Man of Steel ($4.99) infuses the power of Infinity Blade ($5.99) into the hands of Krypton’s last son. If you played last year’s Avengers Initiative ($1.99) game, you’ll find this one vaguely familiar. Unfortunately, since Man of Steel draws heavily from the movie of the same name, this game is limited by the number of environments and villains you face in your quest to save Earth from a Kryptonian invasion. Still, it’s a blast knocking General Zod’s soldiers through barn walls and into gas tankers over and over.
We’ve all watched or read the origin of Superman before in one or more variations. The planet Krypton is going to blow up. In order to preserve the planet’s legacy and save his son, Krypton’s lead scientist Jor-El sends his only son away to Earth. The game begins with a short, motion-comic introduction and accompanying narration from Jor-El. I’ve always been a fan of motion comic storytelling for iOS games, which works especially well here given the source material. A few panels, especially those featuring General Zod, are adapted directly from Zach Snyder’s Superman flick.
If you’ve never played Infinity Blade before, Man of Steel is all about quick swipe attacks. Swiping left to right will deliver a one-two, cross punch combo. It’s a great mechanic that works well for the one-on-one matches you’ll find in this Superman game. Zod’s soldiers tend to walk up to you and square off as if they’re about to begin a game of Mortal Kombat. It always seemed odd for a Kryptonian to make the “you’re going down” pointing gesture before a fight. But that just made it more satisfying when hit them with an uppercut that would send them flying into the air.
Sometimes Superman knocks Zod’s soldiers into the air to continue with some Dragon Ball Z-esque air fighting, while at other times he knocks them into the air and then quickly pounds them back to Earth. In some cases, the Man of Steel actually grabs his enemies and Supermans them through tons of destructible objects. You can actually control which objects Superman pushes his enemies through. This was pretty cool. Knocking a Kryptonian through a postbox or lamppost was great. However, regardless of how many objects you destroy, the destruction XP is generally the same.
Players can also shimmy to the left or right to dodge incoming attacks or use your block. However, when Superman blocks he still takes a little damage. It’s a matter of preference, but why block at all to take damage when you can just avoid the attack completely?
Well, attacking and blocking are both tied to a timing mechanism going on behind-the-scenes. As your progress through the story mode, getting attacked by the same Kryptonians again and again, you’ll notice that Zod’s soldiers will start to get their punches in before you even if you very obviously swiped first. If you check your Character Upgrade menu, and you’ll notice that you can trade in XP to upgrade both your Attack and Dodge speeds.
You can gain XP the traditional way through story mode or make a quick IAP. Luckily, you can bypass the IAPs by simply fighting your way through the survival mode. Even if you only take down a handful of opponents the XP persists through the story mode. You’ll need to rely on survival mode to boost your Character upgrades, which help you to stay alive longer and deliver more powerful blows. You can also find Kryptonian keys that can be used to unlock new Superman armor, such as General Zod’s armor and Jor-El’s Ceremonial armor from the movie.
There are also two super powers, which can be upgraded. I would always save my super speed for those moments when I needed to beat that invisible timer, especially when I saw my opponent’s hand charge up red. There’s nothing worse than swiping madly, while Superman stands there like a lame duck. Thankfully, the super speed power allowed me to unleash a flurry of quick punches. Heat vision works more like a rage blast. Unless you upgrade it, the power doesn’t do much damage. However, it can interrupt an enemy’s attack.
Man of Steel does suffer from a lack of variety. Since it’s tied so closely to the movie, you’re primarily stuck with the environments of Smallville, Metropolis and Zod’s ship. If you perform a knock back, which is when Superman knocks an opponent to a different section of the environment, you’ll usually just end up in an area that looks like a carbon copy of the chapter you already fought through. Also, the Kryptonian soldiers are just grey-shaded variations of each other. There’s a regular sized soldier, shorter woman, tall Lieutenant, big Super Soldier with blue buttons… you get the point. Visually, even Zod looks like just a regular soldier without a helmet. Regardless, all they do is punch and grapple. Zod may surprise you with a heat beam attack, but don’t expect much.
Enemy variation starts to come in the form of EXO Drones, which weren’t in the movie. These purple-headed drones have electric arms. So you have to be more precise about how you hit them to avoid taking damage. Once you break one movie restriction in a licensed game, why not just break them all? Why not have more super villains in more areas? Give us a space fight on Apokolips. Introduce Brainiac. Throw in Lex Luthor in his super suit. Just mix it up. We can always come back to Zod in the end.
At the end of the day, we’ve already suspended our comic belief and adherence to restrictions by playing the game. Superman still has a power meter and you lose when it goes down to zero. If this were the real Man of Steel, wouldn’t he catch a last “humanity saving” wind instead of passing out? I digress.
Overall, Man of Steel is a solid game. The brown landscapes of Smallville may seem bland at times, but it’s still a blast knocking soldiers through a wall or billboard for the umpteenth time – if only just to see them jump right back up through the ceiling of a barn. The game could have benefited from more variety, but such is the nature of licensed game development. Be sure to check out what the folks on our forums have been saying about this game.