3DO have been playing with their toy soldiers for the last few years now, producing a string of titles in the Army Men franchise covering multiple platforms and gaming genres. So it came as no great surprise to discover that one of the GameBoy Advance's launch titles featured the little green plastic soldiers. What did surprise us though was that Army Men Advance is actually rather good...
Once again it is up to you to foil the evil Plastro and his amusingly named Tan Army, this time taking control of Vikki or the Sarge and guiding them through twelve levels of top-down plastic-melting mayhem. Plastro's latest scheme for global domination involves using alien technology, but apart from a couple of trips to Area 41 (presumably just down the road from the well-known Nevada test site) there is little evidence of this outside of the briefing screens.
Instead you are faced with settings varying from toy-sized buildings and military camps to a giant bathroom. There are a few simple puzzles to solve, but mostly it's a case of shooting anything that moves and pressing every button you can find. Luckily the level design is inventive enough to keep your interest. In the bathroom, for example, the little pools of water on the floor have been electrified by the Tan Army, leaving you tip-toeing around a maze of lethal puddles until you can get close enough to the power source to blow it up.
Short But Sweet
The same ingenuity hasn't been applied to the enemies though, and machinegun grunts make up the majority of the Tan Army, with a few bazooka and grenade soldiers thrown in for good measure, along with occasional appearances from giant insects and beetles. Luckily the button-pounding action is fast and furious enough to overcome the lack of variety in the cannon fodder.
A few boss encounters and amusing little sub-games have been included to break the run and gun monotony as well, including a tricky Frogger tribute in the garden which involves hopping between logs to cross a series of streams. You will also get to drive a tank down the hallway and pilot a boat in the bath in arcade-style shooter sequences, with the shoulder buttons of the GameBoy Advance rotating the turret independently of the direction which you are steering the vehicle in. Both levels are very short, but they're fun while they last.
Sadly the same could be said for the rest of the game. I completed the entire campaign on the medium difficulty setting in under three hours, and the total lack of multiplayer support means that the game will now be gathering dust on my shelf until I feel like giving it another shot. Which is a pity, because some form of two player co-op mode with one player as Vikki and the other as Sarge could have been quite entertaining.
Army Men Advance is probably the most entertaining game in the series to date, with the bright cartoonish graphics and larger-than-life settings proving a perfect match for the GameBoy Advance. Unfortunately it lacks longevity, and given that GBA games are rather pricey at the moment, Ł35 for three hours of entertainment is perhaps a little steep.