The most amazing thing about Military Madness is its popularity. The underground hit is known around elite gaming circles even though it has only appeared on a handful of consoles and handhelds in its ten year lifespan. The hex-based strategy game first appeared on the TurboGrafx 16 and is mostly known for being one of the few of its kind that didn’t completely suck. The turn-based strategy offered gamers a chance to command a legion of troops on a simple battlefield, and it was exciting back then. Unfortunately the game has not aged well and Hudson seems they want to rely solely on nostalgia for the latest XBLA port. What we get is spruced up visuals and the same tired gameplay that wore out its welcome long ago.
For anyone new to the series Nectaris is considered one of the granddaddies of the modern strategy genre. There are two sides to the conflict, and each turn you get to position your pieces to try and obtain a vantage point on your enemy. The object is simple: either destroy all your opponents units, or capture their base as your own. The terrain also plays a vital role in the action as various areas will give you defense boosts among other advantages. If you have ever played Advanced Wars you can get a pretty good idea of how Nectaris plays out, just don’t expect the same kind of depth and unit variety as of that found in Nintendo’s strategy title.
The campaign mode is long. That is the best way to describe it because you will be surprised just how many missions are contained within. Unfortunately the length is also a big deterrent as the missions quickly become tedious and oftentimes overly challenging. Did I mention the game completely lacks a solid tutorial for newcomers? Needless to say if you have not mastered the hex-battle mechanics from previous games, you will be left scratching your head from the outset. I jumped right in because of my previous experience, but first-time players will be frustrated that you have to select a “How to Play” option from the menu and begin reading. That is how everyone wants to start playing a videogame, by reading.
I am almost at a lack of anything to say simply because Military Madness really doesn’t bring anything new to the table, or much of anything to be exact. The single player game feels drab and monotonous, thanks mostly in part to a complete lack of story. The maps are miniscule when compared to other games, and the action is just plain boring at times. I found myself hoping the next level would be the last as I trudged through the single-player mode. From the minute you start playing, you feel like the game should have stayed buried in the past as it does not hold up well by today’s standards.
Visually the game looks decent enough considering its archaic gameplay. Units are nicely animated and the menu system is simple and friendly enough. The limited color scheme does hurt the appeal a little considering how many levels you will go through, and how many of them look nearly identical to the previous one. Sounds are minimal leaving atmospheric presentation to a minimum. For XBLA it isn’t a terribly disappointing experience, but when compared to others on the service it pales in comparison.
Surprisingly as monotonous as the single player mode is, the newly added online portion seems to be where the game shines. Here you can compete with up to three of your friends in various modes that actually manage to be entertaining. I think the reason is the sheer unpredictability of playing against three human players that easily outshine the predictable computer AI. There are even more powerful units available in this mode that players can customize before each skirmish. The lag is hardly every relevant and finding matches is quick, when there is someone online playing the game.
Military Madness: Nectaris is not a bad game, just one that is well behind the times. I appreciate nostalgia as much as the next guy, but when your entire game relies on people still holding on to the memory of the TurboGrafx 16 you are destined for disappointment. I had a good time with the game, but I could not recommend it for anyone outside the hardcore fans of the series. The addition of online multi-player makes it worth it for them, but for everyone else this will just feel like a truly dated strategy game on a service that already has some solid offerings.