Military Madness: Nectaris aims to revive its classic predecessor, which was released on the TurboGrafx-16. From my understanding of the game’s original incarnation (which was derived from poring over a few fansites), it seems to do this very well. Military Madness’s concept and gameplay remain generally unchanged from two decades ago. This lack of evolution is bound to be a blessing and a curse—fans of the series will be immediately swimming in nostalgia, and newcomers, such as myself, will be struggling to readjust to strategic gaming conventions that have long been extinct. That’s not to say this struggle isn’t worth going through, but if you’re not a dedicated strategy fan who’s open to something very different from modern strategy games…you’ve been warned. Needless to say, I would not have been able to adjust to the game without the incredibly helpful and easily accessible in-game manual, which I referred to often in the first few battles because there is absolutely no tutorial included.
The first things that threw me for a loop was semantics and my own preconceived notions of what you can do in a strategy game. Seriously. Stick with me. I feel like a haughty jerk saying the semantics and preconceived notions of the strategy genre’s gameplay were my first barrier to entry in Military Madness, but it’s true. For example, factories. I was so excited to capture my first factory because I could only think of all the war machines and units I could start making (because that’s what factories in these games usually do, right?). But no. In Military Madness, factories are glorified storehouses that come pre-loaded with units that can be claimed by the player or the enemy simply by entering the building. You don’t even get a chance to fight the enemy off in that situation!
Also, you can’t attack structures like factories or bases with tanks or artillery (unless the base is housing enemy units). You have to send in an infantry unit to capture it. Even though the game manual said that bases and factories are captured by infantry units, it took a while for me to come to terms with the fact that my tanks couldn’t attack buildings, which goes against what gaming has always taught me (if you have a tank, use it to destroy everything and anything).
But once my brain was able to accept Military Madnesses’s archaic form of strategic gameplay, I began to see the fun that could come from a game like this. But any fun or interest I found in the gameplay was usually overshadowed by minor frustrations I had with the controls and the un-rewarding storyline.
Once I got used to the game, I found the controls tolerable, except for one persistent problem—once you tell your squads to hold fire, you cannot uncancel that action. You have to choose to move or not move a squad before you can tell them to attack. So if you accidentally tap the confirm button one too many times, you can accidentally hold fire and mess up your whole strategy.
The story is very, very barebones. Modern strategy games typically reward the player with a snippet of plot progression in between battles, but Military Madness plows on through with its old-school heart set on monotony. You win one battle on the game’s gray moonscapes and are immediately dumped into the next one.
The 3D makeover the game received looks nice, but, aside from the detailing on the various military squads, is bland overall. The moon makes for a somewhat surprisingly lackluster battlefield, and is mostly a large field of dusty grey that varies the number of craters or mountains every time you change maps.
The sound easily impressed me most. Each squad has its own sounds for moving, shooting, and (if applicable) taking off and landing. The sounds really give you the feeling you’re out in space, too, and is the aspect of the game most responsible for making you feel like you’re on the moon and not in NASA’s testing grounds.
Military Madness has the potential to please its remaining fans, but bringing newbies into the fold might be weighed down by the gravity of the game’s antiquated gameplay. It’s worth buying if you still pine for the Military Madness days of yore, and worth checking out if you’re a tactical aficionado.