It’s been brought to my attention recently that so far in my JGR tenure, the overwhelming majority of the games I’ve covered have been good-to-great, with only a couple that have been mediocre. I have yet to review a truly bad game. Well, that streak’s about to come to a grinding halt, because not only is Army Men: Sarge’s Heroes bad, I dare say it is the worst game on the Nintendo 64, and yes, that includes Superman. I vaguely remembered playing this game as a kid and convincing myself it was okay. Fifteen years later, I learned that 11-year-old Dave was one dumb sumbitch.
Our story begins with the Greens and the Tans at war with each other. Why? Hell if I know, they never explained it. Regardless, General Plastro, leader of the Tans, has opened up portals to a new, dangerous dimension to import new superweapons into the Army Man world. This mysterious new universe? It’s fucking Suburbia. I understand the appeal of a story from the perspective of someone for whom Earth is an alien world, but damn, just a couple of years later, Pikmin did this same gimmick a million times better. Anywho, the Tans kidnap the other members of Sarge’s squad, and it’s up to you to rescue them and then take the fight to Plastro.
Well, perhaps I’m being too hard on the story…it’s not the first game that has a shallow plot, as long as the actual game’s enjoyable, right? It’s not. You start off having to defend the Green base from a Tan invasion and rescue your commander, Colonel Grimm. And it will be very shortly after you start this first mission that you’ll encounter this game’s biggest flaw: it has the shittiest play control I’ve ever experienced.
First off, Sarge runs around like a squirrel on meth, and apparently Sarge and the camera have two different agendas, because unlike a regular game, where the camera tries to stay behind you as you change direction, this camera likes to stick with the direction you were going in before. In fact, to get the camera to actually move back behind him after you’ve changed your course is to come to a complete stop and GENTLY move the control stick, lest Sarge decide to take off like it’s the 100-meter dash at the Olympics, or go into Aim Mode, where your turning speed suddenly becomes that of a couch. The best way I can describe it is to imagine watching an episode of Cops, and imagine trying to control the police officer from the perspective of the camera guy running behind him and having to react to the cop changing directions and going around corners.
Of course, Sarge’s frantic pace will be held up quite a bit by the myriad of objects you’ll get stuck on, like rocks, trees, logs that are ankle height that you have to be facing straight on to walk over them, even fucking doorways. Yes, this is a game where walking through A FUCKING OPEN DOOR feels like an accomplishment. Also, during the course of the game, you’ll be asked to do things like throw a switch to open a gate. Unfortunately, the action button is also the jump button, so if you’re not in the exact right place, you’ll just end up jumping around like a monkey with his head on fire literally seven or eight times before you find the sweet spot.
Even worse, everything I just mentioned? That’s just the battle you’ll be having with yourself. This game is so botched that it would be hard to play in a vacuum with no enemies…but of course, there are enemies. You have an auto-aim, at least theoretically, although unless you’re shooting at someone who’s right on top of you, you’re going to waste a lot of time, ammo, and health trying to tag them, and you can double that if they’re standing behind a rock or a log. You can also try going into Aim Mode, but still, that’s a complete crapshoot, as your shots rarely land in the center of the crosshair, and that’s not even accounting for the numerous times you’ll think you have a clean shot and the game decides you’re just shooting a tree.
Compounding this problem further is the fact that you’ll happen upon a lot of enemy encampments and preset ambush-type situations where enemies seem to teleport into the world whenever you get in range and then disappear entirely if you retreat, only to pop back into existence when you decide to come back, and every now and then the game will zone out and forget to teleport enemies in until you’re practically in bayonet range, although to be fair, the AI is prone to brain farts where an enemy will just kinda stand there and look at you funny.
And that’s just standard, run-of-the-mill enemies. If you’re fool enough to play this like I was, you will come to loathe Flamethrower Guy and the tanks with the passion and burning of the hottest star in the universe. Needless to say, flame is the mortal enemy of plastic army men, so it logically makes sense for the flamethrower to be a highly destructive weapon, but basically, if you’re hit with the flamethrower, you may as well just pause and restart the level, because even with a full life bar, you’re probably fucked. And before you say it, no, you can’t jump in the water to put yourself out, because water is even deadlier to you than fire. That totally makes sense, though, after all, it’s not like plastic FUCKING FLOATS OR ANYTHING.
But what makes Flamethrower Guy such a bastard is that you’ll probably never see him coming; he has a terribad habit of waiting behind blind corners or tall grass to scorch you. As for the tanks, this game has a raging boner for dumping lots of them everywhere, and if they see you, they’ll pretty much chop you to shreds unless you manage to hide somewhere long enough to make the tank lose interest…but to do so, you have to run out of its range, and almost certainly into the range of another tank,and there’s only one weapon in the game (the bazooka) that can deal with them reliably…or, at least as reliable as anything in this game can be.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about your arsenal…it blows. Basically, it comes down to the bazooka, the rifle you start with, and all the other shit that’s either too clunky or too stingy with ammo to be useful. Aside from those two, there’s a sniper rifle you’ll like but never have enough ammo for, the machine gun that couldn’t hit air if you pointed it at the sky, the flamethrower that you’ll probably end up killing yourself with in the process, mines that you plant and will immediately blow yourself up with because they have no lockout time and will detonate if you take one step forward after laying one, and a handful of other guns you’ll never use and will just take up space between the two useful weapons. Oh, and there’s also a minesweeper you have to use like a weapon to spot enemy mines…usually while you’re being shot at.
Now, by this point, you may be saying, “Okay, Uncle Dave, this is a turd, but is it at least a shiny turd?” No. No, it is not. Graphically, it’s pretty much ass. Everything looks plastic, and not plastic like an army man, but plastic like a hunk of friggin’ plastic that hasn’t been detailed. Buildings suffer from the Battletanx style of either looking pristine or completely wrecked with no in-between, weird rectangular pieces fly off of enemies when shot, and you’ll probably have no idea what the weapon pickups are supposed to be until you collect it and cycle through your weapons and see what’s new.
All the movements are animated as opposed to motion-captured, and I distinctly remember an interview in Nintendo Power with 3DO head honcho Trip Hawkins where he said that decision was made because the animators’ imagination and exaggerated style would basically fill in the blanks motion-capture leaves and would ultimately make it look more real. If this is true, Trip Hawkins has either never actually seen how real people move or is a goddamned liar, because the animations in this game are…not exactly fluid. Dear God, watching the cutscenes alone should be enough to make you want to yank this out of the N64 and start a fire with it, as even in a completely scripted scene that could be checked and rechecked and re-animated, it looks like the world’s worst marionette artist attempting to remake Saving Private Ryan. I should also mention the “owie” animation Sarge has every time he gets shot, which, by the way, stops you from firing back momentarily, so if you’re stuck in a crossfire, you’re going to be as capable of defending yourself as Willem Dafoe in Platoon when the helicopter leaves him and he gets ventilated by the Vietcong.
Sounds…ehh, they’re a little better, and Sarge does actually have a few lines of spoken dialogue, but only vapid comments like “Good to go!” when you pick up a health kit or “Party time!” when you find a bazooka. There’s also a quasi-military theme that I suppose serves as the theme song for the game, and will play usually towards the end of a mission or during a heroic shootout, which actually works fairly well, but when the bright spot in a game is a mediocre song cued up to play at certain times, it’s a bit like buying a car and finding out the best thing going for it is the cupholder.
As stated in our mission statement, we only give out 1/2 star ratings for games that have no redeeming qualities. This one definitely earns every non-star it received. But as bad as Sarge’s Heroes is, I could forgive 3DO if they’d owned up to this being a clunker and vowed never to repeat the same mistake…but apparently, they either didn’t or couldn’t admit that was the case. Instead, they looked at this and saw such a gold-plated and copper-bottomed winner of a cash-making machine that they kept making games for this asstacular franchise…AND THEY ALL FUCKING SUCKED. ALL OF THEM. It’s one thing to make a bad game, it’s another to be so arrogant that you continue to plop terrible games out that you HAVE to know are terrible, and so if anyone involved in this game reads this review and is shocked to see such a negative piece, I have one thing to say: I didn’t do this. YOU did this.
Good? GOOD? The Good, they want! Well, um…you don’t actually have to ever play this. That’s pretty sweet.
In case you didn’t ready ANY of the last 1800 words, I’ll let Bryan Alvarez sum it up best for me.