Ok, are there two versions of this game or something? Have we been sent the rusty old, invariably tedious, hard and annoying side-scrolling version of the game whilst all the other reviewers have some sort of money-producing mechanical love toy? We just can't seem to explain the positive response this game has met with in the US, where several reviewers said it was only a certain distance from being a vanguard of its genre. It certainly is, of course, but that distance is best measured in miles, and developer Torus is apparently circling the M25…
What we don't get is how a game which gives you three continues, two levels for each of four environments, three rather tinny boss battles, virtually no variation in enemies, and uses the early 90s 'walk left to right and occasionally go back on yourself but generally don't' shoot 'em up formula can be elevated to anybody's list of must-haves.
But let's have a closer look at what you get for your Ł30+ before we dismiss it entirely, shall we?
The menu system is like a microcosm of the game itself: few options, functional presentation and only one obvious route to take. You can run three save games in tandem if you like, and each attempt offers you three lives to conquer the game's eight levels. The story kicks off as Anthony 'Tony' Stark finds his Invincible Iron Man suit missing and sets off in pursuit (in a, um, spare) across an industrial setting. Cue many, many prefabricated and repeated girder-based platform sections, buildings with two set levels to clamber on, cranes which break up the enemy-strewn sections of map and a final boss encounter with the would-be thief, Tony's cousin Morgan. But alas, he used the suit to upload the data somewhere else, etc, so off you go for a further six levels until it's all safe - a quest which reveals your other enemies Blizzard and Crimson Dynamo…
Iron Man is blessed with a couple of abilities. Using the right trigger Tony can shoulder charge, which will knock enemies back and is useful in close encounters, and using the B button he can pop people with his "repulsor". The repulsor is hooked into his suit's energy gage, displayed along the top of the screen alongside the health bar, and each shot nips a little bit of the bar. Charge it up for a big attack and you'll obviously lose a larger, proportional amount. To keep Tony charged, you have to seek out the pearl-like energy balls dotted around the level (usually near to health balls), and this forces you to duck off the obvious left to right path occasionally to scale a building or climb a crane.
Otherwise, Tony can jump with A and do a jetpack double-jump by pressing it again in mid-air, and he can of course crouch. However we were disappointed that Tony can't shoot up or down, let alone at diagonals. He is limited to left and right, either at crouching or standing height, or during a jump. Given that Metroid and countless other games mastered eight-directional shooting a decade ago, this is ridiculous.
Sadly the game Tony finds himself in isn't much better. Your basic environments are military, jungle, snow and factory, and each is well detailed to the point of making background and foreground objects difficult to distinguish. You'll need to keep a sharp eye open and tread cautiously at all times - we've already been caught out by platforms which weren't platforms…
The design isn't too horrible, but it's rarely exciting either. The approach varies depending on the type of environment, but generally scaffold and girders (or equivalent) are used to channel you upwards and along, creating little girder mazes to traverse, whilst dodging one of the game's three or four main enemies; the plant which spits blobs of doom from the wall. These plants are very difficult to take out because of course your repulsor has to be on the same level to shoot them. Not much use if they're attached to the ceiling. Oh, and their projectiles can generally make it through a depth of scenery, whereas yours can't.
The Iron Man's other enemies aren't all that impressive, but they are legion. There are the basic laser-toting grunts, which will harm you if you make contact with them (complete with annoying but obligatory getting-knocked-back squawk plus animation), but you can avoid their fire by ducking (yes, really). They take two shots to dispatch. Then there are the slightly larger, redder faced enemies whose projectiles dip and tuck. They take three shots. Then there are a couple of others, sentry drones, etc. Then there are the bosses - Morgan Stark at the end of level two absorbs a fair amount of ammo, but doesn't really move or do anything. In fact, the extent of enemy AI seems to be dashing back and forward along platforms or falling off and resuming the dash along the ground, firing their weapons either at you or nearby and then dying in a predictable and shortly to become tedious way.
Anyway, there isn't much point dragging this out. The game is about eight levels long, which takes roughly two hours give or take, depending on how many times you run out of lives and have to start over, and the only other distractions are some half-hearted "bonuses" to unlock, a single, special weapon to find in-game (which isn't much more impressive than the repulsor) and eventually a level select screen to let you skip through the levels you've completed. If we were to commend any features, we'd focus on the automatic saving which keeps your progress well and truly backed up without any intervention, and the graphical design of the Iron Man sprite, which is at least fairly detailed and well animated.
Other than that, in terms of his strength and abilities, The Invincible Iron Man is one of the wimpiest game heroes we've encountered and deserves to be locked away in this rather limp platformer-with-guns. Only super diehard comic book fans need apply, and if they could preface any bickering planned for the comments page with some sort of irate comic book fan disclaimer that would be lovely.