As a spin-off of Electronic Arts, 3DO was first formed to design the company’s console. Not just EA’s console, it was to be a console for everyone — a universal format, like the movie industry employs with the DVD. Any manufacturer could produce their own version (with applicable royalties to 3DO) and any software publisher only had to pay a fraction of the royalties they would when producing on a Nintendo or Sega console. Then they priced it at an initial $699 and it subsequently crashed hard in the marketplace. These days, few people remember the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer console. I played it, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. My roommates and I usually fell back on Night Trap to get use out of the thing. I kind of miss it.
Without a home console, 3DO’s games went on to infect every other console they could dig into. Always a fan of cheap ports, it wasn’t long before the Army Men series hit Nintendo’s portable handheld, the Gameboy Color. For their first attempt, they recruited Digital Eclipse Software, a developer known for cramming many other console games into tiny cartridges, to produce a port of the original Army Men title. Sort of.
In truth, Army Men on the Gameboy only lifts part of the map design, some of the graphics, and a surprising amount of the sound from its PC predecessor. The story has been replaced by a completely generic “the Tan Army is attacking the Green Army” one, and the goal of collecting three pieces of a key has been replaced with trying to locate the Tan Uberweapon.
The simplified premise isn’t the only thing that has been scaled back. The three theatres of operation that was included in the original title has been cut back to just two, with the bayou being relegated to the trash bin. Likewise, while many of the maps have been lifted directly from the PC title, most of the objectives have been altered to fit the small screen. This includes removing anything that didn’t boil down to “kill the dudes” or “destroy the thing.” So while the original Army Men had a wide variety of objectives, the Gameboy Color edition is the same thing from start to finish.
KILL THE DUDES OR DESTROY THE THING
From start to finish isn’t a very long time. Army Men wasn’t exactly the longest game, but when you remove an entire third of the campaign, you’re traveling into some extreme brevity. Army Men was also a pretty tricky (ie. frustrating) game, which helped extend its runtime. Army Men on Gameboy doesn’t have that difficulty to hide behind. It’s just short. All-in-all, I completed the game after my day job one evening, then had time to move onto Army Men 2 on Gameboy Color, though that’s a story for another day. For clarity, I didn’t time how long it took to complete the game, but I’d estimate anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half. That’s probably for the best, since otherwise I’d have to fall back on the game’s password system to continue.
To be fair, there’s only so much they could do to make the game more difficult without it becoming cheap and frustrating. Only so much can fit on the screen, and even with how they managed things, a lot of gunfire that comes your way arrives from somewhere unseen. There are, by my count, three types of enemies: rifle, grenade, and mortar. If there’s more than that, I honestly couldn’t tell the difference. Tanks make an appearance, but they’re motionless, non-reactive objects that wait patiently for you to blow them up. There’s not a whole lot of variation, and usually when I did die, it was because I stepped on a mine that the game fails to warn you of.
If there’s one thing that does help extend playtime, it’s Sarge’s excruciatingly slow movement speed. The guy moves like the tides. I wound up sub-consciously pushing the direction buttons harder, as though it would make him move faster, and my thumb kept getting tired. Whenever a grenadier or mortar operator lobs an attack your way, you’re going to get hit, unless you’re already moving. This makes it advisable to just never stop running, which is a tactic that works from beginning to end.
THAT’LL TAKE THE STING OFF IT
Somehow, Digital Eclipse was able to get most of the voice samples into the game. Digitized voice isn’t super common on the handheld, so it’s pretty impressive when it does show up. Sarge comments on every weapon he finds, HQ screams what great work you did at the end of the mission, and enemy soldiers yelp when you hit them with a jeep; pretty much every word that was on the PC is presented with surprising clarity here.
It’s just too bad this seems to have used all the space that would have been allocated for the music. There’s only one level theme, which repeats from the beginning to the end of the mission; all of them. It’s a fairly generic drum beat, so it isn’t anything terribly annoying, but the fact that this is the only song you’ll hear while you’re melting tan soldiers is pretty ridiculous.
PLASTIC CARTRIDGE. PLASTIC MEN.
Despite all my complaints, Army Men isn’t a bad game. It’s pleasant enough to play while it lasts, it’s just incredibly insubstantial. With few enemy types, a lack of variety in the objectives, a shortage of missions, simple gameplay, and no replay value, it’s barely worth the bargain bin price I picked it up for. There’s hardly enough substance for it to qualify as a snack game. If you took it on a car trip, you’d have it completed before the journey was over. It’s something to be played, then promptly forgotten, but that’s perhaps better than can be said about a number of other games in the Army Men series.
This review was conducted on a Gameboy Advance SP using an original copy of the game. The game was purchased by the author.