Army Men: Soldier of Misfortune Review
If you need an example of a series that was done to death, the last two generation's Army Men games are a prime example. When the first games hit consoles, it was a fun, clever idea; the plastic soldiers everyone had as kids pitted against one another in an all-out battle for plastic, bite-sized supremacy. But as more and more (and more) of the games showed up in stores, the novelty wore off. Before anyone knew it, the series had found a home on the bargain rack, and new releases dried up. As with all old games these days, the series is attempting a ground-up restructuring and comeback in the form of two very different games with the same title – Army Men: Soldier of Misfortune. I can't speak for the Wii title, but the DS revamp ALMOST hits the mark. Almost. A few presentation shortfalls, bland missions and a frustrating control scheme hold this 3D action title back, but in the right hands, a sequel could end up being a truly great game. This one, though, just isn't all that hot.
You've got to hand it to the developers on this one; the new premise for making the Army Men series fresh again is pretty clever, especially when you consider who the game will be marketed to. Rather than playing as generic soldier #644, you are given an actual setup for the game's plot. This time, you're a human among the plastic ranks, an eight year old named Timmy who gets shrunk down and enlists in the battle with the now giant-sized objects in his playroom as a backdrop. Unfortunately, that's where the story ends. Over the 35 missions that follow, there is no story progression, just the same tasks repeated against the same scenery and the same enemies. Abandoning the game's premise after the introduction was a serious misstep, and it makes me think about how engaging things could have been with just a bit more work.
I mentioned Army Men's repetition in its mission's goals, but it is probably a better idea to talk about the game's controls before jumping into that business. We all know that 3D action games work best on systems with two analog sticks, but the DS has seen a few games that emulated that control scheme by using the touch screen as any number of different things. In Army Men, you'll be using the screen to manage your attacks; a simple tap will fire off any one of your less-than-imposing projectile weapons (little kids don't have Uzis… the weapons here are all kid-friendly and non-lethal; darts, Nerf-type weapons, pop guns, firecrackers, etc.). This gives you a higher than normal degree of control over your attacks, but moving Timmy around is such a pain that you won't care very much about your accuracy. The d-pad moves Timmy, which works fine. Inexplicably, the developers felt the ability to strafe was important (it isn't), and sabotaged an otherwise workable control scheme to make it happen. To move side to side, you'll have to hold the DS' L button, one of the triggers on the top of the system. To put it plainly, human beings don't have enough fingers to work with this setup. Imagine holding your DS, thumb on the d-pad and pointer finger on the L trigger. With your right hand holding the stylus and the left fully occupied, it's very tough to keep the system from slipping out of your grasp. I had a lot of trouble with this, and my hands are pretty big; I can't imagine how tough this would be to handle for a kid with normal sized hands.
I wish I could say that the odd controls are the only issue, but the sameness of Army Men's missions, along with some extremely stupid AI drag the experience further down. During each and every mission, you'll have basically the same goals, you'll be fighting the same enemies and exploring the same environment - all the way through the game. The tiny soldier/big world thing was one of the original series' most clever attributes. Giant basketballs, pencils and all manner of household items formed the original series levels and backdrops, and the same thing is used here. Only you'll see the same background, the same objects in every single mission. And forget about interacting with that environment; it might as well just be a blank canvas draped over the background. If the developers stole a picture of a sea turtle from National Geographic, we could have had Army Men: Soldiers Under The Sea. Just like the controls and story, its just another wasted opportunity.
Those two words, wasted opportunity, are Soldiers of Misfortune's M.O. Everything about the game felt like a rush job, a an oversight related to developers who maybe just didn't care enough. The groundwork is there – the revamp of a long running series, a clever approach, a premise any kid could fall in love with… and it all just falls flat. You shouldn't beat yourself up if this game never makes it to your DS; you won't be missing out on much of anything if you skip this one. If, however, this game gets a sequel, I'd advise giving that one a look. With a little TLC, the game could be improved and provide a fun shooting experience for the younger set. And since so many shooters are drenched in blood and gore, the "kid-friendly" shooter is a rare occurrence indeed. Army Men represents a nice attempt and the fundamentals are there, but Army Men 2 could be the game that this one had the potential to be.
In The End, This Game Hath Been Rated: 47%.