Army Men on the Gameboy Color was such a short experience, that as soon as I had it completed, I moved directly on to its sequel, Army Men 2. I had that finished, as well, before the evening was over. This wasn’t a marathon, either, this was something I did after coming home from my day job. Hold on, I may be getting ahead of myself.
So, Army Men. There sure were a lot of those games. Starting in 1998, 3DO spewed over 20 games in the series across multiple consoles. That’s not counting ports, some of which are entirely different from the original games they’re based upon. Ports like this one, Army Men 2; a port of PC’s Army Men II, done by Digital Eclipse Software. Sort of. It’s one of those previously mentioned ports that are almost incomparably different from their source game. It’s actually one of three games bearing the Army Men name released for Gameboy Color in 2000, just to give you an idea of the amount of attention each one of these was given.
FAMILIAR, IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE
Coming off of Army Men and straight into Army Men 2 is a pretty comfortable transition. While on the PC, Army Men II came with a lot of improvements and tweaks over its predecessor that made it feel like a new game, the Gameboy Color version feels a lot more like another episode of the same game. Almost like shareware episodes of olde.
Continuing off the first game, you’re once again cast as the Green Army’s Sarge as he chases the fleeing Tan Army through a portal that takes him to another world; our world. It’s here that he’s shrunk down to the size of the plastic figurines we’re familiar with, where he finds himself traversing the lawns and countertops from a diminutive scale. Army Men II on PC interspersed these other world levels with ones of the more “normal” plastic world, but for the Gameboy version, the whole thing takes place in the other world.
The stages are also a lot less open and the objectives are a lot less varied. A lot of the time, you’re only tasked with getting from one part of the stage to the other, sometimes with the added task of eliminating all opposition along the way. Weirdly, that’s actually a step back from the previous Gameboy port, which at least threw in the occasional “destroy the radio tower” mission. On the other hand, the previous game featured a lot of backtracking through familiar territory that isn’t really present here. All-in-all, it sort of evens out.
AN UPHILL BATTLE
That’s not to say that Army Men 2 doesn’t bring along some welcome improvements. For starters, there’s more than three enemy varieties. The tan bazooka soldier finally joins the fray, and the enemy tanks and jeeps are finally active in battle, even if they’re just sparsely used. The difficulty does increase later in the game, something that the first wasn’t able to adequately provide, but this is mostly done by simply increasing the health of enemy soldiers. This winds up being pretty unsatisfying, mainly because they get to the point where a direct hit with a grenade won’t even kill them, but at least it makes the game a bit less breezy in the later levels.
The first Game Boy Color Army Men borrowed heavily from the level design of the PC original, but while Army Men 2 duplicates a lot of the themes, the layout of the levels are almost entirely brand new. This isn’t always for the better, either, since this often means that the landscape is limited, linear, and more abstract. The kitchen counter stages, for example, feature a staggering number of salt shakers and spoons, which no sane human would collect on their countertop. What is troubling about this is the fact that it’s largely used to buy the game time; time that it really needed considering its absolutely brief running time. By railroading you along a less direct path, the game avoids having to use creative objectives to extend its running time. It works in the portable format, but it’s not exactly ideal.
Aside from the actual flow of the game, everything remains the same as the first entry. The interface is unchanged, the graphics are massively similar, and combat is still best carried out while constantly in motion. It’s an incredibly simplified form version of the original PC sub-series. This also means that the game’s sound priorities are also carried over. There’s a tonne of voice clips that play clearly through the GBC’s limited hardware, but they again seem to have taken up all the space allocated to sound, since there’s only a couple audio tracks in the entire game. That means that for every level, you’re left listening to the same generic music.
SAME OLD PLASTIC
That’s all there really is to it. Both Army Men and Army Men 2 are competent but lightweight translations of the series’ formula to the Gameboy Color. If you’re someone who absolutely needs to play an Army Men game while you’re on the go, well, I’m not sure I believe you, but I’d recommend maybe taking some backup entertainment. Like the first handheld title, Army Men 2, is strikingly brief. There’s a password system, but I never had to use it because, again, I finished it in one comfortable sitting. Aside from its rather limited running time, there’s just absolutely nothing exciting about it. Pick it up, consume it, then forget it. Or don’t. See if I care.
This review was conducted on a Gameboy Advance SP using an original copy of the game. It was purchased by the author.