Brigitte Bleu, the infamous Blue spy, has recently discovered a portal leading into new, unconquered worlds. Not wasting any time, Brigitte quickly proclaimed herself queen of these new realms and overtook them. As time passed however, she became bored and lonely, deciding that a king was required to share in her radiance. But where would she find a king worthy of her great majesty? Well, there could only be one and that's Sarge. The problem was, Sarge already had a girlfriend named Vicki, so Brigitte created quite an interesting plan to eliminate her rival, leaving Sarge all to herself.
Brigitte, knowing Vicki was the star reporter for the Green Army News, sent her a lead she knew Vicki wouldn't pass up. Leaking the information about the portals, Brigitte set a plan in motion to get rid of Vicki forever. When Vicki entered the Lost Caves Portal, Rage the Warbot, one of Brigitte's enforcers, threw her into one of the portals and then destroyed it.
Seemingly lost for eternity, Vicki soon discovered she wasn't alone; a puzzling lion that guarded the portal had jumped through before it was demolished. Now with her new friend she named Leo, Vicki set out to search for a portal leading home, battling deadly monsters and Leo's sometimes furious temper.
Portal Runner, 3DO's latest Army Men installment, is a platform game where you take the role of Vicki, helping her find the portal home. Although by far the best game in the series, Portal Runner still lacks some of the qualities that would set it apart, and with an average performance it might only be worth your while if you enjoy platform games or you're a fan of those green Army Men.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
After starting Portal Runner, you're shown a quick cut-scene, setting up the story. The story, although slightly cheesy, is well put together with a clear plot and objective. Every time a board is completed, another cut-scene is shown, adding more to the plot by building characters and giving different pieces of information.
Although the story flows reasonably, the gameplay itself becomes boring fairly quickly. Most of the time, you'll control Vicki as she moves through the different worlds looking for the portal home. Her main defense is a bow that can also be used as a tool to trigger different events. For instance, an arrow may be shot at an orb, causing it to create floating steps used to reach the top of a cliff. Unfortunately, the bow is also Vicki's only available weapon, which doesn't add any extra excitement. You can, however, find and use up to eight different arrows. Each of these arrows have different effects. A Fire arrow will stay lit after it's shot and may ignite certain objects and an Explosive arrow will help destroy weak walls and crack solid rock. Some arrows like the Lightning and Trident arrows are used to cause increased damage to enemies while others like Golden and Water arrows are magical and help destroy magical barriers or put out fires. When trying to hit a specific target, Vicki also uses a first person view with cross hairs, helping to aim at a specific spot. When the target is small or far away, this comes in handy and reduces the number of arrows required to hit it.
You will you be not be controlling Vicki all the time though, as Leo the Lion is also a playable character. Leo is significantly different from Vicki, as he doesn't have any weapons, using only his claws for attack. Although strong already, Leo suffers from an uncontrollable temper that greatly increases strength. Able to jump higher, move faster, and strike harder, might create a state you'd try to keep Leo in, but that power comes with a price as Leo becomes harder to control, running around looking for a fight. This temper can be monitored using the fury meter and there are things that can be done to keep Leo under control like making sure there isn't any damage taken by Vicki or Leo and enemies don't get too close.
In addition to arrows, there are also other items that can be collected. Gems, for instance, are used to gain points that permanently increase Leo and Vicki's health by one bar every 10,000 points, hearts increase lost health, and T-bone steaks increase Leo's strength and Fury. That's it for the items unfortunately and similar to the weapons, there isn't a large or enticing group to collect. When games don't keep things fresh by adding more powerful weapons or items that increase the player's abilities, the game becomes dull, as you keep repeating the same type of scenario over and over. Even the enemies fall victim to the same monotony, as there are only eight main enemies to fight.
The controls, however, do perform respectably and are fairly easy to learn. Vicki, for instance, is controlled using the d-pad or left analog stick. The triangle cycles the different types of arrows, the circle puts her into first person mode for accurate aiming, the square shoots the arrow, and the X jumps. In addition, the L1 button has Leo attack when both are present, L2 causes a strafe left, R1 calls Leo, and R2 strafes right. As you can see, most of the controller buttons are used and for the most part, don't cause any confusion or frustration.
The interface also holds its own by not crowding the screen or distracting from the gameplay. It shows Vicki and Leo's health bars, the number of arrows available, and your score. Nothing else is shown, which isn't surprising as the game's simple nature eliminates an overly complicated interface.
One thing Portal Runner does have is colorful worlds. They are particularly vivid and detailed with trees, water, and the characters adding various factors to the overall game. You'll see shadows following their owners precisely and glossy surfaces reflecting correctly -- it shows that time was spent taking advantage of some of the PlayStation 2's graphical ability. Even the cut-scenes look impressive, as the characters move with life-like gestures and fluidness and their mouths even follow their voices, appearing to actually be speaking. Not all is perfect though as special effects seem to be missing. Things like poor explosions and enemies blinking and disappearing when destroyed aren't very exciting to watch and could have been better. They already had a decent graphics engine developed, but it does fit in with other areas of the game as they to seem to be missing the spectacular.
The sound quality was acceptable and didn't distract any from the game. Although you won't be amazed or blown away, some parts like the character's voices during the cut-scenes are done well and sound appropriate. Sarge's voice is deep and gruff while Brigitte's voice is conniving and evil.
This has to be the most average game I've seen. Uninspiring also comes to mind, but the developers did hold it together with decent visuals and storyline. Maybe the best thing to say is this could have been a miserable game if certain aspects didn't carry it. Although the plot keeps it afloat, the lack of any variety will quickly wear on most gamers and, unless Sarge is your hero or platform games are your thing, I'd save this one for a rental.