Publisher: Marvel Studios
Price: Free (Contains IAP)
Platforms: iOS, Android (Reviewed)
Reviewed On: ASUS Transformer Prime (TF201)
Just in case you’re not getting your fix of Tony Stark this week with the debut of Iron Man 3 in theatres, mobile developer Gameloft has you covered with an official, licensed movie-game. I know what you’re thinking, “AHHH! MOVIE-GAME! RUN!!” But, if everyone will just calm down and turn off the caps lock for a moment, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find a rather worthwhile casual experience here.
Iron Man 3 falls into the category of an endless runner; although perhaps “runner” isn’t the right term, as Stark spends the entire game flying. From there the game is broken into two segments: Low-flying “ground” segments and high-flying “air” segments. The ground segments will task Tony with dodging cars, trucks, infantry soldiers, and curiously-placed laser barriers in seemingly civilian tunnels. Up in the sky is where the real action takes place, because in addition to dodging missiles, jets, billboards, and the occasion hot air balloon, Iron Man will be spend most of his time battling a variety of enemies. From minor nuisances like Drones, to battle-ready armor exo-suits, and even the occasional Extremis experiment gone wrong, Iron Man uses a mix of short burst repulsor blasts, his steady-stream repulsor beam, and whatever special ability his current armor affords him, to take down opposing threats. It’s worth mentioning that the game is a companion to the movie, so obviously some minor story spoilers are involved, but for the most part the dialogue will only spoil things for avid comic readers, who will likely piece scraps of info together into a more significant plot spoiler.
Mechanically, Iron Man 3 is a mix of what’s come before with a few dressings on top to differentiate the experience. The game offers the choice of using either gyro or touch controls, so those playing on smartphones with limited screen space may want to option for the motion-tilt experience that offers a better viewing angle while playing. For tablet devices, the game can be played offline without a Wi-Fi connection, which in this always-on day and age is worth mentioning. If you do have an internet connection, however, the game will provide leaderboards for each run to display how you stack up against the worldwide competition.
Being a free-to-play game, Iron Man 3’s attempts to make money come from in-app purchases. This comes in two forms: Iso-8 (a currency to anyone familiar with Marvel’s other mobile/casual games such as Avengers Alliance on Facebook or Playdom or the mobile Avengers Initiative title) and Stark Credits. Small quantities of credits can be picked up during runs, whereas Iso is a bit harder to earn, making a quick purchase seem all the more tempting. While it is possible to unlock all suits, of which there are 18, and fully upgrade every armor without paying a dime, it becomes the age-old question of time vs. money. Iso is a used for everything from speeding up timers between upgrades and suit repairs, to purchasing new suits (and subsequent slots to house them) or reviving during a run you’re not quite finished with yet, all in a not-so-subtle attempt to leave you always in need of a few more precious crystals.
Being monotonous by nature, as an endless runner, the game keep things fresh by assigning players a series of missions to complete during every run. Those who’ve played Jetpack Joyride will be immediately familiar with the setup here. At any given time, Iron Man will have three objectives to complete on a run; ranging from “fly X amount of distance in a single run” or “defeat X amount of enemies” and the occasional “fully upgrade X amount of suits”; all of which reward either credits or Iso upon completion. This is in addition to the daily boss goal, which tasks players with reaching a certain distance and then defeating the enemy in question. Bosses come with their own pre-mission/mid-flight dialogue and further an overarching story that involves the likes of notable Iron Man rogues such as The Crimson Dynamo, M.O.D.O.K., and Ezekiel Stane. On top of all of this, there are a number of trophies to unlock which will reward players with an extra helping of Iso-8, which can be shared via Facebook if you so desire. Such mission variety, coupled with leaderboard support and boss battles, is an earnest, successful attempt at making Iron Man 3 feel like a multifaceted experience, rather than a simple runner.
However, there are a few drawbacks that hurt the fun factor. Detection issues in certain instances detract from the gameplay. For example, when set to touch controls, players utilize the touch screen to both fire repulsor blasts and move Iron Man from side to side. The bottom part of the screen is supposed to be for navigation, while the top half is used to shoot. A nice idea, but in reality it falls through. Often times, in high stress situations where quick reflexes are key to avoiding obstacles, Iron Man will stop dodging to fire of a repulsor shot, leaving him vulnerable to oncoming attacks. Sometimes the simple act of swiping from left to right in an effort to strafe across the screen will leave Iron Man stopping somewhere in the middle to attack the wall he should instead be dodging. It doesn’t happen often, but even once is enough to end a run under the right circumstances. After a run ends, Iron Man’s current armor has a cooldown for “repairs”. This can either be skipped with Iso, or you can choose to use a different armor during the repair (which often takes less than a minute.) Some folks see this as a deal-breaker, but with the game offering three armor slots from the start, with the option to upgrade in exchange for Iso, there’s really never a time when you’re not allowed to play. Upon release, the game also had some minor issues crashing during high-stress situations, (i.e. a lot of enemies on screen or longer runs when things speed up.) Fortunately, after an update released Saturday morning, I haven’t encountered any more instances of crashing.
The worst issue, however, is the lack of confirmation screens during in-app purchases, making it easy to accidentally spend the entirety of your Iso supply in a matter of moments. In my experience, I was scrolling through the armor gallery just to look at some of the suits the game offered and, due to a small latency error, I triple-clicked the same spot on the screen. Before I knew it, the game took me to the IAP menu and spent 200 Iso crystals (my entire supply) in exchange for 30,000 credits (which are much easier to obtain in-game.) Needless to say, I wasn’t happy. Had there been a confirmation screen before the transfer, the purchase could’ve been avoided, so be careful where you click.
In terms of aesthetics, Iron Man 3 boasts some top-notch design. There are three levels to run through, ranging in diversity from flying along the Malibu beach shoreline, to an airfield full of active jets. There are a few different music tracks to listen to as well, so the random combinations the game cooks up offer enough diversity to feel satisfying. The levels are nicely designed, so long as your rig can handle the game (my quad-core tablet needs to be running on either “balanced” or “performance” mode for the game to run well), and obstacles render in ample time for you to see and avoid them. The real graphical marvel on display here, some pun intended, are Tony’s various armors. They look gorgeous both during runs, and back on the pre-mission screens. The level of detail is almost ridiculous, with small decals and designs eagle-eyed audience members will be able to recall from all three movies. It’s a shame there isn’t a dedicated gallery mode to view all of the unlocked armors. Additionally, the game contains fully-voiced dialogue. While Robert Downey doesn’t reprise the starring role, everyone involved does a decent enough job in capturing the essence of their cinematic counterparts.
Considering Iron Man 3 is available for the low, low price of free, it’s hard not to find great value in downloading this endless runner. There are a wide variety of missions and trophies to unlock, an assortment of armors to choose from, and just enough reward incentives to keep you playing for dozens of hours. Some latency issues, forced armor repairs that keep you from jumping back into the action with your preferred armor, and a lack of a confirmation screen during IAP keep the game from being perfect, but none of these problems are substantial enough to be anything more than a small inconvenience. As far as recommendations go, I suggest anyone looking for an endless runner to kill some time here and there download it and give the game a try. It won’t disappoint.