Games 5/14/08: Iron Man, Crosswords DS

Iron Man
Reviewed for: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
Alternate versions available for: Playstation 2, Nintendo Wii, PSP, Nintendo DS and Windows
From: Secret Level/Sega
ESRB Rating: Teen (mild violence, language)

Some games have difficulty curves that resemble plateaus. Others ramp up the challenge in a slope befitting a hill or mountain.

“Iron Man,” on the other hand, prefers the Saguenay Fjord method.

Oh, it starts off pleasantly enough. “Iron Man’s” opening missions are rather bland in both the objectives and eye candy department, but they give you a chance to acclimate yourself with your arsenal. The control scheme leans a bit on the complicated side, but it allows Secret Level to map Iron Man’s many abilities to the controller. A number of attacks and maneuvers sit at your disposal right from the start, and a nice upgrade system lets you cater your suit’s special abilities — maneuverability, armor, firepower, speed — to match your own strengths.

Ostensibly, “Iron Man” seems equipped to deliver the goods once the handholding ends and the real action begins. And like an asylum inmate who suddenly stops taking his meds, that’s precisely what it does.

Somewhere between missions four and five, Secret Level decided to increase enemy resistance to an exponential degree that far outstrips your suit’s increased abilities. The result is a barrage of choppers, missile turrets and other enemies simultaneously pounding on you with an almost comical excess of bullets and rockets that seem magnetically attracted to your suit no matter how expertly you try to dodge them. The game allows you to catch and throw back missiles, which is a fun trick until you realize that every time you catch one missile, it leaves you vulnerable to nine more flying at you from seven other directions.

This insanity continues unabated for the nine missions that comprise “Iron Man’s” back end, and the incentive for powering through this madness is almost nil. The missions never really evolve beyond “destroy X of this, destroy Y of that,” and the mid-mission cut-scenes do a rather inadequate job of illustrating exactly what the point of it all is. Unless you elect to sleepwalk through the game on Easy (which maintains the ridiculous firepower but drastically tones down the damage incurred by enemy fire) or simply must unlock Iron Man’s other suits, it’s hard to imagine any reason to press on.

That’s a shame, too, because Secret Level got the hard part — controlling Iron Man — down cold. It’s a lot of fun to fly around as Tony Stark; now all we need is a balanced and engaging game in which to do it.

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Crosswords DS
For: Nintendo DS
From: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Really, it took this long? Given the presumably cheap production costs, Nintendo’s endless thirst for affordable gateway games and the natural parallels between a stylus-based gaming system and a book of crossword puzzles, it’s somewhat baffling that Nintendo hasn’t released three or four volumes of “Crosswords DS” by now.

Digressions aside, “CWDS” delivers on its promise, cramming more than 1,000 crossword puzzles of varying difficultly onto a tiny cart and throwing in a batch of word searches and anagram challenges for variety’s sake.

Given how literal the whole package is, it’s hard to find fault with “CWDS” as long as everything works as intended.

Happily, everything does. All three challenges benefit from clean, highly functional interfaces that work exactly as one would expect them to, and the crosswords portion features some shockingly good handwriting-recognition technology. Some confusion regarding L’s and I’s aside, the game is surprisingly adept at deciphering hastily-written scribbles that may only passably resemble letters. Unless your handwriting is completely illegible, you should run into very little resistance in this department.

In terms of features, “CWDS” plays it pretty straight. The daily training feature found in most of Nintendo’s Touch Generation games isn’t here, but it wouldn’t really make sense in this context, either. “CWDS” instead sorts puzzles by difficulty, keeping track of finished puzzles and clear times for both the crosswords and word searches. (The game tracks how many anagrams challenges you’ve completed, but because these challenges are generated semi-randomly, you can’t revisit and replay specific arrangements like you can in the other two sections.)

That’s pretty much all there is to it, and that’s fine. “CWDS” does what it purports to do, does it well, and packs a lot of content inside an affordable ($20) and elegant package. To find serious fault with this game is to find fault with what it represents, and if you’re doing that, this game wasn’t really made for you in the first place. If the promise behind “CWDS” interests you at all, you’ll be hard-pressed to come away disappointed by how it delivers on that promise.