By: Matthew Striplen
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… a Japanese teenager with pink hair? Wait, no, it’s actually a jet. Anyway, Iron Combat: War in the Air puts you in the shoes of a living weapon, designed for absolute air superiority. Strap in and blast your foes!
Iron Combat‘s controls present an unusual challenge, as the character’s two forms, which I will discuss at greater length below, handle very differently. In humanoid form, movement is restricted to the X and Y axes, although the craft slowly descends. More importantly, the humanoid form auto-targets enemies, but rarely the closest one. This means that the player is locked into facing the target at all times. Also, there’s no way to change the targeted enemy, other than destroying it, which proved to be quite frustrating.
Tapping the L button morphs the player into the fighter jet seen in the screenshot. This craft constantly moves forward, and is much faster than the humanoid. This also reduces the influence of the auto-targeting system, which allows players to face in any direction, instead of the fixed angle of the humanoid. Unfortunately, the jet’s controls are rather slippery, which makes aiming the guns very difficult.
As you can see from the screenshot, the world of Iron Combat is not particularly detailed. The sky changes color over the course of the game, but it’s not anything to get excited about. Environments just feel empty. That being said, the jet’s design looks pretty sweet, with its brilliant blue engines blazing. Enemy ships are difficult to see clearly, given the nature of air combat, and they lack detail up close.
Almost every level has the same soundtrack, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does get old after the 10th time you hear it. Iron Combat also features a substantial amount of Japanese-only voice acting, the translations of which need to be tweaked a little. At least the acting provides lots of energy to the game.
Iron Combat starts with a long text crawl, detailing the story of the disintegration of the institution of governments and accompanying conflicts. Sound interesting? It definitely piqued my interest, but the story doesn’t offer much development from that point on, instead focusing on the gameplay with addition storyline delivered via pre-mission briefing text or the narrator.
The goal of Iron Combat is simple: destroy everything. As mentioned, two forms are available for use, each with their pros and cons. The humanoid’s possesses the unique ability to slash at enemies using a devastating beam sword, but it also has a smaller missile lock range. The biggest problem with the humanoid for is the lack of flexibility with the targeting. Sometimes the auto-target system even takes the player into the line of fire, especially when the next target appears beneath you.
Switching into jet mode remedies a few of these issues but also creates some new ones. This form gives the player a powerful chargeable laser, but hitting anything with it is pretty difficult. The fact that the only speeds for the jet are fast and faster doesn’t help matters.
The touchscreen features radar, but it unfortunately doesn’t offer much help. Since the auto-target system is always engaged, finding enemies is never an issue. Although it also displays missile location, I was usually too wrapped up in combat on the upper screen to pay attention down below and often forgot about the function altogether.
Most levels follow a familiar format: hordes of enemies attack, which is then followed by a boss battle. Each level is a grueling undertaking, usually taking the better part of 10-15 minutes to complete, and with a sharp learning curve. If you die, you have to start at the beginning of the stage, old school style. Unfortunately, the narrator’s monologue, which begins each mission, cannot be skipped. Be prepared to die many, many times, as there are no power-ups or health pick-ups in combat.
Once combat begins, a handful of enemy types appear, though most of them function in the same way. All enemies, save for some bosses, drift lazily through the sky, as if in no particular hurry to defend themselves. Bosses provide welcome variety to the otherwise monotonous, though challenging, standard fighters.
Iron Combat features a wide variety of upgrades to purchase. These upgrades can drastically affect gameplay, but buying them costs a pretty penny. The amount of money earned in the average mission pales in comparison to even the cheapest option so be prepared to repeat levels many times to farm cash, which brings me to my next point.
Two main gameplay modes are available: Story and Free Mode. Story allows players to continue on the with next mission and Free permits players to repeat past adventures. The split between the modes doesn’t seem necessary since everything earned in one mode is carried over to the other. Repeating missions is an absolute must if gamers want a chance at getting decent equipment.
Although Iron Combat: War in the Air offers some exciting ideas, the execution is not polished enough to create a lasting experience. Whenever I think of futuristic airborne warfare, I think about lightning quick action. Instead, we have planes leisurely scooting through the sky. When mixed with the awkward controls and overall lackluster graphical performance, Iron Combat doesn’t deliver the fun I’d hoped for.