s, and at the end it's how I was when I was reaching my 30s. It was always the intent that it starts very typical, very happy, sort of cliche, then turns into something darker. That's sort of how an adult mind shapes, I guess."

If you cut Iconoclasts in half, you could count the rings on it just like a tree. But rather than the game's age, you'd be measuring Sandberg's. He got into making games as a teenager through the development group Clickteam and, after a few years of tinkering with small ideas, started Iconoclasts in his early 20s. He's now heading into his early 30s, and that gap is reflected in Iconoclast's story. 

"It is sort of a growing-up story, but not in terms of love, in terms of attitudes toward people," he says. "Robin is the center of that. She doesn't speak, so she doesn't have much more character than is implied from others and what you get a feel of from talking to other people and helping them. 

"I'm a big fan of characters and I'm not a fan of lore. I want there to be character arcs. I go by feel when I write these things. Every single character is held back by something they want to be, but that they don't let themselves be because they feel the world wants them to be something else. Their conflict is being bitter about that and taking it out on each other. Robin, as the central character, succeeds and fails to get them to be more open about what they want. 

If I don't finish this, I've thrown away five years.

Joakim Sandberg

"At the start of the game, Robin lives alone and all she wants to do is help people. She's the happy young person who thinks you can help anyone if you just believe. Across the game, she meets people who've lost the ambition to achieve what they want to do in their lives. In a way they're bringing her down, trying to convert her to their line of thinking. The point of those characters is that, for as long as she can, Robin stays positive." 

Sandberg spent some of Iconoclast's development trying to stay positive and find motivation himself. For about six months around the end of 2014, he says it was hard to even work on the game. Finding his current publisher helped, but eventually, he says, it came down to "if I don't finish this, I've thrown away five years." Sticking to an art style he decided on almost 10 years ago was also challenging, he explains, as were the many factors that led to Iconoclast's long development.

Stuck in  

"It's a big game with one person," Sandberg says. "Relative to other games, I actually think I was fast to do this with all the breaks and losing motivation from time to time. What takes all the time for me—and bosses are always involved to do too—is I decided early on to have animated cutscenes, which was hard to get motivation to do and took forever to do. Making gameplay, it feels like you're actually creating content. Making a cutscene, which takes longer to make than a level, feels counter-intuitive. 

"And of course I went back and changed things. Stuff I wrote in the beginning was not stuff I wanted when I was 30. I mentioned I couldn't get a sense of scope. At the same time, if I wrote a script… It's not easy to write, but it's easy to write a lot. If I had a script before I made the game, I probably would have had something even bigger in scope, before I actually got a sense of how hard it would be to make. I think that's a benefit of making it up as I go." 

Sandberg says some of his best ideas were born from his on-the-fly schedule. For example, Iconoclasts originally had much more complicated power-ups. But Sandberg didn't want it to feel bloated—he wanted players to have "just exactly what they need." So, he pared back the upgrades to emphasize finding the right strategy as opposed to stronger gear. That process ate up a solid chunk of 2017, a year Sandberg confesses he can scarcely remember. 

Looking ahead, Sandberg expects he'll still be busy after Iconoclasts releases. He'll have plenty of post-launch maintenance to do, for one, and he already has an idea for his next game, which will be smaller in scope and different to Iconoclasts—something "I want to do rather than something I'm going to design to be successful," he says. But for now, as nearly a decade of helter-skelter development comes to a close, he's got just one thing on his mind: "I hope people enjoy it." 

Iconoclasts will be available on Steam from January 23.

Iconoclasts - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Dominic Tarason)

Iconoclasts

A few indie passion projects years in the making have finally come to fruition this year. While it’ll be missing December by a couple weeks, we’ve now got Iconoclasts to look forward to, an ambitious metroidvania by Swedish solo developer Konjak which will finally launch on January 23rd after over ten years of development.

While the release date was announced over a week back, and accompanied by a trailer, we’ve got a little treat for those late to the party; A longer ‘rough-cut’ uploaded recently, featuring a little more gameplay and a little more of that gorgeous full-screen character animation.

(more…)

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