Army Men: Sarge's Heroes (N64)
Being a veteran of both real-time combat and first-person shooter games ever since Doom and Command and Conquer came out on the PC, I was immediately interested in Army Men: Sarge's Heroes from 3DO, which seemed to combine both game types with an obvious comical twist. I mean, we ALL had those buckets of plastic soldiers. I roused my roommate and headed to the local video store, wondering along the way if my $4.99 would be well spent. After returning home and playing the game for a few minutes, all my doubts had disappeared. (The following has been directly quoted and/or paraphrased from the Army Men: Sarge's Heroes Instruction Booklet) The Green and Tan are tiny plastic armies. The evil Tans outnumber the peace-loving Greens 50 to 1. The Green soldiers are fighting for their lives. General Plastro leads the Tan Army, which is bent on annihilating or enslaving all others. Through his secret operatives, Plastro has discovered portals that lead to an alternate world. This strange land holds weapons of awesome power that plastic soldiers have never seen before. It looks bleak for the Greens except for the fact that they have... Sergeant Hawk. Sarge leads Bravo Company. He and his five favorite soldiers make up the Bravo Company Commandos, fighting under the orders of Colonel Grimm, a respected old soldier who's spent a lifetime holding back the Tan menace. Plastro has launched a merciless preemptive strike that scatters the Green forces and leaves many mortally melted. What's worse, Sarge's five commandos have been taken captive and Vikki, Colonel Grimm's daughter, is dragged into the action by a twist of fate! The Bravo Boys are Sarge's best friends. And he has a soft spot for Vikki. This war has just become personal!
Graphics 7 out of 10
First of all, let me say that the score I gave just now doesn't do the overall graphics of the game justice. That score is in comparison to all the other games available for the Nintendo 64, and ever since I first saw Zelda 64, I think it will take some time before I give another game a 10. The background in the game is your standard Nintendo 64 3D world, and it reminded me of such platform games as Mario 64. It also came complete with some polygon problems. Nothing like early polygon based games where you could see through walls, but when running over something you normally can, sometimes you can't because of an "invisible wall", and the only reason for it is because you're running over it at the wrong angle. This alone brought down the score, but I wouldn't hold it against anyone. After all, there's not much you can do, unless you want to delay the release of a not-so-anticipated game another 6 months to a year just triple checking ever polygon. The character and enemy graphics are another story. Your main character moves very smoothly. Whether he's diving under a barrage of enemy M-60 fire, or hoisting himself onto a tiny ledge to snipe the enemy guards, you never once are reminded that you are a 1-inch tall piece of green plastic. Enemy soldiers are also well rendered, and are complete with different death scenes. I haven't found out if how they die (i.e. fall backwards, crumple in a heap, etc.) is unique to the type of soldier they are, or where you shot them, like in Goldeneye. Upon completion of each level, there are short sequences with dialogue whose only real purpose is to move along the plot. I mention these because they are another reason the score is lower. Actually, they lower 2 separate scores, but I'll get to the second one in a bit. In these sequences, you see close-ups of all the main and secondary characters. In my opinion, this was not such a good idea. When zoomed in on, the characters move as if rigormortis has already begun. Every character holding a weapon appears to be submitting to the Star Wars craze and uses the Force to levitate it in front of their hands. Lastly, their faces look like they were drawn hastily. If they weren't different colors, it would be hard to tell the difference between the good leader and his evil counterpart. One could get technical and say that this game is in fact an overhead view shooter. They would be right, especially in multi player mode. I refer to this game as a "first-person shooter" because it plays like no other type of game. Hey, if it walks like a duck...
Music and Sound 8 out of 10
The sound effects of the game add to the realism of being in a military skirmish each time you play. Tanks roll past with the sound of monstrous grating metal. Machines guns blaze with their trademark repetitive cracks. You almost instinctively plug your ears as you hear the whistling of a mortar shell about to hit its target, and if you've unsuspectingly wandered into the sights of an enemy sniper, you are alerted by the sound of a bullet wickedly racing by your head, after which it ricochets off a nearby structure. Game play sound effects are definitely excellent. Music in the game is also well done. In my opinion, background music in any game is doing its job when it seems to meld with the level. Playing a challenging level is always more fun when you have that perfect track playing. It makes it seem like you're the hero of a movie, and that you can do nothing wrong. This game achieves this by mixing tracks with bass drums beating heavily while you're rushing into the enemy front line, having no music at all when you're perched atop a cliff attempting to use stealth as your weapon, and everything falling in between. Unfortunately, the song included on some levels doesn't quite coalesce with the game play involved, and can be distracting. The only reason the sound score isn't higher is because there is hardly any spoken word in the entire game. The only time your character speaks is when he obtains an uncommon, powerful weapon, and even these are limited to a few one second sound bites. In addition, during the between level sequences (here's that other reason I spoke of) there is absolutely NO dialogue. All the speaking is done using subtitles and, very rarely, those few sound bites. It's not that I'm an illiterate game player and hate reading, I just think that adding spoken lines would have been a definite improvement. Hearing each character's voice would have given them more of a personality, and in turn given the gamer a chance to relate to each one.
Game Challenge 9 out of 10
Now, I never have claimed to be a video game playing genius, and I never will. Every time I'm asked how hard a game is, I hesitate for many reasons. Everybody plays games differently, everybody is good at different types of games, etc. I gave this score mainly because of the fact that even on Easy, and even with cheat codes (minus an invincibility code, of course), I still have yet to conquer General Plastro. I defend my score by first asking you not to criticize me for ranking a game's challenge without first beating it. I think the fact that I haven't finished the game makes me an excellent judge of its difficulty. The game is not so much hard in the sense that you need to solve difficult problems or fight off hundreds of Tan soldiers with no cover. You can't get far in this game playing like some automatic rifle loving novice and just strafe and run, blasting all the way. The most annoying enemies will not appear until you cross their line of fire, and when they do appear, it's usually in your blind spot behind a tree with an M-60, or behind you on a cliff with a sniper rifle aimed at the small of your back. The best way to describe this game is that it's like chess for a grade schooler, almost like the way I used to play with these soldiers' plastic counterparts when I was a kid. Enemies, whether you see them or not, are set up in key positions, waiting for you to follow a certain path, or at least to see you. Most of them don't move. Some that do move are only marching back and forth in a small line, so essentially they're not moving either. The only ones that run at you are doing just that, running, and they aren't aiming at you. Therefore, the challenge lies in finding alternate routes to surprise the enemy. This may sound easy, but a lot of times, there are no alternate routes, so you must run, duck, dive, and crawl around enemy fire to get a clean shot at just one of them, then keep doing it to get shots at the others. Oh, and don't forget that while doing this, you have to obey the first commandment of all video games: Don't get dead. Sound easy?
Game Play-Fun 9 out of 10
There are only two ways that all of a new game's frustrating aspects are what makes it twice as fun. One is that it just comes natural. It seems like the game you just rented has been in the arcade for months, like some sort of dejavu. The other way a frustrating game can be fun is when the challenges of the game force you to create a method of game playing that's as unique to you as it is to the game. This statement best describes how Army Men: Sarge's Heroes is a blast.