Review: Army Men Soldiers of Misfortune (DS)

Army Men: Soldiers of Misfortune
Developer: Big Blue Entertainment LLC.
Publisher: Zoo Games
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Release Date: 10/30/2008

I knew when I decided to take a game with Army Men in the title that I was in for it. A few games in the series have been passable, with Army Men: RTS being notable for being somewhat decent, but the fact that I’m pointing out a game for being “somewhat decent” should state how poor the other games in the series have been. Army Men games were notorious for both their terrible quality and tremendous quantity for almost a decade that they themselves became a punchline, until the best thing that could have happened to the franchise happened: 3DO, the company behind the franchise, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2003.

Since then, the tide of Army Men games have been slowed, though the extra development time didn’t help the quality of the games, as the last two releases we’ve seen, Sarge’s War and Major Malfunction, were just as bad as the games before it. Now, the third title since Global Star Software bought the franchise, Army Men: Soldiers of Misfortune has been put upon us with a completely new setting, almost getting back to the roots of the Army Men – the actual plastic toys themselves. Unfortunately, the one thing I never want to see when I get a new game was present: the big “ZOO” logo in the bottom right hand corner of the box. Oh boy! The same company responsible for Jeep Thrills (Final score: “Dreadful”), two versions of Margot’s Word Brain (“Dreadful” and “Very Bad”, respectively), Calvin Tucker’s Redneck Jamboree (“Dreadful”), and Chrysler Classic Racing (“Pretty Poor”) have made an Army Men game!

Of course, as could be easily predicted, Army Men: Soldiers of Misfortune is so bad, I can’t even care enough to build suspense with a line like, “Did both Zoo and the Army Men franchise buck their inexplicably poor record and release a game worth not spitting on? READ ON TO FIND OUT~”. This game is horrible, and the only two reasons I have to write more than that is that 1) Alex will fire me if I just say, “The game sucks! Try the veal!” and leave it at that, and 2) I’m challenging myself to find as many ways to negatively describe this pile of garbage as I can without repeating a negative descriptor. If I have to subject myself to playing this game to review it, I’m at least going to get something useful out of the ordeal.

The story of the game deviates from the insular world that’s been previously established by prior Army Men games, in that Sarge and his merry band of retards are long gone, and instead, you take the place of “Private Timmy”, an average child who reports to General Teddy (A teddy bear dressed like Patton), as he joins the rest of the Green army to take on the sinister and evil Tan army. I actually like this approach. Really, what are Army men if not some child’s fantasy anyway? What’s sad is that this is not fleshed out in any way. You see a few poorly drawn stills in the beginning of the game, then… that’s it. It’s time to do missions that seem to have little connection to the story other than that you’re Timmy, you have to shoot tan guys (With your Nerf-like gun, justifying the “E” rating), and sometimes you save some greenies. This could have been executed much better if it was expanded upon beyond just a few still images, but there aren’t even any images or any story being moved between areas. There are fifteen stages spread out over three areas, five apiece, and when you go to a new area, there’s no transition; you were in the bedroom before, now you’re in the kitchen. A good premise – really, the only one this game has – was horribly blown, to the point where I wonder if it was best to stick with the previously established canon if only to force the developer’s hand to actually do something that required even a modicum of effort.

Speaking of the areas of the game, as mentioned, there are three: the bedroom, kitchen, and backyard. These are fine, except for the fact that there are no changes to the layout for any stage. The first stage of the bedroom section is the same as the last stage, and this goes on for all of the sections. What’s even worse is that every stage is nothing more than a glorified fetch quest; get X amount of crates, shoot Y amount of soldiers. Sometimes, they really throw a curveball by making you protect Z amount of vehicles for awhile. That stage was fun. I went back and forth from one area to another, shooting the same re-spawning enemies, then when they were all gone, the other side had the same enemies spawn on me, so I basically went back and forth for five minutes while my vehicles made repairs (Represented by a bar at the bottom of the screen). I think I got dumber as this stage played out. It’s not like the areas look particularly good, either. The textures are jagged and it’s hard to see where you’re supposed to go in some places, especially in the kitchen stages, where you have an invisible wall keeping you on the sink edge, or the counter, or the spoon bridge or whereever you have to go. That same invisible wall keeps you from shooting enemies if your shots have to pass any part of the stage where you can’t walk, which also causes issues in the kitchen area, considering you have a lot of narrow ledges you have to walk on. While it’s nice that Timmy can’t fall off the sink onto the kitchen floor – if that was the case, the game’s controls would have had me throwing the DS in disgust – the use of the invisible, impenetrable wall is a cop-out.

The gameplay itself is at best base and at worst physically painful. You control Timmy with the control pad, and shoot by pointing the stylus at whatever it is you want to shoot. You rotate Timmy with the left and right directionals, up is forward, down is back, and that’s all irrelevant to where you’re shooting. This setup would be a lot better in a first person environment, but inexplicably, you view the game in the third person, behind Timmy. Not behind Timmy’s silhouette either; behind Timmy’s entire body. This means that anything directly in front of Timmy, you cannot see, including the enemy that’s bombarding you with darts or tennis balls or whatever they’re shooting the kid with; you literally have to turn at an angle to be able to see enemies in front of you. Couldn’t they have solved this with an outline of the character you’re controlling, Arcade Punch-Out! style? Or was the person that designed Timmy so insistent on his work being brilliant – or at least having something on his C.V. when his company inevitably goes in the tank – that he fought any efforts for his work not to block actual gameplay? Either way, I recommend to the person in question to not judge being a retail clerk as being “below” him, because if that’s the best work he can do, he’s only setting himself up for disappointment down the road.

The only things to shoot in most stages are little tan Army men; you can use either your standard dart guns or a variety of weapons, such as baseball grenades, a Super Soaker-like gun (which is beautiful only for having to get closer to the enemy to kill them), and bottle caps (useful for… uh, taking longer to get to it’s target, really). The tan guys are persistent – they take four to five shots to take out – but dumber than a bag of rocks; if you’re far enough away from them, you can just pelt them without retaliation. They don’t move, they don’t react, they just grunt and then disappear. They have no bearing on where you could be going, either. If you’re moving, they won’t be able to hit you because they do not understand how to draw a bead on a moving target. This means if you are running low on ammunition, which is quite possible considering both the infrequency of power-ups and how hard they can be to spot, you can just blaze through and get what you need to get done, unless your task is to kill X amount of tan guys. There are some that can shoot three shots in a row, as if they had sub-machine-guns. If you move even a few inches, they just keep trying to shoot the same spot, so you can pretty much just keep pelting them at that point until they go away. Sometimes, they’ll change things up and bring out a tank, which is about the only time in the regular stages that things can get a little hairy. They shoot frequently, and their cannon blasts have splash damage. Some grenades or bottle caps can take them out, but you never know if you’re doing damage until you’ve hit it enough to make it collapse. You never know when the tanks are coming because it seems random, like the director from Left 4 Dead decided he needed money on the side and went “Hey! This place needs a tank!”. He also must be directing the tan guys because not only do they constantly respawn, they like to just appear, out of the blue, right in front of you, firing away. This isn’t too bothersome as most stages have bulletproof vests that can take up to about ten hits each (This adds to your life bar which can also take about ten hits), meaning you pretty much have to try to die when controlling Timmy, but it’s buggy as all get-out. Who the hell is doing QA at Big Blue, two guys in a back room sniffing paint?

I said gameplay could become physically painful a couple paragraphs back. I wasn’t being facetious. The best way to avoid enemy fire is to use the strafe button. In an indescribable move, Big Blue decided to make L the strafe button. Picture this: you’re controlling with the D-pad using your left thumb, having to shoot with your right hand holding the stylus (Meaning the DS is being held single-handedly), AND having to stretch your fingers to get the shoulder button to strafe, which you will have to do frequently. To top things off, you will need to dedicate a right finger to hitting the R button to switch weapons, which you will absolutely have to do to finish some stages, as this is how you either select keys or bombs for strategic bomb setting. If that doesn’t sound hard to you, let me assure you that my hand was starting to cramp after about an hour of this. To put that in perspective, I’m a fully grown man with decent sized hands that has been playing video games in some form for over twenty-five years. I’m guessing, due to the game’s motif, that I am not the target audience – that would be boys in the seven to twelve year range, assuming they thought that far ahead and didn’t just go “Wha? Who are we aiming for? Just shut up and release it, we can’t sit on this gold mine forever!”. Can you imagine a seven year old trying this? Even with a DS Lite, I don’t see this being possible, let alone comfortable. You don’t even have an option to change this, either. The only option the game has, other than for sound volume, is whether you want to invert your controls for plane stages. That means, for those of you keeping score, that the four face buttons are unused for this game. What’s that? You’re left handed, and are not comfortable using your non-motor hand to do everything this game requires you to do? Sucks to be you! Again, I cannot stress how indolent the team was toward this game’s development.

The despairing thing is that everything I’ve just described is only two-thirds of the game. The last stages are aeroplane stages. I held on to get to this part, figuring that maybe the plane stages were a saving face for the game, and could possibly make it more than the steaming turd it had previously showed itself to be. Instead, the plane stages are even worse than the first part of the game where you’re awkwardly controlling Timmy. To control the plane, you can turn left or right, ascend or descend. You can fire your gun, but unlike the regular stages, you have cross-hairs that you aim at, meaning you have to touch your stylus on that cross-hair to get it to fire. I could be wrong about that, because the bullets are so tiny that it’s impossible to notice them, but it doesn’t really matter as you can’t really hit anything unless you’re bombing it. You can either bomb targets or shoot them with your gun turret. While bombing is somewhat functional, your bombs actually hit their targets, the levels where you have to use your gun are almost impossible because the gun itself is absolutely pants. I got stuck for awhile in the second stage of the backyard section, where you are to shoot “as many” planes as you can (Read: six) within six minutes, or before they can take out your convoy on the ground. This is a misnomer, because before the clock hit three, my guys were all gone, and though the amount of planes I had to shoot counted down, I can only assume the ground forces got them, I had no real indication of how many of my own guys I had left. Sure enough, right when I was about to take out the last plane, I got the “MISSION FAILED” notice, because he took out my last guy on the ground. At this point, I wondered what it would have been like to have been able to see the planes I had to shoot down (Instead of relying on the radar map, which is horribly inaccurate and hard to read at times), or to have had my schizophrenic crosshairs actually focus on them for more than a nanosecond. Any time I can spend a half hour on a mission and not be able to beat it because of the game’s controls, that speaks very, very badly for the game itself.

Allow me to bottom line this game for anyone still reading: it looks like a first year CAD student’s demo package, has virtually no sound save annoying grunts and the occasional engine running, has the most impractical control scheme I’ve seen for a game aimed at kids, contains a non-existant difficulty curve that only goes up as the game’s myriad bugs get worse, and to top it all off, contains nothing for people to do after they’ve beaten the game. All this can be yours for $20! You know what else can be yours for $20? Six Happy Meals at McDonalds. The toys inside those are more enjoyable than this waste of plastic, you have change left afterwards, and considering the pain my left hand was in after playing this game, I’d argue they’re better for kids than this game. To clarify that statement, I’m talking about all six Happy Meals at once.

THE SCORES
Story/Modes: Dreadful
Graphics: Bad
Sound: Awful
Control/Gameplay: Worthless
Replayability: Worthless
Balance: Worthless
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Worthless
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Worthless
FINAL SCORE: DREADFUL GAME


Short Attention Span Summary

I cannot understate how atrocious Army Men: Soldiers of Misfortune is. Not only has Big Blue Entertainment somehow managed to make the worst Army Men game ever – quite an accomplishment, considering the rich history of the franchise – but has single handedly worsened the DS and Wii and giving weight to people who complain that those systems are nothing but shovelware dumping grounds. My only regret is that I did not get this review up before Christmas, because I believe I could have saved a few parents or grandparents from ruining the holidays for their kids with this pile of faeces.

On the bright side, my thesaurus got it’s first good workout in months.