The latest facet in 3DO's ongoing Army Men series and the first of the games to appear on the Dreamcast is Army Men: Sarge's Heroes, a solid Dreamcast revamp of the loathsome PlayStation original. Containing 16 missions and nearly 40 levels of toy soldier combat, you will be called upon to rescue your platoon, save General Griff's daughter, destroy the tan army's portals, and prevent the destructions of your own green army base. While the base plot remains the same, the Dreamcast version of Army Men Sarge's Heroes ships out with improved visuals, crisp game-engine cinematics, and tweaked gameplay.
At its heart, Army Men Sarge's Heroes is a 3D action combat game. As Sarge, you run around gathering weapons, completing missions, and blasting the tans to smithereens, all while trying not to get yourself blown into little plastic bits. There are times when you'll need to climb ledges, navigate minefields, or crawl silently up to an enemy, but the vast majority of the game is spent simply eliminating the opposition on a series of linear battlefields. To be fair, the environments in Sarge's heroes are not straight in the strict sense, but the means of going from point A to point B within them is usually so obvious that no backtracking or planning is necessary. Whether you're at the beach, jungle, fortress, kitchen, or backyard backgrounds, Army Men Sarge's Heroes emphasizes survival over traversal. You have to complete three or four mission segments to complete each particular mission, but an untimely demise will take you right back to the first mission segment - thus, you end up wasting 20 minutes of progress. As far as weapons, the game offers an M16 rifle, a .50-caliber machine gun, a zoom-capable sniper rifle, a powerful shotgun, impact grenades, a grenade launcher, a flamethrower, an artillery launcher, satchel charges, and a mine detector. Although you have to hunt for these items, most levels contain a fair majority of them, which means you're never really outgunned. Include the auto-aim feature, and you've got a game that is engaging and inviting for children, but not up to the task of satisfying the finicky palettes of adult game players.
Even though the inherent gameplay of Army Men Sarge's Heroes isn't remarkable, praise must be given to Saffire, the game's developer, for taking the time to go in and play-test its version of the game. The PlayStation version was the definition of buggy, while the later Nintendo 64 update fixed only the game's graphical problems. This time, Saffire made Sarge's Heroes playable. Ledges that were once too high or too narrow, but necessary for advancement, are now wider and easier to reach. Furthermore, while there are still times when Sarge sticks to rocks and shrubbery, such instances are infrequent. Enemies don't respawn every 100 paces either. As such, while the game may not tickle the fancy of Quake and Unreal Tournament adult players, it's now actually possible to play the darn thing.
Instead of stopping with gameplay updates, Saffire also revamped the game's graphics engine. The choppy, foggy, warping mess of the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 versions is replaced with stable, pleasing, and polygon-rich visuals. Jungle environments are ripe with realistic trees, shrubs, and flowing rivers. A giant bathtub contains not only undulating water, but also shampoo bottles and toys, all of which display visible brand-name logos and artwork. Explosions, shattering objects, and bullet effects are crisp and easy to see, benefiting from the Dreamcast's ability to push polygons without slowing down the game. The fog clipping plane is still closer than it ought to be, but it's much farther than in the N64 release - which means you can at least see what you're shooting at now. It's a good thing too, because the character animation in Army Men Sarge's Heroes is excellent. Enemy soldiers hustle and throw themselves to the ground, and they lay into you with their weapons if you're unlucky enough to catch their attention. Sarge himself walks and shimmies almost like a human being stuck inside a rubber soldier suit, with plenty of smooth and easy running, walking, climbing, and leaping animations. You can even see little flecks of plastic fly off enemy soldiers as you're blasting them. It's a shame that Army Men Sarge's Heroes took so long to finally come out, because what would have been considered great for 1999 seems dated compared to recent releases, such as Rayman 2, Quake 3, and Unreal Tournament.
If you take all the aforementioned refinements as a whole, you'll find that the Dreamcast version of Army Men Sarge's Heroes is an engaging, albeit dated entry into the 3D action combat genre. Saffire was wise to leave the game's excellent soundtrack and sound effects alone, opting instead to fix the lion's share of the game's more glaring graphical and gameplay issues. The addition of a four-player deathmatch option and an auto-save feature deepens the game's variety somewhat, but not to the extent that you'll be making it top priority on your holiday shopping list. However, for the game's target age group, the combination of a humorous plot, unlimited continues, and solidly average gameplay makes for a great, non-gory initiation into the 3D combat genre.