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NDS Review - 'Army Men: Soldiers of Misfortune'

by Richard Poskozim on April 7, 2009 @ 4:49 a.m. PDT

Timmy's Tan Army Men action figures have run amok, capturing his Green Army Men, and attempting to take control of his little slice of suburbia! It's up to you to defeat the enemy, save your toys and family, and restore order to your home!

Genre: Action
Publisher: Destination Software
Developer: ZOO
Release Date: October 30, 2008

How annoying is it to finish playing with your toys, only to find out that they've separated into inexplicable factions and declared war? It's even worse to find yourself suddenly having to choose a side and go to the front lines of battle. For some reason, Timmy, the main character in Army Men: Soldiers of Misfortune, has to deal with this exact scenario. The little boy is suddenly caught up in this inexplicable plastic conflict, but he seems to thrive on the wartime environment, instantly grabbing his dart gun and shrinking down to enter guerrilla combat. Maybe I would do the same if combat were as simple, predictable and safe as it is in this title, but then again, maybe I wouldn't, if I knew how boring this game would turn out to be.

Army Men has a proud real-time strategy and third-person shooter legacy, as evidenced by prior titles in the franchise, Army Men: RTS and Army Men: Major Malfunction, but you wouldn't know it by playing Soldiers of Misfortune. You don't command your green-clad men as they oppose the tan army, and classic characters in the series aren't even mentioned. That's a good thing in this case, since there is no plot or development to speak of; you only get to wander aimlessly through three miniature-sized environments.

At the very least, the very confining environments through which Timmy has to traipse look nice enough. When viewed in stills or from very far away, this DS iteration can actually be recognized as some derivative of the Wii version. You can see past this thin layer of polish as soon as you or your enemies start to move, though. The animation isn't laggy, but it looks like 2-D sprites were pasted into a poorly rendered 3-D environment, and it results are very awkward, especially when you get down to the combat.

The sound is even more simplistic, with one song per area, and each tune consists of a refrain of a handful of notes. It's dreadfully dull, and there isn't any voice acting to break up the monotony. The most you get in terms of sound effects is the pathetic popping of weapons; instead of sounding like guns, it sounds like tennis balls being bounced on the ground.

The gameplay mechanics are very bare-bones. You move your tank-like Timmy with the d-pad (up goes forward, left and right make him turn oh-so-slowly, and down makes him go in reverse). You can strategically strafe by holding down the L shoulder button and using left and right on the d-pad, and you shoot by furiously tapping the stylus on the enemy. The shot will usually land on whatever you're pointing at, but the hit detection is sloppy.

There is no need for headshots, as a hit is simply a hit, which really cheapens the gameplay. To make it even more pointless, you're limited to the ammo and weapons you find lying around, which means running is usually a better option than fighting, unless one of your objectives requires gathering things that were dropped by the enemy.

The enemy is dumb and never learned to shoot, so as long as you're moving, you're pretty much safe from their pathetic foam darts. Even if you get hit, it won't be long until you find the next health pack or armor boost that's scattered around the map; you can traverse the entire circumference of each map in a couple of minutes. There are half a dozen unique weapons, including bottle-cap grenades, which can be used to blow up gates and obstacles blocking your path, and a water gun, which works like the default dart gun except that it maintains a stream of damage. There are also completely unnecessary power-ups, like shields, which I never found myself using because the missions were so simple.

Every mission is nearly identical, with the protection levels being the most unique and frustrating. Enemies only spawn directly in front of you (usually popping out of thin air and directly into your line of sight), so the game makes defense missions challenging by hurting the object you're protecting whenever it's not in view. According to the mini-map, there are no enemies in the vicinity, but the object manages to take damage as long as you're not looking squarely at it. Fortunately, those missions are time-based and end pretty quickly.

The other missions usually entail moving down a linear path and blowing up whatever gets in your way, or moving from point to point on the tiny map and destroying or collecting items. Roughly half of the 15 missions — spread across bedroom, kitchen and backyard areas — don't require that you fire a single shot or spend more than five minutes on each mission.

Army Men: Soldiers of Misfortune is something that even a youngster can easily tear through in a few hours, and that might be worth something to someone. For everyone else, though, there is nothing redeemable in the awkward graphics, shoddy hit detection, simplistic missions and frustrating protection details. If you don't have a young child who may enjoy Soldiers of Misfortune despite these flaws, there's simply no reason to shrink down to the low standards of this title.

Score: 3.0/10

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