The nostalgia explosion that's been feeding mobile game development for the last few years shows no sign of dying out--so here's another gem from yesteryear. Cannon Fodder, released by cult British studio Sensible Software in 1993, is the original squad-based shooter, written several years before Conflict: Desert Storm, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six, and the like were even conceived. You control a squad of two to four men, depending on the mission, and your goal is pretty simple: Clear each map of enemy soldiers and blow up their huts so they can't respawn. And forget about any kind of narrative to explain or justify the action--this is pure video game violence, albeit with a playful wink and a tongue firmly ensconced in cheek. It doesn't quite match up to the original version, but it's still an excellent mobile action game.
As soon as Cannon Fodder loads up, it's clear Tower Studios has caught the look of the game perfectly. Hardy veterans will immediately recognize the neat top-down visuals on the Nokia 6600, taking in jungle, snow, and desert terrains, all with winding pathways, river crossings, and plentiful foliage to hide behind. As ever, the teeny soldiers are inappropriately cute considering their status as nonstop killing machines, and their death animations are ridiculously over the top--tiny bodies exploding backward when hit, leaving a trail of crimson viscera. The game's audio cleverly reflects this dichotomy between gore and humor. Sound effects include meaty machine gun blasts and screams of pain when soldiers are shot, but the music is a jaunty reggae number, which is totally incongruous with the action. It's all part of the dark humor that infused the series back in the day.
While the visuals are accurate, the gameplay has suffered in the compression from 16-bit home computer game to Java application. The original, for example, employed a mouse-driven point-and-click interface, but the mobile version is less intuitive, requiring you to rotate the cursor around your soldiers to select the direction before hitting 2 or forward on the joystick to move. This is fine when you're just exploring the environments, but during firefights, having to circle around to face the enemy is frustrating and long-winded, especially when they're happily blasting away at you. Luckily, your troops spray bullets in quite a wide arc--wider still when there are four of them--so you don't have to be ultra-accurate.
What you get with Cannon Fodder, then, is a daft impulse gaming experience--a romp through 10 missions of walking, shooting, picking up grenades and bazookas, and shooting some more. As with today's more simple-minded squad-based games, there's no real tactical advantage to having four rather than just the one soldier, apart from the extra firepower. You can't assign each soldier with waypoints or get them to guard certain areas as you could in the Amiga version. The most you can do is split your squad into two, then take the groups to different ends of the map, so you can flick between them and explore more quickly. Also, there are no hostage missions or civilians to avoid, as there were in the Amiga version. These types of missions added depth to the experience, and their absence hurts this version.
Later missions do introduce more variety, though. You can hop into tanks and gun emplacements to increase your destructive capabilities (although there are fewer of these opportunities than in the original), and a more puzzle-led feel slowly emerges as you begin to plan ahead, working out the correct order in which to take out enemy strongholds. Things get really fraught, too, with enemy numbers and firepower increasing to overwhelming levels--suddenly you'll realize why you start with 15 lives and gain five more for each mission you complete. It's an abattoir out there!
This version of Cannon Fodder is a classic shooter, field-stripped to its absolute basics. You still get the slaughter as you parade around shooting everything that moves (complete with decent gun samples and harrowing cries of pain), but you don't get the tactical depth. Cannon Fodder on the Amiga was a clever game, an ironic but challenging and taxing experience. On mobile, it's had a frontal lobotomy--it's Rambo III when once it was Catch-22. Those who never played the original or its subsequent sequels and console conversions will see this as a well-produced and thoroughly diverting blaster. Fodder veterans will pine for the olden days. Neither, however, should miss the chance to try it.