The idea of SEGA and Nintendo colliding no longer seems nearly so bizarre as it did back when Sonic Adventure 2 first appeared on GameCube. Remember that? It seemed like the very embodiment of "mass hysteria, dogs and cats sleeping together".
At this point, though, Sonic and Mario have punched the crap out of each other in Smash Bros., competed in Olympic sports together, and generally learned to live in something akin to harmony. However: Iconoclasts, a new platformer from Noitu Love developer Konjak, draws heavily on Nintendo and SEGA creations that predate the two companies' cohabitation. It circles back, in fact, to the chilliest part of the 16-bit cold war. As such, Iconoclasts feels as shocking and unexpected as its name would imply. It's well and good to see Mario and Sonic appearing peacefully together on 3DS, but in a work that specifically references a particular Genesis game's visual style? Unthinkable.
Yet here we are. Iconoclasts designer Joakim Sandberg explained that his primary influences in crafting his latest project were twofold. First, there's Monster World IV. Arguably the most visually stunning Genesis game ever created, Monster World IV didn't make its way West until many years after its 1994 debut in Japan, but even now it impresses with its bold graphical style. Eschewing the Genesis's usual use of dithered color to simulate shading, Monster World IV had a bright, cartoonish look that Iconoclasts keys on, imitates, and improves on (no Genesis game ever had the kind of fluid, rubbery animation that you'll see in Iconoclasts).
Mechanically, though, Monster World IV has very little to do with this new creation. Instead, Sandberg says, he looked to a Nintendo classic for inspiration when it came to mechanics and structure: Metroid Fusion. While the portions of Iconoclasts I demoed at BitSummit last week didn't play exactly like Fusion — in the opening parts of the game, at least, you control a woman who deals with enemies by whacking them with a giant wrench rather than blasting them with a plasma cannon — I can definitely see the influence on display.
The protagonist, Robin, definitely demonstrates some of Samus Aran's agility; she starts the game armed with the "power grip" that became a part of the Metroid arsenal beginning with Fusion. And the environments she navigates are as much self-contained puzzles as they are combat arenas. The opening stage consists of a series of stand-alone platforming puzzles that challenge you to open doors in increasingly complex ways. Robin's massive wrench doubles as both a weapon and a universal tool for solving puzzles, e.g. cranking mechanisms that open gates. By the time you complete the prologue sequence, you'll be scrambling through narrow passages, doubling back to previous rooms, and activating platforms and devices in various configurations to open new passages. It's fairly complex, but it moves fluidly and never feels too frustrating.
Beyond the intro, the game unfolds into a sort of hub. While the BitSummit demo ran entirely in Japanese (meaning I couldn't really follow the zippy dialogue), the action spills into a town populated by villagers — some humble commoners, others more official-looking warrior and elder types. According to Sandberg, there's quite a bit of quest-related dialogue in the town, and from there it opens into multiple self-contained spaces. Therein lies the Metroid Fusion connection; like that game, Iconoclasts branches into multiple regions that players have to complete with a mix of combat and exploration.
It may be an unthinkable mix in concept — classic SEGA and Nintendo together in one! — but the end result looks gorgeous and plays beautifully. And it should; Sandberg says the game has been in development for nearly seven years. Happily, it's nearly finished, with a target release date (hopefully) sometime in July.