Fans of the Army Men games have certainly been kept busy over the last eighteen months or so. The games have come thick and fast and Sarge must be pretty fed up of defeating the Tan Army by now. Well he gets a chance to put his feet up for this adventure as he only plays a cameo role in this latest offering from 3DO.
In Portal Runner we get to control Vikki (daughter of Colonel Grimm) through a number of different lands in her attempt to get home. The game is a third person action game that also contains a good deal of platform jumping action. The tale begins with us having to rescue Sarge. These initial levels (and also the later chess board levels) are like something out of Alice in Wonderland with Vikki being surrounded by giant toys and sweets. In order to rescue Sarge you have to shoot down a toy pig from the ceiling to free Sarge whilst avoiding the evil gingerbread men. It almost seems like Toy Story in certain parts. Once Sarge is rescued the main story begins.
The evil Brigitte Bleu has romantic designs on Sarge and hatches a plan to get rid of her rival for his affections. That rival is Vikki. Knowing that Vikki is an eager reporter for the Green Star News, Brigitte sends her false information of a hot story. Vikki falls for the trap and arrives at the location only to find Brigitte's robot there waiting to destroy her. A lion comes to Vikki's rescue but in the ensuing struggle both Vikki and the lion get knocked through a portal. The robot blows up the portal so Vikki has to find another exit. On the other side of the portal lies a different, prehistoric, world. The aim of the game is to guide Vikki home. You'll encounter five different worlds spread over more than twenty levels that range from a candy store to a medieval world.
The game plays very similar to the Tomb Raider games (although Vikki is not as agile as Lara) but it would be unfair to merely label the game as a Tomb Raider clone. Attempts are made at innovation and there are levels where you get to control the lion with and without Vikki. The levels where Vikki rides the lion reminded me of the Hog Wild level in the original Crash Bandicoot game (although not as humorous as Crash). The different worlds have been well done but it soon becomes obvious that the goals in each mission are fairly identical and involve collecting items a majority of the time. The game comes with four difficulty levels with are nicely gauged and I found that on the easiest setting, Dream, you hardly receive any damage from your enemies which is good for any young children who are interested in the game.
The graphics in the game, although not as good as the PS2 is capable of, are very colourful and pleasing on the eye. These are after all toys and the colours are strong and more obvious than they would normally be in a game. Camera angles are usually a problem in third person action games but Portal Runner makes use of the right analogue stick to rotate the view to your liking. A simple tap of the R3 button restores the default angle.
It was a shame to see that the cutscenes were unsubtitled. The game relays subtitles for objectives and some conversations in the game but deaf gamers will miss out on the cutscene dialogue. The mission objectives can be recalled at any time and to be fair the game is playable for the deaf gamer. It just seems an oversight that the cutscenes have no subtitles at all as they would have helped to give greater meaning to the missions. Vikki occasionally gives verbal hints which are not subtitled which again is disappointing.
The Army Men games have a reputation as being mediocre and thankfully Portal Runner has improved the image in my opinion. The game is no classic but it is enjoyable and sufficiently different enough from the competition to make it worthwhile. The omission of cutscene subtitles aside, Portal Runner is a good game and well worth it for fans of third person action games. If you didn't like the previous Army Men games then Portal Runner may be the one that could win you over.
Overall Game Rating: 7.2/10 The best Army Men game to date.
Quality of text: 5/10 Cutscenes are not subtitled.
Graphics: 7.5 Whilst not pushing the PS2 to the limits, the graphics have been well done and are in keeping with the theme of the game.
Visual Presentation: 8/10 Very nice, all on screen information is easy to see and adds to the flavour of the game.
Interface: 8/10 The usual interface for this genre although the controls for the lion were kept pleasingly simple.
Gameplay:7.5/10 An enjoyable experience that keeps the action simple but effective.