Review: Military Madness: Nectaris

First released in Japan for the Turbografx-16 in 1989, Military Madness was a breakthrough in console strategy gaming. The game was a huge hit in the land of the rising sun, but sales in the U.S. (much like sales of the Turbografx-16 itself) were not too hot. Years later, after another failed release of Military Madness for the Playstation, titled Nectaris, Nintendo released a a little game that they called Advance Wars. In 2006, Military Madness was released on the Wii's Virtual Console, and I may have been the only person that bought it. As a fan of Advance Wars, I soon realized that Nintendo's series was not simply inspired by this old, worn out Hudson Soft strategy game for a system that I had never heard of, but that Advance Wars is a shameless carbon copy of MM (save a few key differences). This new release of MM is, at its core, the exact same game that was released on the TG-16 20 years ago, albeit with much prettier 3D graphics, an affordable $10 price tag, and online capabilities.

If you've played Advance Wars, you've pretty much already played Military Madness. Everything from the units (MM has "Killroys," AW has "mechs"; MM has the "Hadrian," AW has the artillery) to the attack animations that pop up when two different groups of units engage in battle is nearly identical between the two series. One difference is that MM has a hexagonal grid that makes up the playing field, unlike AW's traditional square-based grid. Units in MM also have a "sphere of control," or the ability to stop the movement of any enemy troops through the six spaces surrounding them. This allows for tactical blockades and advancement techniques unlike those found in AW. Another difference between the two series is that the factories found across each map in MM cannot create new units, and come with a set number and type of units that can be captured, whereas factories in AW can produce endless units, often causing rocket-spamfests to occur.

Almost every difference between Advance Wars and Military Madness is also an advantage that MM has over its younger copycat. Unlike with AW, MM matches are always quick, and several strategic features like the "sphere of control" add an extra layer of thought into every move. The one big flaw in the new version of Military Madness and all versions of the game is that the environments are dull, lifeless, and repetitive. The game takes place in the midst of a war on the moon, so the only backdrop for every battle is the same gray old moon dust. The new 3D graphics in this version of MM: Nectaris make things a lot more bearable to look at, but some more colorful environments would be a great addition to the series.

Standard leaderboards and multiplayer modes are included in this package, along with both a normal-difficulty campaign and an advanced version. The game has no required tutorial, but features an extremely helpful manual and unit database in the Help and Options section of the main menu. Online matches are extremely easy to find, and a ranking system is in place to reward those who go into the ranked online multiplayer matches for the long haul.

The story (if you could call it that) isn't worth mentioning, and the environments are admittedly ugly, but the rest of Military Madness does everything that a turn-based strategy game should. The game could very easily have been released as a full-priced handheld game, so to have it available on all three download services for only $10 is a great deal. If you're a fan of Advance Wars, or any strategy game that takes a bit of a time investment to learn, Military Madness: Nectaris will make you wonder, "why isn't this series selling millions?"

Players:1-2 players

Platform(s):Xbox Live Arcade (reviewed), PSN, WiiWare

Developer:Backbone Entertainment

Publisher:Hudson Soft