Too much of a rush job

Special to The Times

Ah, May! The weather gets a little warmer, high school kids nervously attend their proms and the movie studios begin to release their would-be blockbusters, eager to start the summer box-office rush early.

And do you know what that means? (Besides, of course, the promotional giveaway toys at Burger King and McDonald's.) That's right: the dreaded movie tie-in video games.

Usually a prime example of rushing a game to market before they are truly done, these games are almost always buggy, miserable wastes of time.

Although the tie-in to Iron Man manages to be at least worth a rental for fans of the hit film, Speed Racer: The Videogame is the quintessential movie game: a total failure that should be avoided at all costs.

First the good, or perhaps the not as bad. In the Iron Man game, Oscar nominees (and "Iron Man" stars) Robert Downey Jr. and Terrence Howard actually read original dialogue, and a few of the cut screens starring their likenesses are similar to scenes from the movie. The graphics make the red and gold suit of our hero sparkle as well as it did in the film. And the newly created missions of the game are logical extensions of events in the film, sort of.

Ah, but then there are the shortcomings, which include just about everything else. Controlling Iron Man is a disaster. To go from walking to flying requires a completely different use for the thumbsticks, which entails a steep learning curve. The level of difficulty increases exponentially with no way to make it easier (and less frustrating) after the fourth time through the same level. The enemy artificial intelligence is also at times ridiculously lame. And the game is full of bugs and choppiness that the developers presumably wish they'd had more time to fix.

But all that said, if you liked the movie, the game would be worth a few bucks to rent for a while.

The same certainly cannot be said for Speed Racer; even getting paid to play it would seem like some kind of punishment.

With game play about as deep as a pothole on Vermont Avenue (get in car and go fast), Speed Racer offers the same oversaturated colors as the film, just with monotonous racing and limited controls. (After you've seen one track covered with a headache-inducing orgy of colors, you've seen 'em all.) And with no way to look behind you (something that is usually quite useful in a game that requires auto combat like this one does) and a lack of any kind of story or cut screens, the failure is complete.

On the bright side, it's only a few more weeks until the Incredible Hulk video game hits shelves.

Iron Man

Grade: C- (controlling a headstrong 2-year-old is easier).

Details: All platforms; $29.99-$59.99; rated Teen (mild violence, language).


Speed Racer

Grade: D- (as bad an outing as we've played).

Details: Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS platforms; $29.99-$49.99; rated Everyone (mild language, fantasy violence).

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