Iron Man – A Video Game History
Today, the world will be purchasing the wildly successful Iron Man film on DVD and Blu-ray and to commemorate the event, we’re taking a look at the hero’s history in videogames. While his feature film debut was acclaimed by comic fans and critics alike, his video game appearances, while many in number, are spotty at best. Let’s take a look at what ol’ shellhead brought to screens before Downey filled his tin boots.
Captain America and the Avengers – 1991 (Arcade, NES), 1992 (Sega Genesis), 1993 (SNES, Sega Game Gear), 1994 (Gameboy)
Tony’s first appearance was in the arcades in 1991 in a side scrolling beat ‘em up adventure. He may not have gotten top billing, but he along with Hawkeye, Vision and (obviously) Cap roamed the US bashing baddies like the Wizard and Tornado in an effort to defeat the Red Skull. It was pretty standard fare as far as action games go: just continue to the right of the screen, defeat miscellaneous thugs and continue to the boss characters. The formula worked for the time (when brawlers like Double Dragon and Streets of Rage were all the…um…rage) but the home console ports didn’t fare as well. The first on Genesis wasn’t able to match the arcades sounds (not that “Avengers Assemble” and “Oh No!” needed to sound better when repeated ad nauseum) and the control was severely lacking. The SNES version a year later was slightly better graphically, but was still a bit maddening in the control department. Oddly enough, the best version was on the lower powered NES…but that version only let you select Cap and Hawkeye, as the plot was changed slightly to have you rescue Iron Man and Vision from the grips of the Mandarin. Weird.
Marvel Super Heroes – 1995 (Arcade), 1997 (Playstation, Sega Saturn)
Just as the fighting game explosion of the mid-nineties hit, Capcom – hot on the heels of their successful Street Fighter franchise – would suddenly find themselves with the Marvel license. One of the first games to utilize this was a fighting game based on the then-current storyline of the Infinity Gauntlet. Here, heroes and villains would duke it out one-on-one and eventually square off against Thanos. As they fought, gems would appear that aided attacks, like speeding up their moves, regaining health, or improving damage power. Iron Man was one of the more formidable heroes featured in the game, and this title showed that he was a powerful fighter. His proton cannon attack is still one of the biggest and most powerful attacks in any fighting game.
Iron Man/X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal – 1996 (Playstation, Sega Saturn, Gameboy, Sega Game Gear)
Sadly, this title brought things back down again, as Marvel’s team-up with Valiant Comics’ similarly metal hero X-O Manowar crossed over to videogames. In a release that coincided with a two-issue crossover comic, the heroes had to help each other battle the other’s most deadly foes…which for Iron Man meant Titania for some reason. Graphically, this is right up there with most 3D games of the day, IE: downright painful to look at. Muddy colors, pixilation and poor hit-detection marred this already lackluster effort. Quickly forgotten.
Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems – 1996 (SNES)
At the same time, however, the success of the Marvel Super Heroes fighting games in the arcades inspired a spin-off of sorts. The storyline of the Infinity Gauntlet was so huge at the time that the Super NES got a special version of the arcade game. War of the Gems was actually a side scrolling beat ‘em up, with five of the heroes (Spider-Man, Captain America, Wolverine, Iron Man and the Hulk), each having their own stage and challenges to overcome before squaring off against Thanos in space. Using many of the same sprites of the arcade fighter, this was one of the better looking (and controlling) efforts in shellhead’s catalog…unfortunately, his mission is pretty forgettable.
Marvel vs. Capcom –1998 (Arcade), 1999 (Dreamcast), 2000 (Playstation)
Seeing as Capcom couldn’t count to three unless it was a Mega Man game (I’m looking at you, various iterations of Street Fighter II) they decided it would be a pretty cool idea to take their Marvel license exclusively to their fighting licenses. What began with X-Men: Children of the Atom, continued with Marvel Super Heroes, X-Men vs. Street Fighter, then to Marvel Super-Heroes vs. Street Fighter. Now, more than just the World Warriors were competing against Earth’s Mightiest Heroes(and villains); we now had appearances from fighting games such as Darkstalkers to some of Capcom’s non-fighting titles including Strider and fan-favorite Mega Man, and the characters could actually team-up in tag teams. At the beginning of the game, you selected two characters, and could switch between them as the match progressed, using whomever’s strengths you preferred for whichever fight. However, it is important to note that Iron Man himself isn’t officially featured in this game, but rather War Machine, Tony’s bodyguard and friend, plays a part. There’s an unlockable plate swap version of the character that makes his armor gold (thus looking a bit more like the traditional shellhead) but it’s not really Iron Man.
Marvel vs. Capcom 2– 2000 (Arcade, Dreamcast), 2002 (Playstation 2), 2003 (Xbox)
Upping the character count significantly from the previous entry to a whopping 56 characters, MVC2 utilized three team tag partners, joint special moves that incorporated all characters at once, and even more obscure heroes and villains from across the MU and Capcom games alike. Iron Man proper returns here, proton cannon in tow, and considering you could select both him and War Machine on the same tag team, proved to be a force to be reckoned with once again in the fighting game genre. This title is also significantly known to many as the definitive 2D fighting game, and one of the best uses of the Marvel license to date.
Invincible Iron Man – 2002 (Gameboy Advance)
In 2000, Activision acquired the Marvel license after Capcom’s contact ran out. After a story showing with the Spider-Man license, they made this side scrolling action title for the GBA. Unfortunately, the game made Tony look and act like a fat Mega Man, right down to the hit animation and power shots. It’s not a horrible title, but it was so under-released and under promoted that barely anyone even knows of its existence. Considering how lazy the game is (someone steals Iron Man’s armor, so he uses his other suit to go and get it) that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Tony Hawk’s Underground – 2003 (Playstation 2, Gameboy Advance, PC, Xbox)
Yes, you read that right. Iron Man appeared in a skateboarding game. What’s even more bizarre is he appeared as a skateboarder. Around 2000 Activision acquired the Marvel license and had a few heroes show up in their popular Tony Hawk skateboarding franchise (beginning with Spidey in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2). The Golden Avenger could be selectable once completing the story mode (which also unlocked a KISS themed stage entitled “Hotter than Hell”. Apparently, a Black Sabbath “Iron Man” stage just wasn’t in the cards).
Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects – 2005 (Nintendo DS, Playstation 2, GameCube, Xbox)
Somehow, EA Game got the rights to publish Marvel games as well, just so long as they were fighting games. Unfortunately, the house that Madden built wasn’t really well known for fighters, which is why this game is a bundle of crap on a silver disc-shaped platter. Rather than having Marvel heroes fighting EA Games characters (and who wouldn’t want to see Wolverine slice up John Madden or the Sims?) they created their own characters known as the Imperfects, and even had them appear in a tie-in comic to ground it in the comic realm. What followed was the most ironically titled game yet as the fighting mechanics were just horrid. There were cool 3D interactive arenas, and characters even had “finishing moves”, but sadly, there was one great flaw with the game; ONE attack button. Seriously? Just ONE? Sure, the other buttons acted as modifiers (a jump attack, a throw attack, a “special” attack) but when it came down to it, all you were really doing was wailing on ONE button. And the one thing worse than a button masher is a single button masher. Ol’ shellhead once again appears here to fill out the Marvel roster of “guys who’ve been around since the sixties” but it’s starting to feel like he’s just here for fan service.
The Punisher –2005 (Playstation 2, PC, Xbox)
Speaking of fan-service, Tony’s tiniest cameo happens in 2005’s Punisher action game. One level takes Frank Castle to meet Mr. Stark, who only slightly ironically states as the gun-happy vigilante leaves that he “needs a drink”. Oh my, comedy is funny.
X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse – 2005 (GameCube, Playstation 2, PSP, PC, Xbox)
By now, Activision is doing the Marvel license some good, and now has two decent X-Men titles under their belt, done in a “dungeon crawler” pseudo-RPG style where characters in parties of four wail on baddies and collect loot to power up and equip with their heroes. Once again, the Tin Can Titan is an unlockable character in a game, but adds some much needed firepower to the fray, and becomes a good lead-in to our next title.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance – 2006 (Playstation 2, Playstation 3, PSP, PC, Gameboy Advance, Wii, Xbox, Xbox 360)
Here, Tony takes center stage as he helps lead Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in battle against their deadliest foes. With a whopping 26 characters to choose from (28 on the next-gen platforms) you traverse across multiple worlds and MU locales, and even have your first base of operations in Stark Towers. There’s tons of fan service to be found here, and the game play is reminiscent of the previous X-Men Legends games, only expanded now to feature more customization, deeper fighting combos, a wealth of background on all the characters, and even various costumes that add new and diverse powers to the heroes in your roster. Iron Man becomes a good all-around “tank” style character here, and usually rounds out a good team, as he’s easy to adapt to any play style.
Iron Man – 2008 (Nintendo DS, Playstation 2, Playstation 3, PSP, PC, Wii, Xbox 360)
Finally, we get to the official tie-in. Released this year by Sega, developer Secret Level’s attempt to bring the movie’s story to your home consoled is a decent one, if not a bit uneven. Graphically, the game emulates the look of the film, and even features many of the cast reprising their film roles (a standard with tie-ins today). The combat transitions easily from ranged combat (aka, his repulsor blasts or uni-beam) to melee combat, and even feature some button specific quick-time events for tearing the wings off jets, chucking missiles back at their launchers, or just ripping a helicopter in half. Unfortunately, the game suffers in repetitive combat and poor flight control. The camera is the largest foe you’ll have to fight here, as the sensitivity is so light that just a mere tap sends it swinging wildly, and you end up crashing to the ground (if you happen to be airborne at the time) and even with the sensitivity adjusted, you’re still fighting with the flight control’s combat lock-on. Still, the next-gen versions offer some deep features for fans, as unlockable costumes from the many different phases of Tony’s work are unlockable (and some exclusive to certain consoles, such as the Silver Centurion armor on Xbox 360, and the Ultimate version on PS3). While it took a while for our favorite metal Avenger to get his own starring role, it certainly couldn’t have come at a better time.
Next year, we’ll see how Tony fares again in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance II – Fusion, as the storyline is rumored to contain the events of Secret War and Civil War from the comics. Until then, True Believers.
Ian Bonds is a comedian and videogame retailer from Baltimore who has way too much useless info about comic book games stored in that crazy noggin of his. He also writes video game reviews over at Kevin Smith’s QuickStopEntertainment.com in a column called GAME ON!Marvel Super Heroes – 1995 (Arcade), 1997 (Playstation, Sega Saturn)