Iron Man 3 takes to the unfriendly skies on Android, iOS

Just in time for the movie, Gameloft gives Tony Stark an airborne Temple Run treatment. Unfortunately, even Jarvis can't fix what's wrong with this freemium title.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
3 min read
Iron Man 3 looks gorgeous, and the boss-level fights are tons of fun. But the game's freemium-powered timer delays nearly ruin the experience.
Iron Man 3 looks gorgeous, and the boss-level fights are tons of fun. But the game's freemium-powered timer delays nearly ruin the experience. Gameloft

Like most superhero fanboys, I'm pretty jazzed about "Iron Man 3," which opens one week from tomorrow.

And like most superhero movies of late, this one has an official game to accompany it. Gameloft's Iron Man 3 just landed for Android and iOS. And it's probably not what you'd expect.

Indeed, based on Gameloft's last movie tie-in, the Amazing Spider-Man game, you might envision something similar here: a running, jumping, and flying Tony Stark, with a mixture of ground- and air-based combat.

But this game takes its cues from Temple Run and throws in a dash of Fruit Ninja for good measure. Instead of an endless runner, it's an "endless flyer": you're constantly in the air, swooping left and right to avoid obstacles and collect credits. You hover at times to fight various drones and bosses, using Fruit Ninja-style swiping to fire your weapons.

This is pretty fun stuff, with lots of available upgrades, special attacks, and the like. Plus, Iron Man 3 looks and sounds great (despite the absence of Robert Downey Jr.'s voice talents), especially on a Retina screen. Slam dunk, right?

Not quite. For starters, the first time you run the game (which consumes a fairly hefty 1GB of space), it asks not only for permission to send you push alerts, but also for access to your contacts. Huh?

The real issue is Gameloft's freemium model. With most endless runner-type games, dying is just a temporary setback; in an instant you're back up and running again. Iron Man 3 makes you wait. Literally. You have to sit through a countdown timer (ostensibly while your suit is repaired) before you can get back to the action.

To bypass this, you can spend your ISO-8, which is the game's currency. You start out with a small amount, but once you blow through it, you'll need to buy more via in-app purchase: $1.99 for 150 ISO-8, $4.99 for 500, and so on. Alternately, you can redeem various Swag Bucks-style offers, like watching a video or signing up for free credit-score monitoring or joining GameFly. Ugh.

The game's other currency, credits, is used for new Iron Man suits and suit upgrades. As noted earlier, you can collect credits while you fly, or you can spend ISO-8 to buy them. But when you purchase an upgrade, you have to endure a 15-minute real-time wait before you can use it -- unless you pay to skip.

Lots of world-building games work similarly, but here, in an action title, the addition of timers seems almost like a cruel punishment. I understand Gameloft is in business to make money, but why not just forgo the timers and charge a couple bucks for the game? It's worth it. Ultimately, let me decide how I want to spend my ISO-8; don't force me to use it just so I can keep playing. That's a huge turn-off.

And a shame, because Iron Man 3 really is a lot of fun. It feels organic to the movies, not some odd shoehorning of the property into an ill-fitting game. Maybe I'm making too much of the timer situation, but I'm sufficiently annoyed by it that I've already moved on to other apps. Your thoughts?