Portal Runner (Game Boy Color)

  • Gameplay
  • Story
  • Audio
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Review written by Stephen Deck; originally written 07/31/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night

Army Men is one of my ultimate guilty pleasure series.  The only game in the series that’s actually been good was the second one on PC, and the closest a console release came to being genuinely good was Sarge’s Heroes 2, and that’s 100% remembered fondly only due to nostalgia.  Still, though, I love the series.  Portal Runner, then, as a spin-off of the series, should have followed this trend of “it sucks, but I love it anyway.”  Unfortunately, it stopped at “it sucks.”

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I have this on PS2, and while I haven’t played that version yet, I’m pretty confident that it’s got very little in common with this mess.  The game looks okay for a Game Boy Color release, but it plays terribly.  It’s an action platformer that gets neither the action nor the platforming right.  As you go through the levels, you encounter a variety of enemies from Tan soldiers to bugs to other toys to – eventually – aliens.  Don’t bother trying to punch them, though, as the hit detection is atrocious.  You’re better off either using your bow or just giving up and letting them live.  I got lucky with a punch or a jump kick sometimes, but they just didn’t register as a hit a solid 90% of the time.  Aiming the bow sucked, too, as you couldn’t aim up or down or even move while you had the bow drawn – your only way to affect where the arrow landed is how long you held the button down – but at least the arrows usually registered.

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The combat hit detection isn’t the only problem.  The platforming is also really stiff and awkward.  It feels like if someone made a shitty Castlevania.  There are three dozen levels, but none of them feel like there’s any purpose.  For most levels, you just collect five gems (you can stockpile up to 50) and find the portal.  There’s no other objective.  Every now and then, you’ll reach a boss level where you have to fight a boss in order to use the portal.  That’s it, though.  There’s no story here whatsoever.  You play as Vikki Grimm, but the entire premise of the game is missing.  Bridgett Bleu doesn’t appear here at all despite being the other major character in the PS2 game.  The other Army Men Game Boy Color games all had some semblance of the story, but there’s just nothing here.

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I’ve now played all of the Army Men handheld games, and this is by far the worst.  There’s just nothing worthwhile here whatsoever.  The platforming is bad, the combat is bad, the story is omitted altogether.  Thank goodness each of the game’s levels takes less than five minutes to complete because even that length feels excessive with three dozen of these boring levels.  Environments just recycle with no rhyme or reason; this is the epitome of a quick and easy cash grab game.  Not even the most hardcore Army Men fan should bother with this abomination.

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