I didn’t realize how many video games were made based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe until I saw Iron Man for the Nintendo DS and all the rest that followed. Except for The Avengers, all five Phase 1 films had video game tie-ins for the Nintendo DS! Playing all these games might be a great way to revisit Phase One without rewatching all those movies.
Let’s talk about Iron Man on Nintendo DS today!
There were several Iron Man video games that were published by Sega for multiple platforms. The Nintendo DS version was developed by Artificial Mind and Movement and plays more like a twin-stick shooter. However, the DS touchscreen and stylus takes the place of a second analog stick. The game follows the events of the film, with more emphasis on Tony Stark’s quest to rid the world of Stark Enterprises technology that fell into the wrong hands. This game features events not shown in the film, such as Stark’s conflicts with the Maggia and the Nefaria clan.
You take on what are referred to by the game as Missions. Each Mission takes place in an area and you are given multiple objectives to complete. Objectives are given in sequence. For example, you may need to take down energy generators first, then will be asked to deal with other targets after. In this manner, you’ll be spending quite a bit of time in each area up until you complete all the objectives for that Mission.
You have a health meter in the game (referred to as shields). When depleted, you will use up one life and immediately respawn at the same spot. You’ll get three lives per mission. If you lose all three, you’ll need to start the mission from the beginning. The game has a save system with three save slots, but you can only save your progress after each completed mission.
Moves and Abilities
Upon playing the game, I was satisfied to see Iron Man sport the moves that I expected him to have. The D-Pad controls his movement; depending on the mission, he’s either walking around or flying around (he can’t do both in the same mission). The game expects you to be holding the stylus with your right hand, so a lot of the buttons do the same thing for redundancy. Both the L and R buttons are for boosting your flight speed. Meanwhile, the face buttons will trigger an EMP pulse all around you. Using the EMP will deplete the green EMP meter at the left of the HUD. This will recharge over time. You can only use the EMP when the EMP meter is full.
Touching the second screen will fire repulsor blasts. The stylus placement will control where these are aimed. You’ll be doing this a lot, so expect to hold your DS with just one hand when playing this game. Using the stylus and touchscreen works, but I wish that this used an actual analog stick instead.
Touching specific spots on the second screen will also do different actions. The upper left circle triggers story dialogue that gives context to your mission objectives. The bottom left circle executes the Unibeam, a beam of energy that emanates from Iron Man’s chest. The Unibeam lasts for a few seconds, and you can turn Iron Man around to change it’s aim. Finally, the bottom right circle launches Iron Man’s homing missiles. Touch and hold the circle to lock on to onscreen enemies (up to five), then release to fire the missiles. These missiles are limited – the circle will tell you how many you have left.
At the end of every mission, you’ll get a summary of how many enemies you defeated and how many enemy structures you destroyed. It is important to get as many as you can of these. The more enemies and enemy structures you beat, the more Research Points you’ll get. And you’ll get to spend these Research Points in order to upgrade Iron Man’s abilities.
There’s quite a few of his abilities that you can upgrade, all of which are passive. You can upgrade his shields (increases your health meter) and his flight speed (normal flight and in combat separately). Most of the attributes improve his weaponry. The repulsor upgrade improves it’s firing rate and damage. The EMP upgrade reduces it’s cooldown significantly. Upgrading the Unibeam reduces it’s cooldown and makes it easier to sweep around. And the missile upgrade increases the damage per missile and the number of missiles you can fire at a time.
I love the upgrade system in this game. I definitely felt more powerful the more upgrades I was able to do. And even though the enemies became tougher, being able to use my abilities more often just opened up the gameplay a lot. I played on Normal difficulty and at the end, I wasn’t able to upgrade all of the attributes to maximum. So there is definitely a little room for a variety of builds to try.
On Land and In the Air
Most of the missions in Iron Man has him in flight mode. This is very true to the feel of the first movie, where Stark is depicted like a highly mobile jetfighter. I preferred these missions a lot more simply because Iron Man is quite mobile in these. It’s so fun to just zip around these levels and fight off enemies with his arsenal of weapons.
The on-foot sequences weren’t as fun. The first one was, primarily because the Mark I armor could punch and had flamethrowers. It was quite easy to walk up to an enemy and defeat them with a punch. Later on-foot levels were tougher because it takes several repulsor blasts to beat enemies (even normal soldiers). With the EMP replacing punches, you had no choice but to shoot your enemies down.
It doesn’t help that this version of Iron Man plods around, which makes dodging enemy fire really difficult. You’ll just end up tanking their shots. I found these sequences very annoying. You’ll really need to find those Shield power ups in these levels to make it to the end.
And I do want to mention the missed opportunity to add more game modes to this game. Why not have a horizontal scrolling sequence that plays like a shooter? Or a target shooting mini-game? The game only has a handful of missions available, and I breezed through them in just a short amount of time. I did unlock the Army of One which is the game’s equivalent of Survival Mode. But it only has three levels available.
The developers were definitely restricted when it came to designing bosses for this game. Since the film doesn’t even feature a supervillain until the last act, I knew that I shouldn’t expect anyone besides Iron Monger. The bosses in this game are similar to what you’d find in shooter games – large vehicles or machines that shoot a lot of guns and turrets at you. Given the limitations of the source material, I was actually satisfied with the bosses that I fought.
You’ll fight large machinery in the form of a large tank, a heavily armed oilrig, large aircraft, and even something that looks like a Helicarrier. Playing as Iron Man and battling these enemies was very satisfying.
The Iron Monger battle met my expectations. I thought that he could have had a lot more moves, or maybe even a second phase. His attack pattern is quite limited, but I liked how you needed to figure out his weakness. Iron Monger wasn’t a walk in the park, and beating him felt like an accomplishment.
Visuals, Sound, and Presentation
I was impressed with Iron Man’s graphics. Despite being small, the 3D models used in the game were quite detailed, especially Iron Man’s. Him flying around and shooting his weaponry was good to watch. I liked how they kept the idea of Stark using his repulsors to stabilize himself in the air or to give an additional boost whenever he needed to fly faster. Most of the stages were a little bare, but I could understand why – most of the battles in this game take place in remote locations.
I was also quite happy with the game’s music and sound design. There is some voice acting, particularly during conversations with Stark and J.A.R.V.I.S., and Stark and Yinsen at the beginning. The voice actors they got were pretty close to the real thing too. The music was also catchy and fit the game well. My only problem is that the developers used the same mission theme for the entire game. The theme itself is long, so it doesn’t feel repetitive immediately. I wish they used another song or two just to mix things up.
The game is also very polished and uses it’s source material well. You’ll see a lot of stills from the film in this game’s cutscenes, which are quite fleshed out and helps push the game’s story forward. Fonts are quite readable and menus are easy to navigate too. My only nitpick is that they could have used Iron Man’s in-helmet HUD instead of the red and gold theme for the touchscreen visuals.
Despite the negative reviews for the Nintendo DS version of Iron Man, I actually enjoyed it a lot. But I’ll admit one secret – I played the game via emulation which allowed me to map the stylus controls to an analog stick, without losing touchscreen functionality. This let me play the game as a twin-stick shooter. I’m not sure how I would have enjoyed the game if I played it on an actual Nintendo DS using stylus controls.
With a better experience, my only complaint about this game is the lack of content. I think more gameplay modes, such as horizontally scrolling shooting stages, would have made this game a lot better. The game’s mission theme is good enough that I was okay with it being played over and over in all of the game’s missions. I had good fun with this game, and I wish I could play more of it. I would definitely recommend this game to superhero fans, and especially to fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It plays decently and is short enough that it won’t feel like a waste of your time.