Anyone with fond memories of the Army Men series will likely bring up Air Combat (or Air Attack as it was known on PC and Playstation platforms). It was a generally innocuous; a sort of Desert Strike Lite. The toy soldiers that were previously earthbound were sent skyward in helicopters in a top-down shooter. Seriously, it’s 100% Strike series. Winch and everything.
It was competently done, and was released before the reception to the series turned permanently sour, which is why it generally lives on as one of the few bright spots in the Army Men series. It was well received enough that it was one of the handful of games that got moved onto Nintendo’s handheld, the Game Boy Color. This port, done by Fluid Studios, is a mostly faithful translation of the console titles.
TWO GLORIOUS DIMENSIONS
The Air Combat series follows the exploits of Green Army helicopter pilot, Captain William Blade, as he rains death upon the Tan Army. That’s about all there is to it. Not much more is explained, nor is there a prevalent foil or antagonist. As usual, green is good, tan is bad. Shoot the tan dudes.
The console versions dealt a lot with the Tan Army acquiring various super weapons in the form of generic toys, but the Game Boy Color didn’t have that sort of horsepower, so they’ve been largely cut out, aside from the appearance of one really ineffectual robot at the very end. Other notable differences is the choice of only three co-pilots, instead of the five on console, and the removal of the Chinook helicopter. Two weapons have been removed, as well as a few power-ups, and none of the friendly super-weapons join your side. Nothing has really been added to make up for that, so what you’re getting is a scaled down product.
Considering the change in hardware, those aren’t really surprising omissions. What is surprising is that all 16 missions are accounted for, and their objectives are also similar, more or less. The missions vary from recovering weapons and supplies, protecting friendlies, or just destroying all the tans.
Even with the rather thorough translation, the new platform does have its deficiencies. For starters, your helicopter moves at an absolute snail’s pace. It’s excruciatingly slow, which makes missions where you have to backtrack nearly intolerable. You also can’t strafe, which is a bit lazy. The winch could have been automated to descend whenever you move over a winch-able object, while the B button could have been held for strafing, but no, here we are, strafe-less.
Not that it matters. Every enemy is armed with the same single-shot pea shooter that putt-putts out easily avoidable projectiles at you. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an infantry or anti-aircraft gun, they all fire the same weapon. They also can’t fire from off-screen, or really, even when they’re partially on screen. A patient person could probably just cheese their way through every encounter by scooching enemies slightly into frame, but there’s so damned many of them scattered over every map, that you’d have to really be committed to avoiding damage. I found that, unless the mission demanded otherwise, I could just ignore all the enemies and fly straight to my objectives with little resistance.
The game is notably unable to handle anything happening off screen. During escort missions, you can just leave your objective out of frame, and they won’t budge from the spot you left them. The only exception is when you need to protect a base from bugs. For whatever reason, the ants (which look like spiders to me) can move when you’re not looking. Fair warning.
Outside of gameplay, the presentation is absolutely atrocious. Still images from the console titles are sometimes used for menus and storytelling purposes, and the grainy shots of the FMV sequences are so badly compressed that I could barely tell what I was looking at. It’s pretty sloppy.
Air Combat is easily the worst version of the game that you could really buy, but it’s not horrible. It’s a reasonable transition to the handheld, just don’t expect much. It was done by a development team of five guys, and it’s pretty evident that they either didn’t have the will or the time to do anything really interesting with the hardware. This could be perhaps owing to 3DO’s policy of giving games 6-8 months to bake before sending them out into the world. At least they didn’t cut out any levels; the console versions were short enough.
This game was played on a GameCube using a Game Boy Player and an original cartridge copy of the game. The game was paid for by the author.