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Military Madness: Nectaris

Developer: Backbone | Publisher: Hudson Entertainment
Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 09/30/09 | Genre: Strategy

Like other resurrected classics on the Xbox Live Arcade the Military Madness series goes a long ways back. The franchise debuted on the TurboGrafx-16 in 1989 and later made its way to the PSX in 1998.

Now if those little tidbits of info didn’t sound familiar then you probably won’t get much out of Military Madness. That’s not to say the game’s design doesn’t hold up. It is indeed a solid example of hexic turn-based strategy, but doesn’t have the presentation to lure any newcomers to the genre.

The story is set in the year 2156, when the Earth has gotten so crowded that criminals have to be shipped off to the moon. Eventually a wealth of mineral deposits are discovered there and guess who gets to do the hard labour for it, the prisoners.

Refusing to work under harsh conditions, the penal colonies of the moon rebel against Earth and hatch a plan to destroy the planet that banished them. This is where the union forces (you) have to step in and quell the uprising.

Aside from that introduction there really isn’t much of a story to go on, which hurts ability for one to get sucked into the game.

The length of the campaign is a respectable 17 stages, and in the slow-paced world of hexic RTS games that means a lot of play time. The core gameplay consists of each player taking turns moving units around a map. The objective is to either eliminate all enemy units or to invade the other player’s base. This can be done with the smallest infantry unit so it’s important to play wisely.

Attacking an enemy squad is as simple as moving up to them and hitting the A button, but just charging in is suicide. On this honey-comb shaped battlefield having friendly units set up next to each other is essential as it builds their strength and odds of survival.

When an attack does occur the game changes into a cinematic view of the battlefield where armies are shown fighting it out. Who comes out on top is determined by a number of stats including which side has the higher ground, a superior battle ranking and support units nearby. These encounters can take a while because a unit is usually never finished off after its first battle.

Watching the fight gets boring really fast. Each encounter brings out the same choreography with both factions lining up, firing their weapons at the same time and then slumping over when defeated. After a while I was hitting the skip button every time I started a battle.

Military Madness is definitely all about the strategy. There’s no resource management, and unit production only takes place in a couple of factories on each map. It’s pretty limited though since each factory can only make a few units, and there can only be one made on each turn.

The player is given a good variety of death dealing machines to command, each with their own role. There’s the standard tank infantry and aerial units but also transport vehicles to get other allies across the battlefield faster. Other units such as the Hadrian and purely meant for artillery strikes and are helpless at close range. All together there are about 20 different units.

Console RTS games aren’t well known for their great control schemes, but for a game as simple as Military Madness I would have expected them to be a bit better.

The layout is fine, with the A button used to issue commands and B to cancel them, but moving the cursor around the map has to be done with the D-Pad. On a hexic based map constantly having to hit the pad to move gets tiring, and there’s no option to just use the analog stick. The camera doesn’t rotate 360 degrees either which seemed strange given that this is a 3D game.

While most of Military Madness is pretty basic the multiplayer is surprisingly beefy. Up to four players can join one game either locally or online on five different maps, but the best part is the in-depth perk system. Yes aside from regenerative health multiplayer perks seem to be the most staple feature in video games at the moment.

These perks can be used to customize the multiplayer mode’s exclusive unit, the commander. Upgrades include the ability to cross over chasms, greater attack ranges and a long list of other tweaks. It’s a nice offering; in fact it puzzles me as to why the designers couldn’t spread some of this depth around in the single player.

As XBLA games have evolved over the years it’s becoming common to expect more from them graphically. Military Madness is not going to be pushing the envelope. While it does have a kind of animated feel going the explosions look pretty lame as do the environments. We are fighting on the moon so prepare for the color gray.

The war is just as boring to listen to as it is to watch. There’s no dialogue from units at all during gameplay and the actual battles are made up of very isolated bumps of sound. Military Madness’ soundtrack is actually a different story and the strange sci-fi techo mix is pretty cool.

For those into a game like Advance Wars, Military Madness will probably suffice. Especially at the price of 800 MS points. It follows the core pillars of the genre well with balanced gameplay but doesn’t reach for anything higher.

The game doesn’t make a real grab for the player’s attention either. Interstellar warfare has never looked so boring, and the game in general just feels unwelcoming. The lack of a tutorial mode to show how basic strategy works is a sure-fire way to scare off newbies. Anyone already interested in the genre should give Military Madness’ demo a try, but those who have never even heard of a hexic based strategy game should save the memory space.

Real Life Ratings
Despite being set around a warzone Military Madness is pretty light on the violence. There are images of soldiers shooting at one another but because of the simple graphics it’s pretty tame. I can’t really imagine many kids having the patience for a game like Military Madness, but at least there’s no need to worry about content.

By Mark Melnychuk - 10/28/09
ESRB Details: This is a strategy game where the majority of action takes place on a hexagonal grid overlaying the moon. Players deploy futuristic soldiers, tanks, and air forces across the Moon grid and wait for a turn-based 'attack animation.' The overhead view then switches to a zoomed-in perspective of ground forces shooting rockets, guns, or lasers at the opposing force. When struck, enemies flash in a yellow light burst and fall to the ground.
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Screenshots for Military Madness: Nectaris

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