5 September 2007
Behold one of the greatest strategy games of the era and a reason unto itself to own a TurboGrafx-16. The game commences with something special: an actual story. The year is 2089 and Earth's nations are locked in a bitter struggle for natural resources, and they have turned their attention to exploiting the moon. The evil Axis powers captured most of the moon's territory, seizing its riches. You must lead the counterattack to stop the Axis powers from launching their ultimate Earth-destroying weapon, the Supreme Atomic Missile, or "S.A.M." Seriously.
Despite "madness" being part of the title, the game proceeds in an orderly turn-based fashion, giving you unlimited time to strategize. You control a variety of military units, starting off with Charlie (infantry) and Bison (tanks). In later levels, you'll also get to control artillery, transport vehicles, and aircraft. In total, there are over 20 different units. Each one has its own personality, strengths, and weaknesses.
You plot the course for your units across a hexagon-based map. Select a unit to move, and all the ground you can possibly cover in a turn gets outlined in white hexagons. Terrain factors in, too. Roads are the fastest way to travel, and Bison can't move across mountains like Charlie can.
When two units clash, the screen shifts to an action sequence, although the outcome of battles is automatically determined and you're forced to watch the carnage unfold from the sidelines. However, there are a variety of factors that affect the outcome, such as the stats of units, quantity of units, terrain, and even a unit's battle experience (measured in stars). Surviving battles and annihilating your enemy bestows additional stars to your troops.
After completing each stage, you get to see the pace of death and destruction mapped out in graphical format. It's kind of interesting, because it helps highlight the turning points of the battle.
The graphics are simple but effective. You won't be ogling the fantastic colors or carefully rendered sprites, but for this sort of game it's fine if clarity carries the day. The beauty here is in the strategy and ever growing and more complex levels, not the visuals.
Surprisingly, this game actually has a pretty decent soundtrack. During your turn, the beats are anxious and excited, like you're in a real battle. Then when your opponent makes his moves, the music switches to something slower and more mellow, like the enemy is pondering where to strike you. There's even a catchy new score when you gain an overwhelming advantage. Accenting the music are quality effects for gunfire and explosions.
While the ability to move the cursor precisely from hexagon to hexagon is not an amazing feat, creating such an informative and intuitive interface is a tremendous accomplishment. Despite the depth of the gameplay, you'll be giving orders and wreaking havoc within seconds of playing for the first time.
This is one of those times where the quality of gameplay compensates for less impressive graphics and sound, and the overall score gets a significant lift. On top of the fantastic gameplay, Military Madness is a really long game. There are 16 normal levels, then another 16 after that—the original levels reworked with different units so that your opponent is much stronger. Thanks to the password feature, and—better yet—the ability to go head-to-head against a human opponent, Military Madness has tremendous replay value in addition to being one of the richest and most cerebral games available for the TG-16.
Trust in the Christ Bucci review: