3DO’s Army Men series peaked in 2000, though its decline in 2001 was hardly perceptible. The series was still going strong, pumping out nearly a dozen titles throughout the year, but it would be its last prolific year. The very next year, 2002, saw only two unique titles, while 2003, the year 3DO finally gave up the ghost, saw only one. R.I.P.
Army Men: Operation Green was released during the end of the series’ heyday in December of 2001. It’s the second of three Army Men games on the Game Boy Advance, with Army Men: Advance having dropped earlier in the year. While Army Men: Advance was done by DC Studios, Operation Green was handed to Pocket Studios who took the gameplay in a slightly different direction. If anything can be said about the three Game Boy Advance titles, it’s that they each present a different approach on the franchise.
Operation Green turns out to be a pretty apt moniker for more than one reason. The first thing that struck me upon jumping into the first mission is how absolutely terrific the game looks. It appears to use the 3D-to-sprite technique that was pioneered by Donkey Kong Country, which I often find slightly tacky, but within Operation Green, it’s gorgeous. The colours that were picked to shade and highlight the models were obviously picked by someone with an eye for aesthetic, because they absolutely pop.
The art style also features a nicely plastic texture to everything, representing the theme nicely. The infantry is nicely squat and easy to see, and the vehicles all have toy-like proportions and a plastic sheen. Environments cover your typical WW2 battlefields of beaches, bombed cities, rural countryside, and jungles, and each one is pretty appealing. I can’t help but wish they included some of the “real world” environments, like kitchens and bathrooms, but they were unfortunately omitted. Maybe if there had been a sequel, we’d have been able to see that, but it doesn’t seem like 3DO had ever intended that to happen.
If you’ve ever played an Army Men game, the story will be instantly familiar. The Green Army is waging was against the Tan Army, with no clear reason ever provided. If I had to hazard a guess, it’s probably because when you’ve got a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail, and when you’re born with a rifle fused to your palms, everything starts to look like a target. So the toy soldiers shoot at every other toy soldier that looks different. A vicious existence.
The previous paragraph probably has more thought put into it than the narrative of Operation Green does. You play as a one-toy army, sent behind enemy lines to do various search-and-rescue, seek-and-destroy, and sabotage missions. There’s a hint of an overall story about the Tan Army trying to build a super-weapon, as they often do, but it’s pretty subtle and often forgotten. It’s a shame, because I think a more defined plot is one of the ways that Operation Green could have been a more compelling experience.
The gameplay runs closest to the original PC Army Men titles. It’s an isometric shooter where you play as a strictly earthbound army man. Occasionally, you’re given the option to hop in vehicles, but you’re otherwise restricted to an infantry role. There isn’t really that much to it; it’s strictly point and shoot. Your selection of weapons is a rifle, machine gun, rocket launcher, flamethrower, grenades, and minesweeper. Ammo is limited for all but the rifle, and the aiming is finicky and wildly inaccurate, so you will probably get the most mileage out of the standard rifle. The flamethrower has been a staple of the Army Men series, and it has largely been hit-or-miss across the board. Here, it’s mostly a miss, having range that is too short to really be useful.
There’s 12 missions to tackle, featuring a small variety of objectives. To be honest, they mostly feel the same, aside from a few outliers, such as one where you make a getaway in a half-track. They’re reasonably sized, but paced like a tar pit. There are rarely any surprises in store, so the missions can feel like a bit of a slog. There are also a few instances of vague objectives that could have been improved by better prop placement, but nothing too unreasonable.
Operation Green is probably one of the most competent Army Men games in the series. It looks great, plays all right, and there’s no one place where it’s overwhelmingly weak. However, it greatly lacks ambition, providing nothing that surprises, and never presenting anything new. Largely, I blame 3DO’s lack of caring for the project, and their alleged 6 month development deadlines. If Pocket Studios didn’t have any passion for the project, they at least presented a convincing facsimile.
If you’re looking for a portable Army Men game, Operation Green is probably the best. While other handheld titles have struggled to provide an argument on why they even exist, Operation Green does its own thing and comes out stronger because of it. Still, it never does anything really impressive, in terms of gameplay, and only exists as a solid experience. Still, being solid is something of a rarity in the franchise, so it gets a recommendation.
This review was conducted on both a Game Boy Advance Micro and a GameCube with a Game Boy Player using an original cartridge copy of the game. The game was paid for by the author.