Sunday, August 2, 2015

Portal Runner, a Gal and Her Lion

Blaugust Day 2: Today I'm writing about a game I almost reviewed twice. Both times I lost steam and switched to another project. The game is Portal Runner. It is a spin-off of Army Men, a series that is a buried treasure on its own. Portal Runner takes the universe of Army Menone wherein you play as green toy soldiers and fight other toy soldiersand places you in the role of Vikki Grimm. Vikki is a reporter, the daughter of the Green Army's colonel, girlfriend of the series' main protagonist Sarge, and up to this point unplayable.

There's something different about Vikki but I can't put my finger on it.
The game starts out with Brigitte Bleu (Queen of the Blue Army) kidnapping Sarge. In a reversal of the damsel in distress plot you chase Brigitte through portal after portal, each leading to a different dimension. The portals are all representations of a child's imagination: prehistoric jungles, medieval fantasy lands, futuristic spaceships, and the classic scattered toys level.

What's the masculine form of "damsel?"
After a few levels to get you comfortable with the 3D platforming you run into Leo the Lion. You help him out and he saves you from an attacker. From that moment on there are various types of gameplay available. You can run around as Vikki and shoot things with your bow, choosing whether or not Leo tags along to fight. You can ride Leo to help Vikki get to hard to reach places, or get somewhere fast. Or you can play as Leo on his own. He roars and slashes, and if his rage meter gets full he becomes stronger and faster. As someone who loves lions, this is really fun!

The levels are unique and fun. They play to the strengths and weaknesses of Vikki and Leo. There's a level on the spaceship where you get to jump in low gravity and it's one of the most tranquil moments I've played in a video game. There's also one point in the medieval dimension when I entered a cave and funky funk music started playing, disco lights came down and lit up the room, and I bounced on humongous mushrooms. Let it be known, this cave was channeling George Clinton. It was so surreal that I couldn't stop laughing.

Being a 3D platformer, there is a ton of stuff to collect. If you find 100% of the items in each level you unlock something. After you beat the game you can play head to head with a friend in the multiplayer mode. It's very similar to the multiplayer mode in the Army Men games, except you use bows with different arrows instead of guns.

If you've never heard of this game before I can't blame you. While Portal Runner takes the archetypal Barbie girl and transforms her into a Katniss Everdeen, 3DO's marketing team did everything to hide that and the rest of the game from you. A lot of the magazine ads had Vikki in boobs-n-butt poses. IGN's coverage of the game focused less on the game and more on Playboy's 1999 Playmate of the Year, Heather Kozar, who 3DO hired to dress up as Vikki. The game was not even prominently displayed on 3DO's own website!

I'll let you decide whether Portal Runner the game is empowering or exploitative. When it comes to this game I just ask that you don't judge a book by its cover. Portal Runner is stupid fun and it's definitely worth playing. It took me just shy of eight hours to beat this game and it was a weekend well spent.
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