From the company that brought you Shadowgate and The Uninvited, comes a humorous take on that the wacky United States Civil War. Oh wait ... maybe the war wasn't all that wacky, but this game sure it. Kemco Seika successfully fuses several different genres to create North & South, an incredibly fun two-player action/strategy game for the NES. Who knew that one of this country's darkest hours could be this much fun?
North & South is a competitive two-player game that generally takes place on a giant board game-style map of the eastern United States. You get to choose what side you want to fight for, be it the North (the Union) or the South (the Confederacy). While the game is a two-player game, this is one of the few board games that is still fun again a computer opponent. From there you choose your year and difficulty level and get your first look at the map.
The U.S. map is littered with soldiers on each side, a railroad track and bases to overtake. The object of the game is to build up your army by taking over bases and then beating back the opponent. This style of gameplay should be familiar to anybody who has played a real-time strategy game before. Unlike WarCraft or Command & Conquer, an average round of North & South will only run you a few minutes. It all leads to one of the most compelling (and speediest) strategy games I've ever played.
Thankfully there's more to the game than just moving your soldiers around a giant map. The game gives you a few different things to do as you try to beat back your opponents. The most common mini-game involves both sides fighting it out in a giant battle. In this mode you get to switch between several different characters, including a regular group of soldiers, a guy with a cannon and soldiers on horseback. The object is to defeat everybody on the other side, which means that you will have to plan your attacks carefully and use the right unit types for the job. This is trickier than it sounds and at first it's downright frustrating. But after a few tries you'll get the hang of it and see the beauty in simplicity.
In other mode you attempt to overtake a base, this is where the game turns into a standard 2D platformer. Unfortunately, this is also where the game falls apart. These 2D side scrolling levels feel undercooked; they run too fast and are often too easy. Thankfully you can fiddle with the difficulty a bit and a second player can make things more interesting, but I still wish they could have come up with something better for these pivotal base seizing missions.
The game's graphics are also a mixed bag. The game looks fantastic when it's in cinema mode or showing you the map, but the moment it switches to a battle everybody turns microscopic. The 2D side scrolling missions look a little better, but the animation is too fast and clumsy. This game won't win any awards for the graphics, but they mostly get the job done.
If you had told me that an 8-bit civil war game would become one of my favorite two-player games, I would have thought you were drinking too much moonshine. But it's true, North & South is one of the rare strategy games that is both accessible and immediately fun. I loved the sense of humor and am impressed at how well they handled the real-time strategy aspects of the game. With some more depth, slightly better controls and a new coat of paint, I can see North & South being a popular online game for this new generation. Somebody should really get on that.