You are currently viewing an archival version of GF!

Click here to return to the current GamesFirst! website.

Questions? Suggestions? Comments?
Contact us at:

logo.jpg (7110 bytes)

star06.gif (4104 bytes)star06.gif (4104 bytes)star06.gif (4104 bytes)

by 3DO

sshot8291_10-01-01.jpg (9242 bytes)Ace Green Army reporter Vikki G. is hot on the trail of her next scoop. It seems that her nemesis, the evil and busty Brigitte Bleu, has discovered a group of mysterious portals and is using them to establish some sort of interdimentional matriarchy. As Vikki investigates one of the portals, Bleu’s henchman pushes her into it and destroys the gate, trapping her in another world. With Vikki out of the way, Bleu is free to begin the second part of her heinous plan: stealing Vikki’s boyfriend Sarge! With the aid of her sidekick Leo the Lion, Vikki must fight her way across time and space, find a way back to her former reality, and defeat Brigitte Bleu as…The Portal Runner!

sshot8291_7-01.jpg (9425 bytes)Good lord. Now I know what it’s like to write jacket covers. I feel so used. Anyway, this sordid little Beastmaster-meets-Army Men-meets-Jerry Springer tale is the backdrop for 3DO’s latest platforming bore: Portal Runner. With some biting wit and fresh tongue-in-cheek humor, a story like this can be great material for satire or farce (case in point: Conker’s Bad Fur Day on the N64). However, aside from a repetitive string of lame wisecracks, Portal Runner uses this plot as, well, an actual plot. And the game doesn’t make up for its lack of insight with good game play or presentation either. Despite the absence of the rightfully maligned Army Men name from its title, this game leaves much to malign.

sshot8291_8-01.jpg (9439 bytes)The graphics and sound in Portal Runner are unspectacular to say the least. This game retains the stiff motion-capture and bland surroundings that the Army Men series has become known for. Other than a few nifty cut-scenes and cleaner lines there is nothing on this PS2 title that couldn’t have been done on the PSX. The frame-rate is smooth, but draw-in, clipping, and collision problems abound. As far as the sound is concerned, the effects and music are generic, and although the voice acting is capable, the dialogue isn’t worth listening to.

sshot8291_1-01.jpg (9453 bytes)Portal Runner also has the clunky, unresponsive control of the other Army Men platformers. Movement is set up as run forward, backward, rotate right, left. Unfortunately, rotation to the right and left is much too slow to be productive, especially in close-range battle. But for long-range battle, Vikki has a first person targeting mode that is effective. Strangely, the best part of the control set-up is the camera. Using the right control stick, you can maneuver the "OrbitCam" around the characters, peek around corners, and raise the camera above you to help with tricky jumps. Pressing R3 resets the camera behind the characters again. At no time in this game will the camera be an issue, which is saying a lot for a 3D platformer.

sshot8161_2-01.jpg (9495 bytes)Portal Runner does manage to get some mileage out of its lead characters, Vikki and Leo, by making players control them in different combinations. At various times in the game, players must use Vikki alone, Vikki with Leo, Vikki riding Leo, and even Leo alone. When interacting with Leo, Vikki can command him to stay, to come, and to attack. Leo can sense danger at a distance and will growl at enemies hiding around corners. He even lets out a sad howl when he can’t see Vikki or get to her. Vikki must also deal with Leo’s temper. Included on the game screen is Leo’s "Fury Meter," which increases when he or Vikki take damage, when enemies get too close, or when he eats a T-bone steak. As Leo’s Fury Meter grows, he gets faster and more powerful. He also becomes harder to control. Vikki can calm Leo by calling him to her and petting him. This is fun for a while, and it leads to some great moments. It does not, however, raise Portal Runner above generic platform status. Everything about Portal Runner has that "it’s been done before better" feel. Even the Vikki and Leo thing gets old quick, especially when both characters, regardless of what combination they appear in, end up being played in pretty much the same way—run, jump, attack, repeat. There is also a two-player mode, where you run, jump, attack, and repeat against another player.

sshot8291_12-01.jpg (9722 bytes)However, Portal Runner’s problems run much deeper than its lack of innovative game play (there are too many Donkey- Diddy- Mario- Rayman- Bandicoot- Kong rip-offs out there to mention). Its core problem is one that has plagued the Army Men series since its conception: a genuine lack of child-like imagination. There have been few titles in this series that celebrate the pleasure of a child playing with toys, despite the basic concept of playing with little green army men. Sure, in the beginning you enjoyed the household backdrops, mazes of building blocks, and that sort of thing, but the games have never really been that fun to play. And it is only getting worse as the series takes an increasingly ironic and cynical view. Hell, Portal Runner barely even pays attention to this concept at all. Sure, you start off in some sort of toy store fighting (ugh) gingerbread men, and at one point you end up on a chessboard, but most of the caves and monsters and prehistoric settings look like they are trying to represent video game reality, not toys. In that case, why didn’t they just make this a separate platform game, with no toy tie-in?

sshot8291_4-01.jpg (10235 bytes)There is an existing game that demonstrates my point perfectly: Toy Commander for the DC. This game was marvelous in its child-like ingenuity. Here you had massive living room theaters of war, where planes took off from the staircase and tanks drove through the spaces underneath doors. Makeshift cities were built in bedrooms and attacked by giant Godzilla dolls. Sinks were plugged up to turn the kitchen into a watery battlefield. Even the house cat wasn’t immune. All this and it was fun. 3DO could learn a lot from this game.

sshot8291_6-01.jpg (10546 bytes)In moving away from past themes, 3DO may have been trying rejuvenate their waning Army Men series. But in the end, Portal Runner just ends up being another average platform game. Fans of the genre and younger players will probably enjoy it for the space of a rental, but I wouldn’t recommend it for much more. If 3DO really wants to perk up the Army Men series, perhaps they should reexamine why they started it in the first place.

Jeremy Kauffman   (10/20/2001)


Ups: Great camera work; controlling super-gal and her lion; the Fury Meter; great for young gamers.

Downs: Clipping and collision detection issues; uninspired gameplay; possibly too easy for even young gamers.

Sony PlayStation 2