Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Developer: Hudson Soft
Release Date: Q2 2009
Most people probably haven't played the Turbografx-16 (also known as the PC Engine in Japan). It didn't have the support that the other consoles did, and while it was popular in Japan, it was far more limited in the rest of the world. Its most well-known game was Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo, arguably the best title in the Castlevania series, but it was never released in the U.S. Perhaps the most popular Turbografx-16 title to be released in the U.S. was Military Madness, a turn-based strategy game that was met with great reception from the gaming press and the few hardcore Turbografx-16 owners. Since only a handful of Turbografx-16 owners have played it, the game has remained a bit of a cult hit. It was later re-released for the PlayStation, but it was released rather late in the system's life cycle with very little fanfare, so many gamers didn't notice. They say that the third time is the charm, and Hudson Soft is giving Military Madness one more shot with the online arcade service release of Military Madness: Nectaris.
Military Madness: Nectaris is set in the distant future, in the year 2187. Earth has become overpopulated, and the government decided that the best way to handle this is to send every criminal to the moon. Shortly thereafter, Earth discovered a rare super-element on the moon and began putting the convicts to work mining it. As one would expect, putting Earth's worst criminals in charge of mining its most precious resource didn't end so well, and the convicts, now calling themselves the Xenos, began a rebellion against the Earth Union Government. Military Madness is not a particularly plot-heavy game, and other than a few brief story snippets at the beginning and end of the 16-mission story, you're not going to get much insight into this future world. It's mostly there as an excuse to have two sides beating the stuffing out of each other in a lunar setting.
Military Madness is a turn-based strategy game that's directly comparable to Advance Wars and other similar titles. Two sides, the Union and the Xenos, take turns advancing along a hex-based field, attempting to defeat their opponents or capture the opponent's home base. Movement and controls are very simple, with the left analog stick controlling your cursor, the A button selecting units and the B button canceling unit movement. Those are really the only buttons you need to play the game. The rest of the controls can be used to adjust the camera or quickly switch between units, but to just play the game, it is a three-button affair.
There is a fairly wide selection of units available to you in Military Madness. These range from the simple, such as tanks and jets, to the more involved, like troop transports. Nothing is ridiculously complex here, and the gameplay is very simple and easy to pick up and learn. Each unit is one of four different movement types: Move and Attack, Move-Attack-Move, Move or Attack, and Static. Move and Attack units can move and then attack, but attacking automatically ends their turn. Move-Attack-Move units can move, attack and then use the rest of their movement hexes. Move or Attack is self-explanatory, as a unit can move or attack but can't do both. Finally, Static units can't move at all, and a troop transport has to pick them up and move them to a location, after which they can't be moved again. Each unit also has a "zone of control" that extends in one hex around it. Units from the opposing side can move into this zone of control but can't move past it, allowing you to block an enemy's forward advance with careful unit positioning. Units also have different strengths and weaknesses. For example, a tank can't attack a flying unit, while anti-air artillery units can't fight back against anything on the ground. Learning when and where to use different kinds of units is essential, especially because you don't have as much leeway with your troops as you do in Advance Wars or similar titles.
Perhaps the most important element in Military Madness are factories because unlike most military strategy games, there is no means of troop production. You don't earn money or build up some sort of pseudo-magical resource to create troops; there are a set number of troops on the battlefield, and you're not going to get more. To keep your troop levels high, you have to capture factories by either occupying empty factories on the field or taking them from an enemy. Factories serve as repair spots for your troops, and any troop placed in a factory will recover his lost hit points. This comes at a risk, though: Once you capture a factory, any troops inside the factory become yours, and vice versa. This includes units in an unoccupied factory or enemy units that were being repaired inside the enemy's factory. A single clever move can completely turn the tide of battle by turning the enemy's forces against him. However, capturing a factory isn't quite that easy. Much like Advance Wars, only infantry units can capture a factory. These units tend to be among the weaker available troops, so you can't just send them forward without a plan and hope that they succeed. Without infantry troops, you can't capture factories, so they're almost certain to be your opponent's first targets if they come within firing range.
It is inevitable that your units and the enemies are going to come into conflict with one another. It's a very familiar combat system indeed, and plenty of popular franchises have used a similar system, so it should be pretty easy for even casual players to grasp. Both sides have an attack and defense score. The attacking player uses his attack rating and the defending player his defense rating, and whoever has the higher score will likely come out ahead in the conflict. Depending on the difference in their scores, one or both sides may take casualties. If you take too many casualties, that unit is destroyed. A unit's scores can be modified by a number of factors, so a unit that is on advantageous terrain, such as attacking from above or from a fortified location, will receive a bonus to its stats.
Units also gain or lose attack and defense depending on their performance in combat. Successful combat will raise a unit's rank, which increases its overall attack and defense capabilities up to twice its original value. A unit that utterly dominates its opponents may gain rank quickly, while one that ekes out victories will be much slower to advance. A unit that suffers casualties will take a penalty to its attack and defense, so even a close win can end up as a net loss for your troops. Fortunately, your units don't fight completely alone, and you can use your fellow soldiers as an advantage. If your units surround a foe with their zone of control auras, that enemy is considered surrounded, which cuts its attack and defense in half. Furthermore, if a friendly unit is directly adjacent to the unit you're attacking and is capable of attacking from that position, it will increase your attack score by one-half OF the friendly unit's attack score. Even better, this bonus doesn't decrease for a wounded squad, and its attack score will be calculated as if the squad had full health. Units on the defensive can also receive a one-half defensive bonus from any adjacent squad, but that bonus is modified for any damage that the friendly unit has taken.
In addition to the single-player mode, Military Madness will also feature an in-depth multiplayer mode, where players will be able to take on each other via their console's online system of choice. Multiplayer mode is a little different in that the time and turns are limited to prevent matches from going on forever. Players only have a certain number of turns to defeat the enemy, and players have a time limit for their actions. Taking too long to perform an action may cause you to run out of time, and running out of time causes you to sacrifice additional turns for the rest of the game. The goal in a multiplayer game is to capture the enemy base, wipe out the enemy or earn a point victory. Points are awarded for capturing factories and defeating enemy squads, and if the game ends without a clear victory, the spoils go to whoever has the most points. The final important addition to multiplayer is the Commander unit, which is customizable and can be upgraded with points. You can choose to upgrade the Commander's combat capabilities or support abilities, thereby giving your army an insanely powerful new ally, incredibly useful support units or some combination of the two. Not all customizations are available to your Commander from the start, and you have to increase your player level in ranked online matches in order to earn everything.
By modern standards, Military Madness: Nectaris is a fairly simple strategy game, but don't mistake "simple" for "bad." The game hasn't change tremendously much from its Turbografx-16 iteration, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The gameplay is swift and simple to learn, and the gameplay is designed to encourage aggressive behavior and clever tactics. Battles can be won and lost in a single turn, and even if it doesn't have the complex mechanics of the original Advance Wars, the title makes up for that with well-balanced and interesting gameplay. Gamers looking for a solid strategy game to play with friends, or those who simply wish to experiencing an oft-missed cult classic, will want to check out Military Madness: Nectaris when it hits the downloadable services of all three consoles this summer.
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