Name: Iron Man / X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal
Genre: Action Platform
Region Reviewed: NTSC
Year of Release: 1996 (NA)
It’s about time, some may say, that this Hip Hop-lovin’ Punk from youth gets down in the proverbial pit and get his grubby paws on possibly the most metal (or should I say, Manowar-style: MMMET-ALLLLLL (and that’s as in the band)) video game in the history of everything ever. Or at least, up til the games point of release which was a world without the Jack Black starring Brutal Legend (complete with umlauts, of course). Alas, I am not speaking on the awesome Amiga brawler that was Motorhead, either. I am of course speaking on the headbangin’ title I can’t believe that metalhead Gabo hasn’t got to…
Yes, I am here to review the one and only: Iron Man / X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal! That niche comic book crossover that only the mighty 90’s could ever think of bringing to market! Unless you count DC’s current foray thanks to the despicable Scott Snyder and the horrid Dark Knight Metal event (although, despite the obvious posturing, heavy metal as a genre plays very loosely on said event, but I don’t like Scott Snyder’s Batman run(s), it invaded my Nightwing book which irked me and wanted an excuse to put that out in the world somewhere – you’re all welcome).
Iron Man, despite a two-season run as an animated series, was a mostly side-lined character in the decade of this games release. Of course, all that changed come 2008 and now everyone and their mother (mine included) are a fan of the founding Avenger. No, Marvel were all about pushing the X-Men and Spider-Man to the forefront, which reflected just as much in multimedia properties as it did in the comic books themselves. So, despite Tony Stark and his arsenal of cool tech being ripe for video game adaptation, he went waiting til the 32-Bit era to be the star of the show. Well, sort of star. Y’see, there’s a co-star and it’s not the band.
You’d be forgiven to not know who X-O Manowar is/was. Besides the historical big two (Marvel/DC), independent comics and creator controlled content was at an all-time high in the early to mid-90’s. Manowar was the focal point of the Valiant Comics line, centre of their own fictional universe of properties and a character Acclaim quite clearly saw as perfect for a team-up with Marvels man of metal. Considering they had recently (at the time) bought the company and thus their characters (Valiant, that is) with ideas of rebooting the franchise and putting X-O Manowar back on comic store shelves, they perhaps (I’m speculating) thought releasing their own mini-event with the video game team-up being centre stage and a two-issue comic arc to back it up (which is a lot less thin on plot than the game presents itself). Acclaims comic industry forays would obviously more successfully lead to the releases of Turok and Shadowman.
Anyway, that’s your short piece for placing Heavy Metal into a historical point of your mind’s eye, now on with the show! Published by Acclaim, Iron Man / X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal was developed by Realtime Associates with Real Sports and released in 1996. The version I’m reviewing (for a refresher) is the one for Sony PlayStation (NTSC-U region). It was also released in similar form on PC and Sega Saturn. There were also ports for the Game Gear and Game Boy, too.
In terms of in-game story, as previously alluded to, there’s not much to go-on aside from the vague FMV intro of a Cosmic Cube and the short bursts of text that present information for the upcoming ‘missions’ (read: levels) that feel shockingly few and far between. While I’m not one for needlessly boggling down games with formulaic narratives that ultimately get jammed down your throat, but this being such a big crossover game, I feel to really put over the ideas that it’s attempting to present would have benefitted from just a little bit more – perhaps a cut sequence or two – if only to sparingly break up the action and give the player a bit more context.
As mentioned mission briefings are fine and all, but they seem to only appear every now and then. In reality they do indeed appear for each new level/mission, it’s just the pacing of how you (the player) move from zone to zone, has that feeling of near randomness. It almost feels a tad rushed, a bit incomplete if you will. Which also happens to be one of the complaints shared at the time by certain review sites. Though you won’t read me whacking an arbitrary “needed six months more dev time”, but rather, perhaps more care from those involved wouldn’t have been missed. Alas, such is the problem with reviewing retro – it’s a bit late to lobby at this point!
Ultimately the Cosmic Cube shown in the opening FMV is the basis of what’s going down. Of course, this is essentially a 16-Bit game in 32-Bit clothing, thus you’ll need a manual at hand for more a full explanation, which ultimately seems archaic if comparing to the likes of FF7 and MGS that were on the same darn system. Unfortunately for me, which is a moment of me showing my hand as it were: I don’t have the damn manual! Curses. Alas, thanks to the Sega Retro wiki site, you can mooch on over and have a look-see at both the Saturn and Game Gear manuals, with the Saturn version containing a sweet, sweet prelude comic to set the story. The GG version has a slightly less spectacular couple paragraphs, but beggars can’t be choosers. Instead of me explaining, I recommend you go have a peak yourself!
Iron Man / X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal is for either one or two players, with the exclusive character (or “hero”) choices being whom you’d expect. What you may not expect so much, is that this is the OG X-O – what I mean by that of course is that this is the classic Valiant Aric in the armour, not the post-release Acclaim reboot character no-one honestly gives a damn about and rightly so. Both Iron Man and Manowar have their own specific weaponry/abilities, all of which can be upgraded over the course of the game via item collection. Thus, if you jump straight in saying “where’s my EMP blast” to yourself, you gotta go level that thing up, playah! Ultimately whomever you choose will likely depend on your personal preference, but regardless of which hero does it for you, the game plays out in much the same way with very little difference in the core mechanics of the two. As the self-captured screenshots on this page obviously allude, I was always going to be Iron Man.
The key differences are that Iron Man kicks and punches, whereas Manowar can sword slash. Both have simple to pull off combos and you’ll best to make use of the bi-directional beams and firing into the background to make sure you’re hitting every possible thing in sight. Both characters have chest beams (such as Iron Man’s Unibeam) as their main special attack(s), but to be honest they hardly crack as much damage on a Boss fight than you’d hope. Unless you’re fighting Absorbing Man.
Heavy Metal can be described as a side-scrolling action-platformer, or a beat ‘em up with elements of a shooter/run n’ gun. Whatever your preference on genre title, it’s a familiar genre nonetheless and one that was beginning to fade away with the advent of the PlayStation in its prime. Much of the time you’ll be blasting your way through average foes (completing vital tasks such as taking down bombs, communication devices, et al) before coming to a mini-Boss/Level Boss fight, rinse and repeat. Honestly, it’s all very monotonous, which typically I enjoy, however feels just a little laboured here. The occasional boss will give you grief due to awkward patterns, but nothing that frustratingly ploughing through regardless won’t help. That is the real shame, as while the full-on shooter sequences (especially the more cosmic caper aspect when you’re taking out asteroids in space) are fun but very limited, not to mention confusing at first as the game decides to switch up the controls out of nowhere.
Speaking of controls, they’re mostly good here. Good in the sense, they do the job, in the most mechanical manner possible. Nothing really to complain about, but some may find them clunky to begin, yet you’ll soon settle in to their, as a certain ‘nerd’ may say: crap-factor.
For my own mind-numbing suffering, I played through this game in its entirety twice – that was choice, what wasn’t choice was those weren’t the only attempts. I can’t honestly cast Heavy Metal into the pit of genuinely difficult, it just honestly plays with your attention span. Part of that goes for the aforementioned monotony of the core gameplay, but also due to the lack of breaks to really help a player’s investment in at least the story. Big characters appear, major super-villains from both sides of the crossover divide. Seeing the likes of Mr. Hyde, Goliath and Titania should be pretty damn exciting as seriously, where else can a gamer get that, especially in 1996? But, no. It just feels like it should have been a Konami arcade outing rather than the Acclaim product we were all left with. A sheer marketing tool, that was pumped out there and quickly swept aside into the realms of obscurity.
That is what puts me in somewhat of an existential crisis with Heavy Metal though! Why? Seriously, where else are you gonna get this team-up in a video game? You’re not! That’s why at the time, I remember seeing this mentioned in a magazine (honestly can’t recall which, possibly even an ad running in Marvel Comics when I used to get Spidey and X-Men as a kid) I lost my proverbial shit! On top of that, the genre while tired, was also tried and tested, thus should have been perfected by this point! There’s obviously some real love in this work, but that makes it worse than if it was that mere marketing tool I remarked it as being. Honestly, I don’t think it wholly is. That somehow makes it all the sadder.
Graphically, there is some nice ideas on show that work their way into gameplay for better or worse. While Acclaim went off touting the incredible 3D visuals, the reality is it’s more in-line with something like Donkey Kong Country after it had made out with Fatal Fury 2. Sound odd? Well, yeah. This is early true 2.5D in process and it’s as hit and miss as you may be leading to believe. When it does work for the better, it really works though. I really appreciate the idea of shooting into the background for certain things. The best example I can give would be during the Stark Enterprises segment, in the lead-up to facing Goliath in the laser chamber: you enter a room which has the feel of real scope, with an arc-reactor looking thing as a centrepiece. Off in the distance there’s a switch that needs blasting. That? That’s cool! At least in my review, which this is. Overall, if pre-rendering and sprite-scaling are your thing, you should have fun here, but honestly most of the characters within look bland and unappealing, in my opinion. Again, from cool to shame all in one paragraph. Why do you do this to me, game? I want so bad to love you!
From a musical stand point, I’ll give you a couple guesses as to what you’ll mostly be hearing. It’s pure 90’s, with rhythmic drums and squealing guitars as far as the ear can hear, if you will. It does get tiring, with certain loops being insanely short, but it is what it is and fits the action well enough. There’s no real voice over anywhere, which is a bit of a missed opportunity and the sound effects aren’t much to write home about but again not out of place either. Bang average for all! Unfortunately fitting. Also, that darn ZONE COMPLETE music will get stuck in your head from the sheer amount of time you’ll be seeing the cursed screen.
At the end of the day, you’re probably sat there thinking to yourselves: “Hey, Olly – whats with the split personality review?” Well…
Iron Man / X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal is a game of two halves and one where the mileage will very much vary upon the individual player. A game I can’t help but think would be suited best as a two-player experience, yet to be fair that I cannot commit to saying as I played this strictly solo. I had no personal agenda going into this review (other than finally having an excuse to off-topic call-out Scott Snyder) nor did I for playing the game itself. It was a fresh slate, with just my prior knowledge being entirely that sheer joy and excitement I had as a youngster to get my hands on this particular game. But, perhaps this was a time where being an N64 owner back in the day came to my rescue, because as I can now be having an existential crisis, then I wouldn’t have a clue how to interpret my thoughts and feelings. It would have just been confusing. Being a kid can be confusing enough, I didn’t need video games adding to that madness.
Fast-forward to the present day and one could easily argue that Iron Man, despite popularity: STILL hasn’t got the video game he rightly deserves in the way which DC’s fictional billionaire playboy has. Quite frankly, that sucks. What you could argue sucks even more, is that it’s even less likely we’ll be getting a new X-O Manowar game any time soon, so his fans will just have to be lusting on a Cosmic Cube of their own to manifest said desires.
Heavy Metal is a missed opportunity that while far from bad, far from unplayable is, long story short: one that may never have lived up to fans expectations in the first place. That’s partly the reason I’m left at the end of this review just wondering what could have been and if I even like what actually was.
Verdict:- There is a great concept on display, or at least one that sells to its desired audience - trust enough that I bit the bullet.
But the shortcomings of Iron Man / X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal is one of the great many Acclaim games that just don't quite hit the mark. They were a company that burned me on more than one occassion, with WWF War Zone being part of that particular cluster.
On its own, the pro's may well outweigh the cons for you, however. I don't know exactly, as I am me. I struggle to give it higher ratings than the score above, but let's be honest if this review as got you interested, you'll probably go and seek it out regardless.
I did just that, but don't say I didn't warn you if you're left underwhelmed. Or in the midst of an existential crisis of sorts.
Second Opinion:- Transbot loves to fly, Transbot loves to shoot - but why on Planet Vulcan does Iron Man and Manowar need to recharge their thrusters so much!?
Super my shiny metal anus! To quote a fellow bot, sorta.
This game is as M'eh as one has ever M'eh'd before. Say that out loud and you sound like you're swearing in French.
And there you go, another valuable lesson from your Overlord, just as the lesson for this review is that some times you just gotta put the Acclaim down and pretend it never happened.
Transbot Scores:- 5 out of 10