Welcome to this second part of our exclusive in-depth review of Stern's Iron Man.
If you read the first part you'll have seen how we looked at the game's external and internal artwork, the cabinet build, the playfield layout and how all the hardware features work. Now it's time to move on to the actual gameplay itself, which means explaining the rules, examining how the light, sound and display effects enhance the playing experience and then wrapping up our thoughts with some conclusions and ratings.
So we've dropped our coin in the slot, hit the start button and we're off. Let's take a look at the rules.
Before we start, a little background information for those not familiar with the Iron Man movies on which this game is based.
Tony Stark is a billionaire industrialist and a brilliant inventor. After being injured and captured by terrorists armed with weapons manufactured by his own company, he builds a robotic, rocket-powered suit to escape. When he returns home he develops further versions of his suit and decides to shut down his weapons division, bringing him into conflict with his business partner. His partner takes one of Stark's earlier suits and turns it into the Iron Monger so he can fight Stark to gain control of the company and the technology in the conclusion of the first movie.
The second movie introduces a bunch of new characters as is the way with sequels. Ivan Vanko worked with Stark's father to help develop the technology behind the Iron Man suits and has developed his own source of power and weaponry which he uses as the Whiplash character. Meanwhile, when Stark gets drunk as Iron Man, one of his friends in the military, Lt. Colonel James Rhodes dons one of Stark's earlier suits in an attempt to subdue him, and this suit is soon turned into a battlefield weapon complete with remote drones in the form of War Machine. Whiplash manages to take control of both War Machine and the drones to fight Stark before Stark's assistant manages to regain control. War Machine and Iron Man then team up to fight Whiplash in the second movie's climactic battle.
Iron Monger, Whiplash and War Machine all feature in the game but there's no Iron Man character on the playfield. That's because he's standing in front of the machine, operating the flippers. Yes, YOU are Tony Stark as Iron Man and your task is to battle the Iron Monger, Whiplash and the drones while trying to gain control of War Machine. Plus there's time for some ego (and score) boosting by spelling out your own name in lights.
Vocal cues come from a variety of sources. Tony Stark's home automation system Jarvis (an A.I. version of the Stark family manservant character Edwin Jarvis featured in many Avengers storylines) reads out many instructions while Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) provides the occasional humorous aside. An Air Force pilot and his controller narrate the Bogey mode and other assorted anonymous voices provide announcements and instructions.
The game we are reviewing here was installed with revision 1.4 software which, at the time of writing, is still the current release. The software refers to the game as Iron Man 2, though it's just plain Iron Man everywhere else.
Your progress through the game is indicated by two ladders of inserts placed in the usual position just above the flippers. The 'mark ladder' runs vertically and lights from the bottom up as certain milestones in the game are reached. These milestones usually consist of lighting all the inserts of a particular feature or starting a certain mode.
The 'mark' numbers relate to the different versions of the Iron Man suit Tony Stark creates throughout the two movies, starting with his Mark 1 version made to escape from the terrorists to the ultimate mark 6 version. His advancements in suit design match your advancements through the game. Or something like that.
Mark 6 isn't actually 'marked' out on the ladder, but it's the large circular inset at the top of the mark ladder, looking like the arc reactor Tony Stark has embedded in his chest.
Completing the mark ladder qualifies you for the Jericho wizard mode. The latest version of the software we are reviewing makes this several times harder than the earlier revisions by asking you to light all six marks in just one ball. If you fail to light them all, any lit inserts are extinguished at the start of the next ball and you have to start again.
You can change the settings to remove the single ball requirement and make it easier to get Jericho, but lighting all the marks in one ball is the default setting under version 1.4.
The 'character ladder' runs horizontally above the mark ladder and shows all the movie characters included in the gameplay; Iron Man himself, War Machine, Iron Monger, Whiplash and the drones.
Each of the characters on the ladder lights up as their related feature is started and lighting them all will enable the Do or Die wizard mode, which we shall look at later.
But there's more to do than simply light up the inserts. If you do especially well in each character's mode or feature you can also get their insert to flash, and that can lead to some very interesting results.
We'll look at what each of those character's features are shortly, but the game begins with the ball being kicked into the shooter lane and some nice, atmospheric music looping in the background. Reassuringly, our score is still zero at this point.
As with all recent Stern releases, the display uses the third/two-thirds split to show the players' scores on the left side and the animations and information on the right. When nothing else is happening, the current player's score is also shown on the right along with the ball number and the credits count (or free play mode) which alternates with the score needed for a replay.
Nearly all display effects stick to this split-screen layout although a few standard messages such as ball saved and high score entry take over the whole screen, as does the diagnostic and auditing system, while some special effects use the score area to extend animations from the right side.
There is a manual ball launch to send the ball up the right orbit to the upper rollover lanes, triggering the orbit lane switch and giving you your first points.
A weak plunge will cause the ball to not reach the rollover lanes and either roll back down the shooter lane or enter the playfield through the right orbit entrance.
If you plunge the ball normally it will shoot up to the top of the playfield where it hits a post which rises as soon as the shooter lane switch is released.
This post stops the ball and causes it to roll to the right, into one of the two top rollover lanes.
At the start of each ball, the shield insert below the right rollover lane is flashing for the skill shot award, but because the up post so effectively kills the ball's momentum, it almost always rolls slowly into the left lane. So a quick tap of one of the flipper buttons swaps the flashing shield insert to collect the skill shot.
This is simply a points award which begins at 250K the first time you collect it and increases by 25K each subsequent time.
Extra balls also increase the skill shot value, so you're not limited to 300K.
It is possible to disable the up post in the settings menu which means you need to plunge the ball with just the right strength to reach the top rollovers without sending it all the way around the orbit. That creates a more challenging skill shot but unfortunately also removes some of the later functionality of the game, so probably isn't worth the effort.
An enhanced skill shot - achieved by either plunging into the right orbit and then making a right flipper shot, or by holding in the left flipper button to send the ball all the way around the orbit for a left flipper shot - would be a nice future addition to the software. Stern games such as Spider-Man or Pirates of the Caribbean have this feature and having the choice of skill shots is appreciated by players.
When the ball is first launched, the top two rollover lane shield inserts act as a pair. Lane change simply swaps the lit insert between the two lanes. Once the ball is in play and the game has properly begun this changes, and the top two shield inserts become part of a group of six which include the two inlanes and two outlanes. Now, when you use the flipper buttons to change a lit shield insert, it cycles across the top two lanes and then the lower four lanes before returning to the top.
This can appear a little confusing at first if you're not expecting it, but now you know, it shouldn't catch you unaware and actually makes a lot of sense. The top rollover lanes work in exactly the same was as the lower lanes, so why not include their inserts in a single group?
The shield logo on the inserts is actually the motif of S.H.I.E.L.D. - the shadowy Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate. Completing the six shield (or S.H.I.E.L.D.) inserts does four things. First, it gives you an immediate increase to the bonus multiplier.
Repeatedly completing the six shield inserts can boost your bonus multiplier up to a maximum of 25 times.
Secondly, completing the six shield inserts lights the War Machine shot for a mystery award. This can range from 200K points, to lighting the extra ball, lighting special, adding another boost to the bonus multiplier or adding 100K to the pop bumper jackpot value.
The awards can also be targeted more at the current mode you are playing to give you more time during a timed feature or to add another ball into a multiball mode. Neither of these helper awards can necessarily be guaranteed, but they do seem to be a fairly safe bet.
Incidentally, the add-a-ball mystery award does seem to have a bug where it can be awarded even if all 4 balls are already in play, which effectively wastes the award by giving you nothing.
The third thing collecting all six shield inserts does is to extinguish them all and allow you to start relighting them for another mystery award.
The fourth and final consequence of completing all the shield inserts is to award you a light on the mark ladder.
You only get this mark awarded the first time you complete all the shield inserts, not every time (which would be far too easy, especially during multiball).
When the ball passes through the top rollovers it enters the pop bumper area where all hits build up a pop bumper jackpot value which starts at 500K and increases by 5K per hit.
The pop bumpers have their own mini-mode where the bumpers are lit for increased scoring and the start of super pops.
The three spinner lanes (left orbit, right orbit and centre lane) each light one of the three pop bumpers.
Although the colours look very similar, the inserts on each lane are slightly different and match the colours of the pop bumper caps. When the lane is shot, the insert goes out and the appropriate pop bumper lights up.
A lit pop bumper adds 7.5K to the pop bumper jackpot rather than the 5K an unlit one adds.
When all three are lit, the pop bumpers start scoring much larger points as the super pop bumper feature begins.
Super pop bumpers makes the next 25 hits worth 1/25th of the pop bumper jackpot, meaning after 25 hits you've collected the jackpot total. But this value can be increased further.
Once super pop bumpers is running, shots to the spinners add 600 points per spin to the super pop bumper value.
In addition, lit drone targets add 5 to the number of hits remaining and as long as the relevant shots aren't tied up in a multiball mode, relighting all three pop bumpers restarts the count at 25 hits.
Together, these can really boost your score and the value of the pop bumper hits.
If you allow the number of hits remaining to reach zero, super pop bumpers ends and you are back to building your pop bumper jackpot and relighting the bumpers again.
Having traversed the pop bumper area, the ball rolls down to the flippers and we have our choice of features to shoot for.
Our guide to the options available and the goals we have to achieve is the character ladder, and the first step along it towards its completion introduces us to Iron Man himself.
His areas of the playfield are the seven red standups, and they provide some scoring opportunities which can be deftly combined with some of the other characters' features we'll look at shortly.
The seven Iron Man targets are split into two banks - a four bank on the left...
...and a three bank on the right.
Although they're not labelled as such, we'll call them by the letters they light on the display.
These target between them start three sequential modes - fast scoring, double scoring and then Iron Man scoring. As the modes progress, the targets become increasingly difficult to complete.
For the first mode - fast scoring - hitting any target on the left bank of standups adds a letter to I-R-O-N from the bottom up and scores 75K points.
When I-R-O-N is complete, the targets simply score 10K points - they don't add letters to the opposite bank.
Similarly, any target on the right bank adds a M-A-N letter from the top down and adds 75K to your score.
To light fast scoring, both banks need to be completed.
Completing all seven I-R-O-N-M-A-N inserts awards 250K and more importantly, it is the second milestone we need to reach in order to light up an insert on the mark ladder.
Unlike the shield inserts, collecting all the I-R-O-N-M-A-N letters will always award another mark number - it isn't restricted to just the first time you do it.
With all seven I-R-O-N-M-A-N letters completed, the associated inserts now begin flashing and shooting any of the Iron Man standup targets starts the first mode.
Fast scoring is a name which stretches back to the days of Data East when it was the name for a 'frenzy' timed mode in which all targets scored a fixed number of points. It's no different here where fast scoring last for 40 seconds during which every target scores a minimum of 10K.
We say 'minimum' because fast scoring doesn't prevent you starting or completing any other features which might score considerably more than 10K. 'Minimum' is also appropriate because that 10K value can be increased by hitting the Iron Man targets which boost the target value by 1K per hit.
The fast scoring value can be built up to a maximum of 50K per target. After that, I-R-O-N-M-A-N targets just score that 50K and the value doesn't increase further.
The fast scoring value should ideally be built up as high as possible and then collected repeatedly with some good solid shots to the spinners and into the pop bumpers.
Fast scoring continues until the timer reaches zero (plus a short grace period) at which point the mode ends and the total scored is displayed.
Of course, you might decide just before the timer reaches zero is a good time to collect that shield mystery award and get...
Fast scoring points are added as they are collected, so the total display is purely indicative.
Starting the first of the Iron Man modes lights our first character on the ladder running across the playfield.
Once fast scoring is over, the I-R-O-N-M-A-N targets can be completed again to start the second scoring mode - double scoring. This time though, it gets a little bit harder to complete the sequence since you need to shoot the targets somewhat more accurately than before.
As we know, each target represents an I-R-O-N-M-A-N letter. Where fast scoring merely required you to shoot any target in the bank to add a letter, double scoring wants you to shoot either the target corresponding to an unlit letter or the targets on either side to light it. So if you need the 'R' letter in I-R-O-N-M-A-N, shooting the R letter will light it, as will the adjacent I and O targets (assuming they have already been lit).
That makes the letters I, N, M & the other N at the end of the bank a little trickier, but it's not hard to collect any of them at this stage.
Lighting both banks will complete the I-R-O-N-M-A-N letters and flash all seven inserts for a final shot to start the mode.
Hit any of the seven I-R-O-N-M-A-N targets and double scoring begins immediately.
If you haven't yet completed the mark ladder this will add another number to it.
Double scoring is pretty much self-explanatory. Your 40 seconds begins the moment the title page is displayed, so by the time you get to see the timer, 3 seconds have already elapsed.
Double scoring continues until shortly after the clock reaches zero. There's no display of the total points when the mode ends but you do get a vocal countdown of the last few seconds.
The third I-R-O-N-M-A-N mode is the slightly more cryptic Iron Man (note: it's two words) scoring. As with double scoring, the I-R-O-N-M-A-N targets become a little more difficult and require you to hit each target individually to light it and add the associated letter. So to light the letter 'O' you need to hit the third target up on the left side. No other target will do.
Complete the I-R-O-N-M-A-N letters and Iron Man scoring is lit, awaiting that one final shot at the I-R-O-N-M-A-N targets.
Shoot any of the seven targets and we're off.
Iron Man scoring is a continuous hurry-up where a points award begins at 750K and rapidly counts down to 400K.
You can collect the currently displayed award as many times as you like by shooting any of the I-R-O-N-M-A-N targets.
The countdown is pretty fast, taking about 17 seconds to drop from 750K to 400K and continues under the display animations, so you only have a limited number of opportunities to collect the points.
Before you know it, the final opportunity to grab those points has arrived.
Once that grace period has elapsed, the mode ends and the total collected is shown.
After Iron Man scoring, the I-R-O-N-M-A-N targets built towards fast scoring again, followed by double scoring and then Iron man scoring again, continuing in that sequence for the rest of the game.
If you manage to play all 3 Iron Man modes, the already lit Iron Man insert will now flash to show you have excelled in the Iron Man modes, earning you a boost to one of the game's later features.
Of the three Iron Man modes, double scoring has to be the most useful and best of all, it can be set up ready for the start of multiball, or one of the wizard modes to double all your jackpots for 40 seconds which can't be bad.
Speaking of those high scoring features, the next character on our ladder is the game's first multiball - War Machine.
War Machine is actually inexorably linked with one of the other character grid inserts - the drones - as you have to complete them before you can play War Machine.
To start War Machine you first have to overcome those protective drones. There are four drone targets scattered across the playfield.
To light War Machine multiball you must destroy 8 drones by hitting their standup targets when they are lit. Initially they are all lit, so hitting any of them will destroy a drone, score 10K and reduce the number needed to 7.
The hit target is now unlit and won't destroy the next drone. You have to hit one of the remaining 3 lit targets to reduce the count by 1 and increase the drone score by 5K.
At this point, the drone target you hit before comes back into play and the one you've just hit is now inactive. This continues so you only have three active drone targets - the last one hit is taken out of play.
However, you can do something about that. Hit the War Machine shot and he'll relight the disabled drone target to give you back your full complement of four.
It's worth mentioning that the second time you build up to War Machine and have to destroy the drones again, the previous 2 drone targets you hit are disabled, leaving you only two lit drone targets at a time (unless you use War Machine to add them back). The third time through, the previous 3 targets are unavailable to shoot, leaving only one target lit. From then on, only one drone target at a time is lit making it much harder to complete.
Getting back to the first time through and with just one more drone left, shoot any of the lit drone targets and War Machine multiball is lit.
Collecting all 8 drones will also light the drones insert in the character ladder.
War Machine multiball can be started, appropriately enough, by shooting the War Machine kicker lane which also awards you 250K points for your trouble.
As with all the multiball modes in Iron Man, there are no ball locks - either real or virtual. When a feature is ready for multiball you just shoot it and off you go.
Starting War Machine multiball is another milestone which earns you an additional number on the mark ladder.
Another, equally important effect of starting War Machine multiball is the way it lights the War Machine insert on the character ladder.
War Machine multiball is a 2-ball mode initially (although you can collect a lit S.H.I.E.L.D. mystery award at War Machine which is quite likely to add a ball) which has a number of stages.
The first stage involves shooting the 4 drone targets whose arrowed blue inserts are now flashing to score jackpots. There is a 20 second timer running and if you get all 4 within the 20 seconds you add another ball to the multiball. If you collected the S.H.I.E.L.D. add-a-ball too, you'll now have all 4 balls in play.
If you don't get all 4 drone targets within the 20 second time limit, you still have to complete each of them once to move on to the next stage, you just don't get the additional ball to play with as a reward.
Each drone jackpot is worth a score of 475K the first time you play War Machine multiball and it increases 25K each subsequent time.
When you have collected all four single jackpots, you move on to the second stage of War Machine multiball where all 5 red arrow shots flash for double jackpots.
The 5 arrowed shots are the left and right orbits, the left and right ramps and the centre lane. As they are shot, they award the double jackpot and extinguish the arrow insert.
Shoot all five double jackpot shots and War Machine starts flashing for the War Machine multiball super jackpot.
The super jackpot value is the total of the 4 jackpots and the 5 double jackpots.
With the jackpot value increasing to 500K the second time you play War Machine multiball, the same calculation leads to a super jackpot value of 7M.
Collecting the super jackpot is important beyond the large points payoff you get because it also causes the War Machine insert on the character ladder to start flashing for greater rewards later on.
Once the super jackpot is collected, War Machine multiball returns to the start where you have to collect 8 regular jackpots from the drone targets followed by 5 super jackpots from the arrow shots and your second super jackpot from War Machine.
This sequence continues until you are down to 1 ball in play when War Machine multiball ends and the total number of points earned from the mode is shown on the display.
There's one more thing to mention about War Machine and it takes us back to the drone targets which have to be collected to qualify the multiball.
When all 8 drone target hits were recorded, the drones insert lit on the character ladder. However, in order to get the insert to flash - and build towards boosting one of the game's wizard modes - you need to light all the drone targets 4 times. Since you can only collect all the drone targets when building towards the War Machine mode, that means playing War Machine 3 times and lighting it, ready for the 4th.
So, while lighting the drone insert is one of the easiest tasks in the game, getting that insert to flash is one of the hardest.
Let's now move one step across the character ladder to the biggest, brashest and most frequent multiball mode, the big daddy of the playfield, the Iron Monger.
The Iron Monger is the huge robotic creature who spends much of the game below the playfield but pops up whenever you spell his name (and also during the attract mode). His area on the playfield consists of the model, a magnet in front and a series of six inserts curved around the magnet.
During regular gameplay the Iron Monger is in his lowered position, so the clear plastic over his head lies flat with the playfield surface.
The Iron Monger mode is a multi-stage multiball and to get it started you need to first spell out the letters M-O-N-G-E-R. If the game has default settings, two of the letters are already lit at the start of the game.
The third letter is flashing and to light it solidly you need to shoot one of the three spinners which are placed at the entrance to the left and right orbits as well as the centre lane.
Although the large purple Iron Monger insert is lit on the three lanes, it's not necessary to actually make the orbits or the full centre lane shot, you just need to trigger the spinners to solidly light the flashing letter and start the next letter flashing.
When all six letters are lit, the three spinner lanes all flash along with the flasher underneath the centre lane Iron Monger insert. This suggests the centre lane is the one to shoot, but in fact it's the only brighter because it's the only Iron Monger insert fitted with a flasher.
Shooting any of the shots stops the ball temporarily. If it's the left orbit you shot, the up-post at the top of the orbit lane rises to hold the ball. If it's the centre lane then the up-post in that lane rises to hold the ball. If you shot the right lane the up-post at the top of the orbit rises to stop the ball and send it through the rollover lanes and into the pop bumpers.
The ball is stopped (or at least delayed) so the Iron Monger toy can rise up out of the playfield without the ball interfering and so you can watch the animation of the Iron Monger coming to life on the display.
With the Iron Monger in his up position, the second stage of the mode begins. At this point, it's still single ball play.
The aim now is to spell M-O-N-G-E-R again by hitting the Iron Monger with the ball. Each hit adds a letter and scores a minimum of 100K points while the display shows Iron Man and Iron Monger engaged in a dramatic fight sequence.
The 100K is the minimum number of points you get for hitting Iron Monger, but you can increase that by shooting the spinners first. Each spin scores 7.5K...
...and adds 7.5K to the Iron Monger value which is collected when you hit him.
A really firm shot at the spinners can earn some good points...
...and significantly increase that 100K base value.
Each hit also briefly activates the magnet in front of Iron Monger which throws the ball around. The actual effect depends on how hard you hit him and how quickly the ball rebounds. The faster the ball is travelling, the less effect the magnet has on its path, but a slow ball is liable to be flung in an unpredictable direction.
After six hits you have completed all the letters. When the sixth and final hit to the Iron Monger is made, the magnet activates and stays on to grab the ball while the Iron Monger sinks down into the playfield. The multiball part of the mode then begins as two more balls are launched into play for a total of three.
Once the Iron Monger has settled under the playfield, the magnet deactivates to release the original ball back into play. It doesn't do any trick to fling the ball which is perhaps a little disappointing but instead just allows it to roll down to the flippers.
Starting Iron Monger multiball is another of those milestones which adds a number to your mark ladder.
It also lights the Iron Monger insert on the character ladder.
With three balls in play your next task is to get the Iron Monger back so you can start attacking him again. All three spinner shots are lit and shooting any of them will tempt him to rise up and come back into the game.
Although the display says to shoot the spinner, that's not entirely accurate. For the orbits, you need to actually make the shot and trip the rollover switch at the top of the left or right orbit lane. The spinners themselves only score 2.5K and don't raise the Iron Monger. The centre lane doesn't have a separate switch, so there the spinner acts as the switch and is good enough to bring back the Iron Monger even if the ball doesn't make it all the way up the lane.
However you do it, once the shot is made, the Iron Monger comes up again and you score an immediate 250K jackpot for your trouble.
Now it's time to spell M-O-N-G-E-R for a third time.
As before, shooting the Iron Monger toy adds a letter and scores a jackpot of 250K. The spinners no longer increase the Iron Monger jackpot and the game never refers to this award as a jackpot but that's what it is.
Rather than show your progress in completing M-O-N-G-E-R as it does on the playfield, the display instead counts down the number of hits required.
When the sixth hit is made on the Iron Monger, he is defeated, sinks down into the playfield and is shown being destroyed in one of the game's best animation clips.
Now that the Iron Monger is defeated and out of the way, it's time to collect the super jackpot which this time is actually called a super jackpot (hence the reason why the earlier awards were regular jackpots).
This time it's only the centre shot which collects the award, but if you make it you get a juicy payoff worth a nice, round 3 million points and another lengthy explosive display animation.
Collecting the super jackpot starts the Iron Monger insert on the character ladder flashing which, as we shall soon see, can be important.
After collecting the super jackpot you are returned to the start of the multiball stage, where you have to shoot either orbit or the centre lane to raise the Iron Monger and start collecting regular jackpots followed by the super jackpot.
The second time round the points awards are the same - 250K for a jackpot and 3M for a super jackpot.
This continues until Iron Monger multiball ends when you've only one ball left in play.
When Iron Monger's mode is running, both the other main multiball modes - War Machine and Whiplash - are disabled, so if you want to combine them you have to start Iron Monger last.
Speaking of Whiplash, he's the final character on our ladder, so let's see how his feature works.
Positioned behind and to the right of the Iron Monger, Whiplash's area consists of two standup targets and a magnet.
The way Whiplash functions is pretty straightforward and familiar. You keep shooting the pair of targets to register hits on Whiplash and countdown the number of hits required to start his mode. Triggering either target counts as a hit.
On default settings, 5 hits are needed to bring Whiplash alive, each one scoring 50K.
When a hit on the targets is sensed, the magnet is pulsed on and off a few time which results in the ball being flung in a variety of directions. Because of the way the two targets are angled, a rebounding ball will almost always pass very close or directly over the magnet core. This results in the Whiplash magnet having a far greater influence on the ball that the Iron Monger magnet does and it really introduces a large element of unpredictability into the ball's direction and speed.
So Whiplash is one of the more dangerous shots in the game.
When the penultimate hit is registered, you are told that Whiplash Multiball is ready to start on the fifth and final hit.
Whiplash himself doesn't have any inserts in the playfield so any signposting to show when to hit him is done with the flasher lamps behind the targets.
So, with those lamps now pulsing away, hit him again and the magnet holds on to the ball. You earn 250K and Whiplash multiball begins with an animation of Whiplash wielding his plasma whips, accompanied by lashings(!) of great sound effects.
Starting Whiplash multiball lights the Whiplash insert on the character ladder.
Whiplash multiball is another milestone which adds a mark number to our mark ladder, completing it with mark 6.
Another ball is launched for the 2-ball Whiplash multiball where all 5 red arrowed shots are now flashing and shooting them, or the Whiplash targets, scores a jackpot of 250K.
You need to collect 5 jackpots before you can move on to the next stage of Whiplash multiball and if you are lucky, the magnet will release the ball it has been holding and throw it into the Whiplash targets to give you your first jackpot for free.
When any arrowed shot is made and a jackpot awarded, it continues flashing and can be used to collect further jackpots. As with the other two multiball modes, the War Machine shot may be lit for a S.H.I.E.L.D. mystery award which could well be 'add-a-ball' to increase the number of balls in play by one.
When the final jackpot is collected, the red arrows are extinguished and just the Whiplash shot - which is now lit very brightly by the flasher lamps - remains for a double jackpot of 500K.
And what can possibly come after a double jackpot? Why, a double, double, jackpot of course. Yes, shoot the Whiplash targets again and you get a 4 x jackpot of 1 million points.
After that it's time to start collecting double jackpots - 10 of them in all - from the red arrowed shots and the Whiplash targets.
It is best to avoid Whiplash due to his tendency to throw the ball around in unpredictable ways and just go for the red arrowed shots to get that count down.
When the final jackpot is collected, Whiplash remains as the sole shot and shooting him rewards you with a super jackpot of 3 million points which puts you back at the start of Whiplash multiball, collecting the 5 single jackpot shots again.
Getting the super jackpot also turns your solidly lit Whiplash insert on the character ladder into a flashing insert.
The second time you start the Whiplash feature, the number of hits on the Whiplash targets needed to start Whiplash Multiball increases by 4 to 9 hits although the points values of jackpots and super jackpots remain the same.
Before we start to look at what happens when you collect all the marks and all the characters, there is an additional feature we haven't covered yet and it lives on the left and right ramps.
Both ramps have their own little progress meters labelled from 100K up to 400K on large rectangular inserts.
The ramps score the lit award and advance to the next level with every shot, but the fun starts when both ramps have been maxed out at 400K because that's when 'We Got A Bogey' mode (or just plain 'Bogey' for short) begins.
Ignoring the question about grammatical accuracy, 'We Got A Bogey' is a timed mode where all arrow shots are lit to collect Bogey awards. You get an immediate 500K for starting it and the default setting for the timer is 25 seconds, although it - like many of the settings to which we've referred - can be changed in the settings menu.
Starting Bogey is yet another milestone which adds a mark number to your ladder if you're not already maxed out at mark 6.
Shooting the ramps is the preferred way to collect Bogey awards, since these return the ball to the flippers for an immediate shot at the opposite ramp.
Shooting any of the flashing arrows scores 500K and increases the next shot by 100K up to a maximum of 1M per shot.
Each award is preceded by a short clip of Air Force planes chasing Iron Man as he flies through the sky and lots of audio clips from the pilots and their controller.
With the seconds ticking away, now might be a good time to collect a S.H.I.E.L.D. mystery award which will, in all probability, not be much of a mystery and will give you more time to play Bogey mode.
Bogey mode continues until the timer (extended or not) reaches zero.
Even then, there's just time to sneak in a quick final shot and grab another million points.
After which you get to see the total scored in We Got A Bogey.
When the mode is completed, both ramps return to their 100K value and you can start building towards the next Bogey mode.
This is the part of the in-depth review where we look at what happens when you get all the way through the game. Understandably, some readers will prefer to find out this information for themselves in which case if you click here you will jump past this section and pick up straight afterwards.
Still with us? Great. Let's have a look at the good stuff then.
'Wizard modes, you say? Plural?' Yes, there are two wizard modes called Do or Die and Jericho. The latter is awarded for completing the mark ladder and the former for lighting up all the characters.
Do or Die
We saw how lighting each character was usually achieved by starting their respective feature.
When all five are lit, they start flashing to indicate Do or Die is ready to begin. This is done by shooting the centre lane where the flash lamp beneath the Iron Monger target is flashing away madly.
Shooting that centre lane starts Do or Die hurry-up - a countdown award collected at the centre lane and worth up to an eye-watering 50M.
Of course, being a countdown, that value doesn't hang around for long and as soon as the ball has exited from the pop bumper area the value begins rapidly counting down in 41,650 point chunks.
Shoot the centre lane (or at least the spinner in front which records the shot) and you get the current countdown value.
Apart from the huge points award, you also get another payoff in the form of double scoring from this point on for the rest of the ball. All the characters become unlit and you can start lighting them again for your next Do or Die hurry-up
While a near 50M points score is very welcome, there's something even better you can get if you've been playing an exemplary game.
You may remember we've been pointing out not only how to light the character inserts, but also how to get them flashing.
Well, if you managed to get them all flashing, now it's time to reap the reward because instead of the 50M Do or Die hurry up you get to start Do or Die multiball.
We'd love to tell you what happens, but unfortunately it was too hard for us to achieve and we need to get some more time on the machine to make it happen. If you manage it, let us know. Otherwise we'll update this part of the review soon once we've managed to play it ourselves.
You need to have all the characters flashing to get Do or Die multiball. If you only have a few, you get the regular Do or Die hurry-up instead but those flashing characters remain flashing after the hurry-up is collected, allowing you to concentrate on those you missed the first time round. However, any solidly lit characters are extinguished after the hurry-up.
As we progressed through the game, we've been climbing the mark ladder from mark 1 up to the (unlabelled) mark 6 as various features are started and milestones reached.
Now we have reached mark 6, the largest round insert with the arc reactor symbol pulses. There are two #89 flash lamps beneath it, so the flashing is quite obvious, and the mark 1 to mark 5 inserts strobe from bottom to top as well in case there's any doubt.
As with Do or Die, it is the centre lane shot which is flashing, so it's here you shoot to collect an instant 1M points and start Jericho Missile Mayhem, or just plain Jericho for short.
As Tony Stark announces "For your consideration... The Jericho" we get a video clip of the Jericho weapon in action.
If you haven't seen the first Iron Man movie, then this YouTube clip provides a pretty good demonstration of what the Jericho does.
As far as the pinball version goes, it's not quite an "everything" is lit multiball madness mode. It's more - all the features are lit, ready for you to complete them and earn big points. Oh, and it's a single ball mode which continues until you either drain the ball or complete everything.
So, what do we have to shoot? The display helpfully tells us the basics.
There are six features which need to be 'completed'. In the case of Jericho mode, 'completed' means:
The sharp-eyed amongst you might look at the display frames above and think 'Those Pinball News guys have screwed up and put the Iron Man targets display in twice.' Well, that's partly true. The Iron Man display is shown twice because that's what the game shows you during the introduction. For some reason it never mentions the Bogey ramps. The final frame above should actually look like this:
To collect the Iron Monger letters you need something to hit, so the Iron Monger toy rises out of the playfield.
Each step towards completing the 5 features scores a value which starts at 250K and increases 1K with each pop bumper hit and each spinner spin up to a maximum of 500K. Pop bumpers continue their build up and collection of the pop bumper jackpot during Jericho, while spinners score 7.5K per spin as well as increasing the Jericho value.
When any of the lit Iron Man, Iron Monger, War Machine, Whiplash or S.H.I.E.L.D. switches are triggered, the current Jericho value is awarded.
For Iron Man, Iron Monger, Bogey ramps and the S.H.I.E.L.D. lanes, your progress is shown on the related playfield inserts.
Neither War Machine nor Whiplash have any playfield inserts to spell out and show your progress towards the 5 hits required, so you have to keep bashing them until you get the completed animation.
For the Iron Man targets, you need to have total accuracy and hit exactly the right target, rather than just be in the ballpark as you do in early Iron Man rounds.
For the Bogey ramps, when one of the ramps is built up to the 400K value, all the ramp inserts extinguish on that side and only the yet-to-be-completed ramp remains lit.
The first of the six features you complete scores a fixed 1M points and disables that feature's targets.
After that, the next completed feature scores 2M, the next 3M and so on.
Targets for completed features will generally score 100K but do nothing more.
We said earlier that Jericho is not a multiball mode, however that doesn't prevent you starting other multiballs modes within it. For instance, when you spell out M-O-N-G-E-R during Jericho, it adds two more balls into play and kicks off Iron Monger multiball.
As in regular play this adds 500K to your score and drops the Iron Monger below the playfield. As usual, you can't start Whiplash or War Machine multiballs when Iron Monger multiball is running.
Meanwhile, Jericho continues to run alongside Iron Monger multiball and if you are down to one ball in play, Jericho continues while Iron Monger multiball ends. If you lose all the balls during Jericho, the mode ends and has to be re-qualified at the start of the next ball in the usual way (i.e. collecting another 6 marks).
With Iron Monger multiball running during Jericho, we encountered what appeared to be a bug. As it does during regular Iron Monger Multiball, when the 2 extra balls are added to play, the iron monger toy sinks down into the playfield until you shoot one of the spinner shots to bring him back up.
Except, shooting the orbits or the centre shot didn't bring him up.
We got the animation but no Iron Monger, so it proved to be rather difficult to make any shots on him to move on further.
Consequently, at the moment it's probably best to consider Iron Monger multiball as a helper which makes completing Jericho easier, rather than a way to get any jackpots, super jackpots or get the Iron Monger insert flashing.
Returning to Jericho, collecting the last remaining features scores 4M, 5M and - for the final one - 6M points.
With all the features collected it's time to end Jericho mode and you do that by shooting the flashing centre lane for another nice pay-off and a video clip showing the Jericho missile system demonstration from the YouTube clip above.
That 50M will more or less double the number of points you've earned from the rest of the Jericho mode and brings it to an end.
Jericho and Do or Die are the two wizard modes in the game. Both prove to be reasonably challenging to start while the multiball version of Do or Die provides the top players with something to aim for above the regular hurry-up version.
If you skipped the wizard mode information, welcome back. It was great, though.
During our testing, there didn't seem to be any way to light the extra ball or the special apart from being awarded them from the S.H.I.E.L.D. mystery award. In a freshly installed game, the extra balls were coming up quite frequently - even multiple extra balls in one game - but the in-built percentaging will probably bring that down to a more frugal level before too long.
Extra balls are lit on the left ramp and collected by shooting it. Collection brings you an animated Iron Man flying around the screen and lights the 'shoot again' insert below the flippers.
Then, at the start of the next ball you get the shoot again animation.
The special hangs out under the right ramp and it was only given as a mystery award once we had increased the bonus multiplier to its maximum of 25x. Coincidence? No doubt if there haven't been enough replays recently it will turn up more often.
Shooting the ramp when it the insert is lit gives you that special feeling.
Perhaps because it's seen so infrequently, it's one of the least animated displays in the game, just flashing a few times.
All good things must come to an end and, as one cliché follows another as sure as night follows day, the ball must drain eventually and that brings us the bonus count.
The bonus in Iron Man is a very simple affair when compared to the bucks, elks, rams, birds, etc. we had in Big Buck Hunter. It's a simple number based on the number of switch closures during that ball.
It is shown first with a single multiplier which then counts up (if you added bonus multipliers during the ball) to show your total.
As always seems to be the case, the bonus isn't added until the next split screen display image is shown, which might be the match sequence which follows, or it might not be until after the high score initials entry (which takes up the whole display area).
Speaking of the match sequence, it depicts the end of the first test flight when upon returning home, Tony crashes, falling through several storeys of his home, landing in a crumpled heap amongst his car collection as Jarvis sets off a fire extinguisher on him.
As - to add insult to injury - the contents of the extinguisher are sprayed over the crash scene, the match number appears.
The match sequence brings us to the end of the rules section of this in-depth review.
Now it's time to look at all the different elements which go to make up the game, and having just shown you 268 frames from the dot matrix display, let's start there.
Iron Man returns to the Spider-Man system of using digitised clips from the movies to introduce the major features in the game.
Because the display resolution (both the number of pixels and the range of shades they can produce) is limited, subtle animations or dark, moody scenes don't translate well to the dot matrix display. To get the best results you need big, bold action scenes with plenty of fights, explosions, crashes, crunches and dramatic moves.
In short - you need Iron Man.
The first movie and the trailers for the second provide lots of highly effective clips suitable for inclusion in the game. Iron Monger, War Machine and Whiplash are as in-your-face as it's possible to be and the set pieces of both movies are the battles between them and Iron Man.
Each character's first on-screen appearance introduces their multiball mode while their fight sequences are chopped up into bite-size chunks and used to introduce the jackpot, double jackpot and super jackpot awards. Although some of the frames we have used here may not be that clear, when seen as part of a sequence there's rarely any question what you're looking at.
The game uses the familiar technique of running short clips to a freeze and then animating on some explanatory text rendered in the regular system font. Sometimes this is over a darkened end frame from the clip, which usually ends up looking unrecognisable.
Sometimes it's over a plain solid backing.
And other times it's over custom-made backgrounds.
Obviously the movie won't provide suitable animations for all the elements of the game - it would be fortuitous indeed if the words "extra ball is lit" appeared anywhere in either movie - so a number of specially designed backings, frames and clips have to be made.
By and large these tend to be more comic book-like in appearance rather than trying to match the movies clips - time and money probably ruled out the photo-realistic approach. Because of the large number of movie clips used in the game, the custom animations jar somewhat. It's not that they're badly done, but they do look quite different with a mixture of fonts, text sizes and styles which look out of place.
However, you cannot deny the clarity of the messages and with so much going on in the game, that's always a useful trait to have.
Overall, the display effects look very nicely done and - apart from the few instances we've highlighted - enhance the branding and capture the feel of the game. There are plenty of explosive flashes, flights and fights, and that matches what's going on down on the playfield.
There was certainly some initial disappointment at the lack of any AC/DC music in the game, given how prominently the band's tracks has been promoted as a tie-in with the Iron Man 2 movie. Stern's publicity also advertised how "the pinball machine also contains songs from the Iron Man movie score". What that actually means is the use of the themes from the first movie's soundtrack, rather than actual songs.
In fact, the lack of any AC/DC tracks doesn't really diminish the sound package. The movie soundtrack and incidental music provides a very competent background and accents during key modes.
The main theme is powerful and picks up well from the rumbling, pulsating shooter lane music, really making you feel like the action has begun.
The music, like much of the characters, is metal, which is certainly guaranteed to please a large chunk of the paying customers. It's loud and it's aggressive, although not without its quiet moments. But you know even these are going to explode into head-on crashes at any moment. So it's just like the movie and just like the game.
We played you some in-game music in the first part of this review. Here's a bit more music from the movie included in the game. This track is called Merchant of Death.
Get the Flash Player to see this video clip.
Got problems hearing the audio? Consult our help page for assistance.
As far as the narrative is concerned, there’s a mix of characters describing different aspects of the storyline. Tony Stark’s A.I. system, Jarvis, gives you many of the instructions but he hands over to other voices at different times. The robotic nature of his voice doesn’t lend itself to creating excitement or enthusing the player so it's better to use a more expressive character. Stern made that mistake in an earlier game by trying to make Chole sound excited in 24.
There are no custom samples from Robert Downey Jr, Jeff Bridges, Mickey Rourke or any of the other stars of the movies, so instead we get an anonymous announcer providing voice calls to guide us through the game. He too gives way to other characters once Bogey mode starts as a controller and pilot describe the action. Having different custom voices provides the opportunity for each to develop their own character and inject some humour into the game. Unfortunately there are few laughs to be found. A few acerbic comments from Tony Stark (“err…. that went… well” when you have a disastrous multiball, for instance) taken from the movies are the only light-hearted moments to be found which is a shame considering the tongue-in-cheek nature of the films. Like rock music, well-targeted humour also helps sell a game.
With great action clips comes the requirement for equally great synchronised effects and Iron Man certainly delivers in this area. The supplied speakers probably don't do justice to the explosions and the crunching punches thrown during the fight scenes, so home owners should look to upgrade those.
With so many booms and crashes taking place, some of the smaller effects get over-powered and lost in the mix. The game's spinners play an important role in the game as do the drone targets and the three Iron Monger lanes. It would have been nice if the effects played when these shots were made a little more powerful and distinct to cut through whatever else is happening in the game. It's great fun to really get a spinner spinning, but without an effective sound for each spin it's only half as rewarding.
Iron Man has to be played with the sound turned up. Really turned UP to get the best from it and really be drawn into the game. And as for AC/DC, it might have been nice to have their songs included, but the movie soundtrack does a good job standing in for them.
Initial pictures of the game made it look very cold and unattractive, with blueish-white appearing the dominant colour, especially when photographed with a flash.
In the flesh though, it's a much warmer tone and the blues become much more subdued.
Even so, for a game with relatively little hardware on the playfield, it ends up looking cluttered in the area above the flippers. The mark ladder works well, but the arrangement of the 5 characters makes it look as though they are related to the mark 6 insert when they are not. That leads to confusion about how the features interact.
That confusion is not helped by the shot guides which emanate from the character inserts.
Normally the lines radiating out from characters' inserts tell you where to shoot to play their respective features. But the Iron Man one points at the left orbit, War Machine and Iron Monger point at the left ramp, Whiplash points at the right ramp and the drones point at the right orbit, none of which are related to the characters targets.
That issue, plus the lack of the I-R-O-N and M-A-N letters on the appropriate playfield inserts and nothing to say what the centre arc reactor lights for, suggest the rules were decided some time after the deadline for the playfield artwork.
There's some helpful colour-coding going on which makes the Iron Monger shots purple, Iron Man shots red, War Machine turquoise and the drones blue. The green Whiplash is rather forgotten about once we leave the insert and move up to his area of the playfield, though.
It's probably the drone images which cause the most problems. Not only do they have to squeeze into some quite busy areas but they're also quite ugly to look at as well. They weren't exactly built to be things of beauty so perhaps we'd be better off just having a name label and not a picture of them.
The lower part of the playfield is quite ingenious though, creating faux multiple playfield levels through the smart use of shadowing and varying brightness levels.
Although it might look confusing at first, unlike the centre playfield it actually makes more sense than you think as the apparent lower levels are where the ball runs, almost as though it's rolling in a channel.
We mentioned before how the backglass image is from a publicity poster so we won't comment much more, other than to say it works pretty well and wisely avoids using a montage of multiple characters or any actor's faces at all, making it a timeless composition.
The cabinet art is fine, if uninspiring like some of the classic Stern cabinets. You'll have to go a long way to beat work like Lord of the Rings or even Batman.
The logo is perhaps too dominating, but it's not a big issue and the area around the flipper buttons should be quite easy to re-touch when it starts to wear from too many fingers rubbing it.
The light levels are possibly a little lower overall and because all the fixed features which might house a lamp are placed up at the top of the playfield, resulting in a dark band running across the War Machine and Whiplash entrances. The two spot lamps mounted on the slingshots which would usually help out here are focused on keeping the Iron Monger toy well lit when he rises out of the playfield.
The top and bottom parts of the playfield are brightly lit though, and ball visibility is generally good with clear plastic ramps and plenty of backlit standup targets helping as the ball returns to the flippers.
The flasher domes often found on the top of the slingshots have moved to the outer edge of the playfield while the centre and top parts of the playfield mix flashers above and beneath the playfield. Their success here varies. The Whiplash ones are effective in drawing attention to the standup targets in the absence of any playfield inserts to help out. The top mounted flashers also look good, as they usually do. The ones beneath the Iron Monger toy, however, don’t show as well as they might although they do help a little to indicate a successful shot to the toy.
It seemed odd only having a flasher under only one of the Iron Monger inserts when all three are qualified to build or start a feature. Of the three, the centre lane makes most sense as it is used for several other features, but having flashers under all 3 would have been good.
Speaking of lamps under inserts, the drone target inserts need beefing-up so they shine a brighter blue. Blue is always a difficult insert colour to light adequately, so replacing the lamps with blue LEDs is advisable to make the drone shots stand out more.
The number of lamps lighting up the back panel has been reduced recently from the previous 10, but the 6 remaining lamps still do a good job.
Initial viewing of the game draws the eyes to the large empty area in the centre of the playfield. Despite the busy-looking artwork, it's clear there isn't a huge number of hardware toys on the game.
It's still hard to think of the new simpler, cheaper Stern philosophy as anything but a retrograde step from the player's or the buyer's perspective. Iron Man doesn't offer anything we haven't seen before in the way Big Buck Hunter did. The Iron Monger toy rising out of the playfield is like Dr Evil in Austin Powers or the Brain Bug in Starship Troopers and we've had the fast kickback shot several times, as we have the disrupter magnet.
But interesting gameplay doesn't have to necessarily include innovative playfield features. Good ideas, well executed with engaging rules can be just as much fun.
Because there are no real ball locks and the ball is only very occasionally held briefly by the up-posts while a major feature begins or ends, the game plays fast with the ball in motion most of the time.
The game's major toy - the Iron Monger device - works well and launches the most frequent multiball regular players will see. Thankfully Iron Monger is not the insta-drain toy the buck in BBH can be, so he needn't be avoided like our four-legged foe.
Iron Monger doesn't just stand there and take your punches, though. He fights back by using the magnet in front to send the ball back at you or across the playfield. In fact all three major characters - Iron Monger, War Machine and Whiplash - throw the ball back at you when you hit them, making the game play as combative as any from recent years.
Music, sound and dot matrix effects generally match the pace and attitude of the playfield action, giving a rounded package consistent with the Iron Man theme.
We've long been of the opinion that it is possible to appeal to new or casual players as well as the more serious, longer-term players through the use of software which uses the playfield's limited features in multiple ways to start different features. By making the first round of features fairly easy to start, most players will get to experience what the toys do, while the promise of finding out how they are used in more diverse ways keeps the game a draw for repeat players.
Iron Man does this to some extent with the Iron Man targets starting three different modes - fast scoring, double scoring and Iron Man scoring - but the other characters are fairly one-dimensional. Whiplash only ever starts Whiplash multiball, the Iron Monger only does Iron Monger multiball and the War Machine only starts War Machine Multiball. War Machine does also give S.H.I.E.L.D. mystery awards but that could really be done by any target. Each multiball mode has a reasonable depth to it, but they still left us thinking they could do so much more.
This single-use does make the rules easier to understand but could also lead to Iron Man not having the long-term appeal a home buyer would require. We'll see in 6 months' time whether those games bought for home collections start appearing for sale or not.
For the more casual player and the operator though, Iron Man delivers plenty of up-front, in-your-face action with a thumping sound package and explosive battle sequences with rules most players will quickly understand.
As this in-depth review draws to a close, we end by summarising our findings in numerical form.
These ratings look at each aspect of Iron Man and compare it to the best examples of that element we have seen. If a game ever gets a 10 then it, in our opinion, has beaten every other game ever and set the new standard for that feature. Consequently, getting a 10 is pretty unusual.
Don't worry if these numbers don't match your own personal opinions. They're only that - personal opinions - and we're bound to give different weightings to the various features.
Remember, these are proper marks out of 10 for each element of the game, so a rating of 8 means Iron Man is 80% as good as the best ever game in that category. No game is ever going to get 10 in every or indeed in many categories.
If you did jump straight here, please go back and read the full review to see whether you agree with them and if you put the same significance on certain features we did.
Finally, a big thank you to the good folks at Electrocoin for their assistance and hospitality in the making of this review.
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