Army Men: Air Combat review – how does it play today?

by Martin Watts, 17 February 2018

Navigating a back garden full of Tan units - Army Men: Air Combat review header (N64)

Army Men: Air Combat takes the classic plastic toy soldiers and brings them to life in videogame form.

It’s one of three Army Men games on the N64. However this entry differs greatly from the other two in terms of gameplay.

What’s Army Men: Air Combat about?

The game takes place in two dimensions – the world of the Army Men and the real-world. You play as a helicopter pilot in the Green Army’s never-ending war against the evil Tan Army.

This combination of make-believe and reality allows for some really clever gameplay ideas in both the campaign and multiplayer mode.

Army Men: Air Combat’s single-player missions revolve around completing mission objectives. These tasks include escorting allies, airlifting items, and destroying enemy bases.

Naturally, you do all this while blowing up plenty of Tan units along the way.

Green base on the picnic blanket in Army Men: Air Combat for N64

Locked and loaded

Despite being a mere child’s plaything, your helicopter has many abilities and packs a real punch in terms of firepower.

In addition to your standard machine gun, there are a number of special weapons you can collect.

These include homing missiles, napalm bombs and – somewhat worryingly – paratroopers with dynamite attached to them.

Using napalm on a Tan base in Army Men: Air Combat for N64

You come up against a wide range of enemy land, air and naval units throughout the game. So it’s important to use the most effective special weapon against each type.

It not only saves time, but also increases your chances of survival.

Army Men: Air Combat isn’t an especially difficult game. But later missions can definitely catch you out if you play in a mindless or reckless manner.

Winching a cable up river in Army Men: Air Combat for N64

The world is a playground

Your helicopter is equipped with a winch, which makes for an interesting gameplay mechanic.

Most of the time, you use it to pick up special weapons and health.

However, you also often need it to airlift mission-critical items, such as batteries to power a toy train set or reactivate a radar system.

Freeing bugs from captivity in Army Men: Air Combat for N64

Army Men: Air Combat really does a great job of using its real-world setting to creatively enhance the gameplay.

For example, in one mission you must winch food – which is attracting deadly ants – away from your base. You can then dump it in an enemy base, making it their problem instead.

Carrying a doughnut towards an enemy Tan base in Army Men: Air Combat for N64

Being able to pick up rocks and apples and dump them on enemy units is really satisfying. It’s also a great way to save ammunition.

It would’ve been great if this mechanic had been a bit more fleshed out. For example, you can’t use momentum to swing and chuck objects – you can only drop them directly below.

Engaging Tan gunboats in Army Men: Air Combat's ninth mission (Nintendo 64 version)

Upgrade to a newer model

You unlock new helicopters as you progress through the campaign.

Each chopper is a vast improvement over the last one. So there’s little point in going back to an earlier chopper once you’ve unlocked the next one.

Before going on each mission, you get to choose a co-pilot. These characters don’t actually assist you in manoeuvering your aircraft.

Stereotypical character profile for Lt. Felicity Wannamaker in Army Men: Air Combat for N64

Instead, they serve as a modifier that can enhance the effectiveness of your weapons or winch. The difference they make seems negligible at best.

You are the only one who can decisively affect the outcome of a mission. Nevertheless, you do receive backup in the form of allied Green Army units.

Killer ants attack green base in Army Men: Air Combat for N64

They don’t make a massive difference. But they do at least make it feel like you’re partaking in a grand battle, albeit on a miniature scale.

If you do actually need help, then there’s always the two-player coop mode. Having double the firepower at your disposal and being able to tackle separate objectives simultaneously really helps.

Unfortunately, mixing and matching in the coop mode doesn’t provide much in the way of tactical options.

Army Men: Air Combat, one of many N64 coop games.

Chopper versus chopper

There’s also a versus multiplayer mode for up to four people.

This mode offers a range of scenarios in which players compete to destroy the most bugs or rescue the most scientists.

It’s varied and fun. And the focus is more on battling AI enemies than one another (although you can do both).

It certainly makes Army Men: Air Combat stand out a bit from other N64 multiplayer games.

Teddy bear using laser eyes to wipe out the Tans in Army Men: Air Combat for N64

Army Men: Air Combat’s technical performance

Army Men: Air Combat generally looks pretty average. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it generally runs smoothly.

Environments sport little in the way of detail, and character and vehicle models often have very apparent gaps.

A special guest appearance from Thomas the Tank Engine in Army Men: Air Combat for N64

The only exception is the multiplayer mode. Due to the amount of on-screen action, the frame rate takes a hit. You also see the graphics popping up a lot as you move.

Thankfully, the coop mode doesn’t suffer from these drawbacks.

Using an N64 Expansion Pak results in a modest resolution boost. But it’s only noticeable when playing the game on a CRT TV.

Dodging incoming missiles in Army Men: Air Combat (N64)

Playing on a modern HDTV through a composite connection results in a muddy, washed-out picture.

This makes it difficult to distinguish certain objects from the terrain, such as your chopper when it’s flying over grass.

The game’s light-touch story is told through static storyboards, which aren’t particularly engaging.

The image quality is especially poor. It’s a real struggle to make out what’s actually in the picture (even on a CRT).

Killer RC cars in Army Men: Air Combat for Nintendo 64

The audio also disappoints. Voice clips feature throughout, but they’re very low quality. It’s often difficult to make out what’s being said unless you crank the volume all the way up.

Not only that, but the vast majority of the soundtrack simply doesn’t suit the game’s tone or style.

That’s mainly because a lot of it has simply been lifted from BattleTanx: Global Assault – another 3DO N64 game.

BattleTanx: Global Assault’s heavy metal guitar riffs and thudding drums suit its dystopian and apocalyptic setting. But they’re completely at odds with Army Men: Air Combat’s more playful style.

Escorting a teddy bear downstream in Army Men: Air Combat for N64

Conclusion

Overall, Army Men: Air Combat is a fun and straightforward game that makes the most of its premise. It’s a creative and unique – surprising for a shoot-em-up game.

The two-player coop mode is a nice addition, especially when it doesn’t suffer in terms of performance. And the competitive multiplayer has a good variety to it.

The presentation and audio are where Army Men: Air Combat truly falls down. But these flaws don’t make it any less playable.

They certainly don’t affect your level of immersion – you are, after all, playing as a green toy helicopter.

Our verdict

good

  • Concept and setting are used for some truly creative gameplay ideas
  • Full two-player coop without any major performance issues
  • Varied competitive multiplayer mode
  • Special weapons and winch give you plenty of combat options
  • Allied AI units add to the game's atmosphere and scale
  • Budget visuals – Expansion Pak doesn't really improve these
  • Some noticeable slowdown in four-player multiplayer
  • Poor quality voice clips
  • Majority of soundtrack is directly lifted from BattleTanx: Global Assault

To learn more about how review N64 games see our review scoring system page. Because we focus on whether a game is still enjoyable to play today, we try to avoid discussing a game’s development history, impact or legacy in our reviews.