Army Men (PC and Game Boy Color)

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Author’s note: I apologize for the lack of images in this review. I couldn’t take or find many good quality screenshots for this game — which makes sense given its overall quality.

All those little battles you and your friends had with those green and tan army men seemed like good fun at the time. Little did you fools know you were changing the face of an entire other world! This world is split between Grey, Tan, Green, and Blue. You play as the top soldier in the Green army, known only as Sarge. He’s been sent into enemy territory to unveil a Tan bid for power and generally ruin Tan’s day. Run, crawl, shoot, and struggle with controls in Army Men.

History

3DO started its bid as a company in order to create a CD based console that could blow the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo out of the water. It was certainly far more powerful, being able to play Playstation era games 2 years before the Playstation was released. It’s powerful hardware made it very expensive however, about three times as expensive as its competition, retailing for $599 — a business move that didn’t even make sense when Sony did it 13 years later with the PS3. This immense cost eventually ended up scuttling the company’s console development plans and forced them into making games such as the succesful Might and Magic and less succesful Army Men series.

Army Men was released in 1998. It’s competition was Metal Gear Solid (PS1), Starcraft (PC and N64), and Fallout 2 (PC).

Experiences

There’s one mission in this game that is so hard that childhood me almost stopped playing the game forever. It’s the escort mission. Every game had them back in the day and this game is no exception. You have to escort a truck with vital plastic on it through a series of narrow mountain passes to safety.The thing that really irks me though is that enemies come from behind, from off screen — I take that back, the thing that really irks me is that the truck can get stuck on a wall and destroy itself. It’s a game of memorization. You’ve got to figure out where to use this mortar to destroy that passage or use those land mines to stop that tank that comes from behind and destroys you at minute four or whatever. It’s just trial and error and that’s no fun.

Gameplay

The game is split into three acts which are seperated by different settings. These acts are split into chapters which each have a different map, each chapter has three or four missions in it which must be complete sequentially — the objectives of which are delivered via scratchy radio voice over. Sarge is mostly unsupported so get ready to attempt to be a one man wrecking crew — key word, attempt. The goal of each act is to find three pieces of some sort of cosmic key — which are made out of interlocking tinker toys — which tan will presumably use for some sinister purpose.

armymen1_screenshot2

At least soldiers from other factions will fight each other as well as you.

Sarge’s main strengths come from his ability to not rely on the awful AI and the ability to use whatever weapon he finds. He has his trusty rifle, a secondary weapon, and a support item. Secondary weapons include grenades, bazookas, and the flamethrower — in a world made of plastic the flame throwing man is king [now that I think about it, how do they keep a flame thrower made of plastic working?]. Support items include first aid, explosives, mines, or a minesweeper — which serves only to gate off certain areas, necessitating that Sarge have to go someplace unpleasant to find a minesweeper so he can continue on the original path.

The Gush

I still like the final segments of the game. The final fight takes place in a graveyard where Tan and Grey soldiers rise from their graves to fight Sarge and each other. It was bizarre, like the forces of the keys were messing with reality. It also presented an interesting strategy where it was in the player’s best interest to avoid the conflict and let these quasi-zombies destroy each other.

I find it sort of humorous and interesting that this world is one where people, their tools, and vehicles are all made out of plastic.There’s one mission in which Sarge robs a bank filled with plastic. Is this inert, lifeless plastic or is this living plastic meant to be turned into men? Do they have to instill it with green color or will it work for them even though it’s tan? Well, nobody cares and this sort of lack of world-building makes me laugh.

The graphics actually look pretty good for the time. The set pieces look like they would actually be sold with the toys.

The concept of human objects being super weapons in a world of Army men was a pretty cool idea. I gotta give credit where credit’s due and say that a gate made out of building blocks and activated with a tinker toy key is pretty funny.

The Kvetch

The minimap is useful in a number of ways, it’s got a great sector system that informs the player quickly and succinctly where they need to go. On the other hand the first stage is a desert and therefore tan troops don’t show up on the mini-map even when the player uses reconnaissance to reveal it. Little did I know I could get a more detailed map by pressing F12 that points out troop movements and other information — and it was little known because who would press F12 for anything in a videogame?

Most of the game feels like memorization as opposed to a top down shooter. I’ll admit there’s tactical decisions to make such as where to place one of three air strikes but they always lead to memorizing where on the map the tanks are and use the strikes there.

The Tan AI is pretty good for a game from 1998 but it’s plain to see why the Green forces suffer heavy losses, it’s because their soldiers have the rough intellectual capacity of an actual plastic toy. Green soldiers that follow Sarge generally spend most of their time running in circles and shooting in the wrong direction.

I don’t know why but if I’m running forward and shooting I can turn right but I can’t turn left. This usually leads me to running around in a circle to create the most roundabout left turn in the history of gaming.

This one’s a little specific but I got stuck on a mission for days when I was a kid. The scenario is that there’s a wounded Green soldier who has important information but the bridge to reach him was destroyed and there’s no other way across the river. What I’m supposed to do is go upstream, blow up each of the ends of a bridge there, and let the center section of that bridge float downstream to create a new bridge to reach that soldier. The only thing that hints at this is the  that the game gives you explosives. This sort of thing has not happened before and it never happens again.

The music can get really repetitive. Every once and awhile I’m treated to a new song and it’s like a golden glow reaching through gross clouds made of snare drums.

I’ve had such a hard time remapping the controls into something that makes the game playable. Firefights are made pretty simple by rolling out of the way of bullets and rockets but I was never able to get the dodge roll keys off of the number pad, which meant I had to switch from the keypad to the number pad in order to win fights. It’s a frustrating mess.

Also, the voice acting is nearly unintelligible at points. I was thankful that the game super imposes text of the conversation when Sarge is getting orders. Sometimes it was so garbled I didn’t know what was going on.

The Verdict

I may have loved this game when I was a kid but that just leads me to think that I was a really dumb kid. Vehicles control poorly, getting caught on the smallest pieces of scenery. Sometimes I run into tanks with no weapons that can deal damage to them. I beat most missions by remembering ways to destroy certain things to enemies can no longer reach me. This game is four dollars on Ebay and I’d say that’s an appropriate cost for a game of this caliber.

Next week: Heroes of Might and Magic III

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