Despite the fact that the TurboGrafx-16 didn't make as big of a splash in the U.S. as it did in Japan, it was home to some games that were deeply loved by its fan base. Ask any of them what their favorite games would be, and you're bound to get a few varied answers. Any of the Bonk games will surely be mentioned, as it was not only the mascot for the system but also provided some good platforming. Multiplayer fans always cite Bomberman '93 or Bomberman '94 as being games that had a heavy influence on how something so simple could eat away at so many hours. Shooting fans look for Gates of Thunder and its sequels to represent how good the system can get while horror fans love to champion Splatterhouse.
Strategy fans, however underrepresented as they were at the time, hold up Military Madness as their game of preference for the console. The hex-based combat was accessible to those who didn't necessarily want to wade through various statistics and micromanagement tasks to defeat the enemy. Close to 20 years have passed since the game's initial release, and an ill-received PSOne release notwithstanding, the game has come out of retirement to land on PSN and XBLA, hoping to capture the hearts and minds of gamers once again. While the coat of paint may be different, Military Madness: Nectaris plays just like it did all those years ago.
As most futuristic stories go, mankind has started to overpopulate the Earth. With a resource and space crisis imminent, the solution to the problem is to put all of Earth's criminals on the moon to form their own colony. When it was discovered that there is a rich mineral deposit on the moon, though, the governments of the Earth force the moon colonists to mine it and send the resources back home. Tired of their treatment and forced labor, the colonists rose up against the Earth and have threatened to destroy the planet they once called home. As the Earth forces, your mission is to suppress the uprising and stop the colonists before the Earth is no more.
Nectaris plays out just like its predecessor did so many years ago. Each of the 31 levels gives both sides a certain number of units to play with and a set amount of turns with which to decimate enemy forces and capture available enemy outposts. Users can move each of their units — such as tanks, infantry and mobile artillery guns — once per turn. Movement and attack ranges are governed by a set of hexagons on the board only visible during each phase. When attacking enemy forces, the game switches to a battle mode that displays each unit's attack and defensive statistics. Any nearby allied forces increase a unit's attack power, while terrain elevation from mountains and craters can fluctuate defense ratings in either direction. Once those are all factored in, both sides attack simultaneously. Units left alive after the skirmish may have their numbers reduced but cease movement for the turn, while dead units simply cease to exist. Once one player is done moving and attacking with his units, his turn ends and the opponent does the same thing. In short, the bulk of the gameplay is the basis for all modern turn-based strategy games.
That last point becomes a major factor into whether or not you'll enjoy Nectaris. Unlike recent turn-based strategy titles like Panzer General: Allied Assault, this one doesn't ask you to pay attention to modifiers in combat or figure out if the enemy units are equivalent to the unit types you have on the field. There are no other modern trappings present in the game, and it doesn't introduce any new mechanics outside of what is presented in the first three missions. You simply have to work with the given units, pay attention to elevation and unit type, and hope for the best in combat. Those who are looking for more items to deal with or a more complicated game will immediately be turned off by this title and look for meatier fare, despite the challenge presented by the enemy AI. Newcomers to the genre, however, will appreciate the game's simplicity, even if their strategy is simply to surround the enemy and overpower them. If anything, the title serves as a gateway game to the strategy genre, thanks to its low learning curve; it does a good job of getting people interested enough to explore what else the genre can offer.
Developers of modern strategy games often make it a point to add a multiplayer component to lengthen the life of their titles. Both local play and online play in Nectaris are available for up to four players and follow the same rules as the single-player game. Only skirmish matches are available, but aspects such as total given time and number of available moves before the game ends can all be customized, as well as turning team play off and on. As expected, local play is quite fun as long as you have friends who are also into turn-based strategy. As for online play, no one was available to challenge during the review period, but it would be difficult to imagine it being anything but smooth, considering the nature of the game.
The graphics aren't anything to really fawn over. Part of the blame has to go to the environments, though it isn't the fault of the artists. After all, it is the moon, and there are only so many ways you can make a gray celestial being look any good. In contrast, the units on the field look great from overhead, with their bright colors and shapes making them distinct and easily identifiable among all of the other units. When engaged in battle, those same units look fine but don't exactly sport enough fine details to be called cutting edge. At least their pre-battle movements look good, as do the explosions and remaining debris once units are defeated.
Like the looks, Nectaris' sounds are also serviceable. Unit movement, whether it be jetpack-wearing soldiers or tanks, sounds convincing enough as they traverse the lunar surface. Their gunfire also sounds fine, though there isn't much of a distinction between artillery shots and explosions in the game. The music is the standard military fare you would hear in other strategy games. Battle themes are short, and there's nothing really outstanding about the music on the overhead map either. Without any sort of voices to rely on, the best thing that can be said for the overall sound is that it doesn't make you want to change the volume of your speakers in either direction.
The simplicity of Military Madness: Nectaris may be a turn-off for seasoned veterans of the strategy genre, but it proves to be a great game for those who are just starting to discover this game style. The difficulty level and lengthy campaign are just enough to offset the game's plain graphics and unremarkable sound. For those who are looking for a strategy game that doesn't boggle your mind with statistics or game-modifying items, Nectaris is perfect for you. Anyone who's looking for more from the remake will be in for a shock.
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