Great games are not always the biggest sellers.
But crummy games don't always wind up on the $9.99 sale counter, either.
That's the mystery behind the Army Men series from 3DO. The games are unattractive, play strangely and appear to have been designed for some ancient 8-bit system. Yet they sell like hotcakes and, because the graphics are basically one step above stick figures, 3DO can pump out a new one every few months.
The latest to flicker across my television screen is "Army Men: Green Rogue" for the PlayStation 2.
Here we have the Green Army Advanced Research Division producing something called the Omega Soldier, a supersoldier brewed up in the division's lab and sent out alone to battle the Tan army.
He's been created because, as the lab notes say of regular warfare, "the cost in tears and plastic is just too high."
Omega Soldier is being transported by helicopter in a packing case when the chopper goes down, dumping our petri dish hero into a Tan-infested area. He has to battle his way out through 16 levels, using a nice selection of weapons, including a flame thrower, grenade launcher, rifle and a screen-clearing Bio-Strike.
There are power-ups galore, including health, extra lives and continues. There also are multiple levels of weapon power, topped by "nuclear strike."
There are five bosses to beat. At the end of every level, an awards screen pops up, displaying your performance and noting the medals you won.
The premise is a winner; two armies of plastic soldiers like those you played with as a kid face off over some long-forgotten slight. No blood, and nobody except toy soldiers die.
So why isn't this a better series?
Only 3DO knows the answer to that question. Here's what's wrong with "Army Men: Green Rogue."
Graphics get a D. They are simplistic and boring. The soldiers move like robots, the backgrounds are monotonous and the whole game appears to have been drawn by kindergarten tots with three crayons. It makes no use of the PS2's muscle, and could easily have been a PlayStation title released three or four years ago.
Control also is a D. The game plays like a really old 2D shooter. You have some control over your character, but the game pushes him relentlessly forward, even if you might like to hide behind a rock for a while. If you slip behind a bush or tree you can get stuck there while Tan sharpshooters pick you to pieces. Even worse, shooting in any direction but straight forward requires you to swing around using the right stick. Unfortunately, using the stick for accurate aiming is impossible, so you wind up spinning in a circle, hoping your bullets hit something.
Sound gets a B. This is the best part of "Army Men: Green Rogue," the word "best" being relative. Sound effects are pretty good, and the musical background works well with the game.
Give "Army Men: Green Rogue" a D-plus.
I keep playing Army Men games, hoping that 3DO will at least fix the easy stuff, like aiming and getting stuck behind every obstacle you come across. Although there's plenty going on to keep you busy, the flaws in this title just overwhelm the good parts, and I can't recommend it.
Maybe next time. Hope springs eternal.