The culmination of 10 years of movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has finally arrived at the cinemas with Avengers: Infinity War. And to celebrate such an occasion, let’s take a look at the only game released for the PC featuring the avenger that started the MCU: Iron Man (and some other character from Valiant Comics). I’m talking about Iron Man and X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal.
And yes, I know that Capcom made 2 games based on The Infinity Gauntlet comic (which inspired the Infinity War movie): Marvel Super Heroes for Arcade and Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems for the SNES/Super Nintendo. But those games were never released on the PC, so they won’t be featured here at Retro Freak Reviews (but they’re awesome BTW!)
Iron Man and X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal (what’s with Marvel-licensed games and long titles?) is an action game developed by Realtime Associates and published by Acclaim. It was originally released in 1996 for DOS, Game Boy, Game Gear, Playstation and Sega Saturn.
Due to the success of the MCU, everybody and their dog knows who Iron Man is, but unless you’re a big Valiant Comics fan, you might not know who X-O Manowar is. He’s basically an ancient Viking who was abducted by aliens, got his hands on an experimental alien armour (called the X-O), used it to come back to Earth, but due to time dilation, he came back to modern times. So he became a reluctant superhero while fighting aliens and other supervillains. I love you Tony, but a Viking wearing alien armour sounds really cool!
But before looking at the game, let’s look at the cover:
This cover looks a bit weird in my opinion. Here we have Iron Man and X-O Manowar looking menacing in a typical superhero pose, but what makes it weird is the background perspective: it looks like both heroes are standing on the side of a building with 2 other characters behind them (and apparently also behind the glass window they’re standing on). But then I noticed that the heroes are actually flying towards the 2 female characters and the background is actually the reflection in said window (still a very confusing perspective).
And the back cover adds to the confusion, even though it makes more sense:
In here, it looks like the female characters switched places with the heroes and are now standing in front of a window (which is now reflecting the heroes). The perspective in this image is a lot better than in the front cover, that’s for sure.
The two female characters pictured above are Mistress Crescendo from Vaillant and Titania from Marvel. Mistress Crescendo is one of the main villains in the game, which justifies her presence here but Titania isn’t (she only appears once as a boss), although one might assume that she’s one of the main villains, based on this image alone.
But as always, it’s time to boot this sucker:
I found the intro very lacklustre (although rocking a hell of theme music) but to find out the backstory, one has to read the manual, which has a rather good comic in it to explain it all: Mistress Crescendo and Baron Zemo (not a traditional Iron Man villain by the way) joined forces to try and reform the Cosmic Cube (imagine a Macguffin and a Deus-Ex Machina combined into one) to use it to take over, not the world, but TWO worlds instead (Marvel’s and Vaillant’s). A pretty standard backstory for a superhero game, but it serves the game adequately.
A small disclaimer: I have only played the single-player mode. I have no idea how’s the co-op mode.
You choose between Iron Man or X-O Manowar and have to go through several levels and face down several villains from both comic’s universes. You go through 7 areas divided into about 3 levels for each area with most of them with a boss (always a supervillain from either comic) at the end of each level.
Both heroes control more or less the same; with a melee attack (2 for Iron Man and an energy sword attack for X-O), a ranged attack, a recharged attack that spends one weapon bar and temporary flight (by pressing jump twice). Although both characters move at the same speed, X-O has a little more trouble dodging attacks because it uses a bigger sprite (but he can block attacks).
Surprisingly, the melee attacks are more powerful than the ranged attacks, even after fully upgrading them. But at full power, you can even get a seeking attack that automatically targets the nearest enemies, which can be very useful.
However, if you lose a life, you’ll also lose one upgrade. The armour bar (which is basically the life bar) doesn’t replenish between levels, but at least, you keep any upgrades you’ve collected so far. There’s also boosts that extend the flight period, which can be used to reach high platforms or simply fly above dangerous areas (or enemies).
And although you can only move in 4 directions, there’s a background plane from which enemies can come from but luckily both heroes have an attack that targets specifically the background. You can even blow up background objects to get upgrades and health items.
And speaking about the levels, they’re probably the best part of the game. With great graphics, good design (although the later levels can be a bit labyrinthic), good variation of enemies and no time limits (except for one awful boss battle).
And although the game’s in a 2D perspective, there’s a pseudo-3D perspective as you move along and even a zoom effect during the boss battles (although it tends to pixelate the bigger enemies’ sprites when zooming in). The levels can be a bit small, but there are so many of them, that the game itself is quite lengthy.
And the boss battles are in their vast majority great. With challenging and not too frustrating bosses (except for one with a time limit).
But unfortunately, there are also some drawbacks: the sound effects are okay and although the soundtrack is actually quite good (fitting a game titled Heavy Metal), the music themes are short and on a continuous loop, which can become a bit grating after a while.
But for me, the worst part is the controls (whether you’re using a keyboard or a gamepad, although I recommend the latter) and the animation, which is too slow for most of the game. It only speeds up when the screen’s empty of enemies and textures. And for such a fast-paced action game, these 2 elements’ quality should be above all else.
And it’s due to these 2 elements that Heavy Metal is one of the hardest action games I ever played on a PC. Bad controls and slow gameplay make this game unnecessarily tough, even in the easiest setting.
So in conclusion, I don’t consider Heavy Metal a terrible game, even with its drawbacks. Yes, the controls could be better and the animation more fluid, but the graphics and level design are good. If you’re a comics fan (especially of these 2 characters), you might want to give it a shot, but there are better action games out there. And if you want to play it in your own browser, click here.
I haven’t played any other versions, but the Playstation version seems faster and more fluid in comparison with the DOS version. And apparently, there’s also an entire comic mini-series that tells the story of the game (probably where the comic in the manual comes from), but I also haven’t read it.
So, are you excited to see Avengers: Infinity War? I know I am! And I know these 2 last reviews weren’t very positive, but the next review is from an action title that was requested a few months ago by a watcher from my Twitch channel. And I promise it’s a much better game than these 2 were. Until then, keep on playing!