After Trip Hawkins branched the company off of Electronic Arts to release a poorly received console, 3DO struggled for years before finally breathing its last breath in 2003. Sarge and the gang would see their last entry in 2004’s Army Men: Sarge’s War, 3DO’s last game, published by the new rights holder, Global Star Software. The brand then attempted to relaunch with 2005’s Army Men: Major Malfunction, which wound up being poorly received. Undeterred, Global Star Software once again attempted a relaunch, this time reinventing things further, mutating it into the game we now see before us: Army Men: Soldiers of Misfortune.
WELL, THAT’S UNFORTUNATE
Historically, the Army Men games have all depicted an ongoing war between two faction of generic, plastic soldiers. Soldiers of Misfortune only sort of continues this theme. However, instead of playing a tiny, plastic man, you’re placed in the role of Timmy, a normal, everyday kid with an imagination. His tan toy soldiers have abducted the green ones and now he’s fighting to get them back. Or something. The instructions and the in game story roll both say something similar but different, and neither reflect the goals and objective in the game itself. It’s a simple, throwaway plot, yet I’m still confused.
Not that it matters. I came into Soldiers of Misfortune with an open mind. It was heavily panned when it was released, but since it still appeared to have what I was looking for on the surface, I was willing to give it a chance. It’s just unfortunate that’s it’s half finished and gutless.
The game consists of three areas with a set of five missions in each; the bedroom, kitchen, and backyard. The missions feature a fairly wide variety of goals — collect crates, take out snipers, bomb targets — but that’s where the variety ends. To accomplish these objectives, you have to fight, predictably, tan army men. Unfortunately, there’s only three types, and it’s basically impossible to tell the difference between them. Every enemy fires sporadically using various Nerf ammunition, and it’s difficult to tell what type of ordinance it is while it’s coming at you, so whether it’s from a bazooka or rifle, it all looks the same. There are no explosions and bullets don’t even really impact; they just kind of bounce off in a deeply unsatisfying manner. I understand the appeal of keeping things non-violent, but there’s no need to suck all the excitement out of it, as well.
Here’s the first thing I noticed about Soldiers of Misfortune: the crosshairs don’t actually align with where your darts will go. Let that sink in for a moment. Aiming is done using the Wii’s IR pointer, which should make for precision aiming, but simply pointing the crosshairs at an enemy isn’t enough; typically, the shots go wide. Instead, you’re expected to adjust for range and how Timmy is oriented. I ended up having to frequently rub the pointer on the enemy until it turned red, signifying that it would be a hit. How does something so ridiculously unintuitive end up in a finished product?
The controls in general can go suck on a barrel of lard. This is a Wii game, after all, so motion controls had to be shoehorned in where ever possible. IR aiming is fine, but it then expects you to swing the controller to lob a grenade or throw a bottlecap, which is fine in theory, but unwieldy in practice. You have to swing in a different manner for different distances, but it always seemed like a craps shoot when it came to how it would actually fly, or whether it would actually fly at all. I actually avoided using the bottle caps altogether because I had difficulty getting them to even launch.
EVEN LESS FORTUNATE
I can get behind the inclusion of vehicles, even if the gameplay doesn’t really necessitate them at all. The verticality of the levels don’t work all that well when you’re thrice as wide, and they seem to be made of papier mache considering how easy it is to trash one, but they’ve been a mainstay of the series, even going back to the first Army Men on PC. The planes, on the other hand, are easily the worst part of the entire game.
In neither the manual nor within the game itself was I able to find an explanation on how the planes are supposed to control, but you’re placed behind the yoke for two missions, and they’re the most miserable exercises I’ve yet to experience in an Army Men game.
From what I was able to figure out, the idea seems to be that you hold the controller like you would a toy plane and control it by tilting, which is fine in theory, but there’s no precision in it whatsoever. Pitching seems to be an all or nothing kind of deal, so if you gently tilt the controller in one direction, it won’t register, and when you tilt harder, it will quickly jerk into action. That’s when it even bothers to listen at all. There’s no precision to any of it; mapping it to a microwave touchpad would have been an improvement.
And yet, you’re expected to dogfight like this. The second plane mission requires you to shoot down as many planes as possible to try and prevent them from destroying friendly vehicles. So you try and line yourself up behind the enemies with a plane that flies like it’s missing a piston, and while you’re doing that, cannons are firing at you from the ground. Like other vehicles, the plane was assembled out of chewing gum and popsicle sticks, and catches fire when the mere idea of a bullet passes by it. So, if the enemies don’t destroy the jeeps you’re bodyguarding, chances are your plane will be disassembled before they get the chance. I would have been done with this entire game in one sitting, but then had to expend so much effort to overcome the game’s insistence on one-upping its own incompetence.
IN THE CORNER FOR A TIME OUT
It would be disingenuous for me to not bring up the notion that Soldiers of Misfortune was likely developed with a younger audience it mind. Its non-violent, playtime aesthetic makes this obvious. Yet, even with that taken into account, I can’t even recommend this for the purposes of giving budding gamers a taste of the lifestyle. This is what you’d give to children with the intention of making them hate the hobby with a passion that sparks into an irrepressible lust for its ultimate destruction. What I’m trying to say is: If Bruce Wayne played this instead of going out to see the Mask of Zorro with his parents, Batman’s greatest foe would be optical media.
But I digress. Even if you stripped out the teeth-clenchingly atrocious plane controls, you’d be left with a game that’s insubstantial and unexciting. It’s not as aggressively unpleasant as Army Men: Sarge’s Heroes 2, but it is perhaps a bigger waste of time. I’m not sure why Global Star Software even bothered buying up the rights to the Army Men games if their attempts at relaunching the brand was going to be as half baked as this. If it’s any consolation, this is, at the time of writing, the last Army Men game to ever be released on a console. If this is what the future holds for the series, it might as well stay on permanent hiatus.
Note: There is also a Playstation 2 version of this game, as well as a DS one. At the time of writing, I’ve played neither. Even if the issue with the plane controls are fixed, I wouldn’t recommend the game.
This review was conducted on a backwards compatible Wii U with an original Wii copy of the game. This copy was paid for by the author, but they swear they didn’t pay very much.