While Owlboy and Kirby:Star Allies are still a while away from release, there’s a duo of newly released heavy-hitters if (like me) you need to scratch that run-and-jump itch in the meantime.
Iconoclasts (PS4, Steam), $19.99
After several years of (almost) single-handed development, Iconoclasts is here. It features a deep plot, tons of boss fights and some aspects of the Metroidvania genre have been thrown in for good measure. The pacing can feel a bit off at times due to the long-winded nature of some of the dialogue sequences, but there is plenty of (good) gameplay to be had for the $20 price tag. My initial run through the game took around 14 hours, and I enjoyed most of the screen-filling fights and puzzle-solving with a few instances of frustration in both departments. If you don’t mind the dense plot and some trial and error in learning to conquer enemies here and there, it’s well worth the asking price!
Celeste (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Steam) ,$19.99
To be frank, twitch platformers like Super Meat Boy seldom had any appeal to me. This sub-genre is more suited towards sadists (which, I enjoy a good challenge, but trying to complete these always proves to be more frustrating than fun and I don’t always get the same sense of accomplishment as I did when I finished Ghosts n Goblins) and speedrunners (which is not my niche…I dread time trials in ANY genre to be honest). However, what sold me on Celeste despite all of this was word that it had a message regarding anxiety and depression. Unlike Super Meat Boy and its dozens of look-alikes, there’s more going on here than a stock “beat the bad guy” plot and dying 100+ times on a single screen just to do the same thing on the next.
Celeste is about a girl named Madeline who is hell-bent on climbing Celeste Mountain, although she’s not entirely sure why she’s attempting to do in the first place. Early on, you meet up with Madeline’s reflection, an embodiment of both conditions, who attempts to change Madeline’s mind as she moves up the mountain. As someone who was clinically diagnosed with anxiety and depression at a very young age, the message the game conveys as you progress (which I won’t spoil) hits very close to home and is beautifully told.
Even if I’m not a fan of the sub-genre, I still had a surprising amount of fun with this one. While it’s brutally difficult and demanding just like any other twitch-platformer, the multiple paths on many of the screens and secret areas (along with the dialogues between Madeline and her reflection as well as the few other characters) kept me engaged. In addition to secrets , there are cassette tapes that can be found in each chapter that will unlock an even more challenging version of it after completion. These push the mechanics introduced in the chapter and your patience to the absolute limit, but are not mandatory to finish the game.
For those who want it, there is also an “assist mode” that allows the player to make a number of different tweaks to reduce the difficulty (such as infinite stamina, slowing down time and invulnerability). I never found reason to use it, though, but I can understand and appreciate the developer’s decision to include such a feature. For a game in a genre that is by no means beginner friendly, Celeste makes an effort to ease newbies into it and would serve as an excellent starting point for those who want to get into this sub-genre.