Does Iron Man have a life after the movies?
Maybe not, if his video game sales are as bad as some predict.
(Fortune) -- The reviews are in for "Iron Man," and they aren't great. One critic calls it "unmoving." Another says it's "crappy." Then there is the one who argues that the superhero saga offers only "aneurysm-inducing frustration."
These commentators aren't savaging Marvel Entertainment's (MVL) "Iron Man" movie, which has grossed $258 million since its May 2 debut. Critics applauded the celluloid tale of Tony Stark, the hard-drinking weapons designer who resurrects himself by donning high-tech armor and smiting evildoers.
If only Sega's video game based on the hit movie received such a warm welcome. Critics of the genre have lambasted what the company refers to as "an intense action shooter." Their reaction doesn't bode well for Marvel's efforts to turn Iron Man into Spider-Man-like franchise with the power to sell more than just comic books and theater tickets. "We're really excited to see where we can do with all the characters in all sorts of media - especially video games," says Justin Lambros, Marvel's vice president of interactive entertainment,
Marvel may be in for a disappointment. Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities, predicts the bad reviews will dampen sales of Sega's "Iron Man" game. He says games based on Hollywood franchises like Spider-Man, Shrek and James Bond routinely sell four million copies.
He predicts it's "highly unlikely" that Sega's "Iron Man" game will sell even half that. "The early game ranking are very poor - which pretty much eliminates the potential for sale to a hardcore audience," says Pachter. "It will probably enjoy modest success at holiday time. But the sales will likely be weak early on."
A Sega spokeswoman vigorously disputes the analyst's forecast. However, she declines to share specific figures, saying the game maker usually doesn't release such information. Marvel is less worried. A spokeswoman for the comic book publisher says: "Sega's Iron Man video game certainly is not a bellwether for this franchise's off-screen appeal and potential...we have full confidence in the Iron Man business across multiple platforms, for years to come."
That's not to say that Marvel and Sega didn't try to make a good game. Jeremy Gordon of Sega's Secret Level development studio worked closely not just with Marvel executives, but Jon Favreau, the film's director. He discovered that Favreau shares his passion for gaming. "It's was just cool to be able to back and forth with someone who is so engaged in the process," says Gordon.
Marvel and Sega also enlisted the stars of "Iron Man" to do the voices of the game's characters. Gordon says Downey endowed the game's Tony Stark with the same edgy humor that he brought to the movie's metal-suited protagonist. He adds that the movie star was delighted by his teenage son's reaction when he played an early version of the game. "We got his son's blessing and everything was cool from there on in," the developer says.
Well, not everything. Video game critics, never known for their subtlety, crucified the game. "Iron Man, an abysmally implemented spin-off from the highly enjoyable movie, is just the latest game to crush my naive hopes into so much twisted metal," wrote Eurogamer's Dan Whitehead.
"I have good news for folks who are fans of cutting themselves and/or rolling around in broken glass; Iron Man has been released for your console of choice and offers a completely new way to self-mutilate," wrote IGN's Greg Miller. "This time, it's your psyche."
Well, there's always the Incredible Hulk. Sega also has the license to make the game based on Marvel's "The Incredible Hulk," which opens June 13. The Hulk didn't do that well last time he was in a movie. Universal's "The Hulk" flopped in 2003. But he sold a lot of merchandise. Remember Hulk hands? Maybe the critics will be kinder to Sega's Hulk video game, too.