UFG Goes Hands on With Icons: Combat Arena!

It can be difficult to break into a popular video game genre. Once a major title takes up residence in our collective minds as the “best” possible product, it takes a lot to evict them; outside of PUBG, nothing really competes with Fortnite right now. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to steal away some of the market though. Provided the newer title offers a unique spin or some defining feature that propels it to the forefront…

This brings me to Wavedash Games and their newly released Early Access title, Icons: Combat Arena. This free-to-play platform fighter features the subgenre’s more popular elements – knocking opponents off out platforms/beyond the edges of the screen, a percentage gage in place of a life bar, powerful “smash” attacks, etc. – as well as an interesting cast of characters. Seen as less of a party game and more of a focused, 1v1 fighter, Icons feels similar to games like Brawlout; there are no items (as of yet) and the match options that currently limit the player count*. It’s a game that promotes skilled play over luck, gimmicks and so on. And for the most part, it works.

Before moving on, let’s take care of the elephant in the room, shall we? Yes, Icons: Combat Arena is a platform fighter that isn’t Super Smash Bros. That fact alone shouldn’t determine whether or not it’s worth playing; WaveDash isn’t trying to necessarily compete with that gargantuan title. Instead, they’re trying to offer another option. Something that can be enjoyed regardless of how players feel about Mario and the gang. Mmmk? Mmmk!

Icons plays similarly to other platform fighters, with a control scheme that’s nearly identical to every other title in the subgenre. They aren’t as responsive as they should be though. With every button press, there is a slight delay between the input and onscreen action. At first, I thought it was lag; playing against other UFG staffers online offered up that synopsis. Unfortunately, the same lag was present in the training mode. This made completing combos, dodging projectiles, and connecting strong attacks more difficult then they needed to be. It’s still playable of course. Even fun at times. It just takes some getting used to.

Wavedash does a great job of diversifying in Icons’ roster (both in character type and move sets). It felt good to land a tricky shot as the gun toting Raymer or to grab and slam someone onto the ground after launching them into the air as the galactic wrestler Xana. Some of the characters are familiar – the bounty hunter Kidd plays just like Star Fox – while others are rather unique. For instance, the duo Afi & Galu seemed to be Icons’ answer to the Ice Climbers. What separates them from Nintendo’s pair is how they share one lifeforce, requiring the player to tag between the two at the right moments to be effective. Familiar or not, all of the characters are fun to use. And I especially love how Wavedash incorporated different cultures – the icons seem to be more than just aliens/anthropomorphic characters duking it out on random stages.

Speaking of the stages, it would have been nice to see more detailed arenas. As of right now, some of them are great while others seem basic in design. Sure, the focus is mainly on the fighters. But without any distinguishing features, there’s no reason to choose one stage over another in most cases. And while the game looks good, as of right now, it’ll struggle to compete with the games with better environments. Why? Because of how similar these games can be; any reason to go back to an older title needs to be addressed. It doesn’t help that Icons doesn’t have a known roster (Smash Bros.), weapons (Brawlhalla), or visually striking arenas with varied platform placement (Brawlout). We already mentioned how its combat is mired by laggy controls. Icons needs to stand out is my point, and the arenas themselves could help in that regard.

Being a free-to-play game, there had to be some sort of microtransaction or DLC available for purchase. In Icons case, players can purchase a pro account which nets them all current and future characters. They’ll also be able to purchase customization items like skins, taunts, holograms (sprays in shooters) and even the platform they load in on/respawn with after death. Sadly, there’s no direct way to purchase them; you’ll have to roll the dice with loot crates called Portal Packs. None of these items affect the gameplay and most of them can be unlocked by playing the game though. I personally liked the idea of being able to change how my character looks beyond a recolor, something Wavedash is betting on. It just would have been nice to be able to pick and choose what I wanted to unlock directly**.

Icons: Combat Arena is obviously a work in progress. The good news is that Wavedash is doing a good job patching, changing, and fixing things. Some of my qualms have been addressed already. Some aren’t that big of a priority; small things like odd sound effects are lower on the totem poll. Newer elements like some sort of final attack, since it’s so heavily focused on 1v1 bouts, would help gameplay wise. The ability to try out and buy characters directly will help monetarily, given how the industry has fared with loot crates as of late. Whatever the case, I am looking forward to this game’s growth. As it stands, Icons is a game worth keeping an eye on.

*Wavedash has announced that new 4v4 and 2v2 modes are in the works.
**There have been some changes to the Portal Packs. For one, now players will get tokens that will allow them to pick which character they want to unlock. It’s still random (you might not get a token) but there is some player choice involved. Not only that, but players can now win these boxes just by playing Quick Match.

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