A pure strategy game is a rare thing these days. While strategy/RPGs have become a popular mainstay in the 32-bit era, a title that harkens back to the glory days of strategy such as Nectaris is welcome indeed. Nectaris is a descendent of the TurboGrafx-16 game known as Military Madness in the US, the game that practically began the 16-bit glory days of strategy. After getting over the game's nostalgic value, some will be disappointed that the game hasn't evolved a bit since its 1989 debut.
Being a pure strategy game, Military Madness drops all pretenses and heads straight for the point, after introducing the token back story. The evil Xenon empire has enslaved the Moon, and it's up to an upstart commander, you, to take back the planetoid through pure eradication. To free the besieged piece of rock, you are given control of a handful of futuristic military units and plunked down on the lunar surface to eliminate the enemy forces by either taking control of their base or destroying all of their units. Each unit has its own movement, attack, and defense advantages and disadvantages from which most of the game's strategy is derived. Secondary strategic interplay comes from the moon's varied terrain, which directly affects the vehicles' mobility and defensive ratings. Additionally, factories give you access to additional units and the ability to repair your weakened forces. Abandoning needless detail, Nectaris is surprisingly easy to pick up and play.
Gameplay is turn-based, letting you move all of your units before giving control to your opponent. Units are moved around the honeycombed map with two-buttoned ease. When engaging the enemy, the view changes from the staid overhead map to a more dynamic 3D representation of the battle, in which each battalion's eight units duke it out in a by-the-numbers duel. You can enhance your odds by surrounding the enemy, attacking adjacent to a friendly unit, or situating yourself on more defensive terrain. The game's AI remains almost identical to the original's, leaving it somewhat challenging at times but often predictable. However, with over 100 levels, the game will definitely keep you on your mental toes for some time. One of the game's best features is the inclusion of a two-player mode. The multiplayer game is played exactly like the single-player game, just with a hopefully less-predictable opponent. To sweeten the deal, Nectaris includes a map editor to allow you to create your own pockmarked playing fields once you grow tired of those included with the game. As fans of the original will see, nothing has changed here. The units, save a few name changes, are exactly the same as before, and the only real difference is that of new maps to battle on. Some will laud this; some will be upset that the game hasn't changed a lick since 1989.
Graphically, Nectaris is dated. While the game's maps do look better than the original's, there still is very little new or different about the graphics. The most noticeable graphical change, of course, is the polygonal representations of the battles. These seem largely to be a design afterthought, as they tend to draw out combat far longer than the "line-up-and-shoot" method of yore. Additionally, they're quite dated for today's PlayStation graphics, using almost no animation or effects. The game's sound is also fairly dated but in a less detracting way. For a wargame, the music is surprisingly soothing, adding a contradictory sense of relaxation to the ensuing carnage. Sound effects are stale, but what else can you do with a game that's naturally limited to explosions and assorted vehicular noises?
Nostalgia's in, and it's cool that a new generation will get a chance to play one of the seminal strategy games of the 16-bit era. Despite its dated graphics and identical gameplay, Nectaris is a solid game nonetheless and worth a look from those interested in some mellow blasting or for those that haven't played the first game. With Nectaris out, all we need now is an update of Herzog Zwei.