While 1989 was a fairly early time for strategy games on home consoles, one of the first can still play like one of the best. Herzog Zwei may not have been the most famous game on the Genesis, but it definitively leaves a lasting impression among real-time strategy game fans.
For gamers unfamiliar with the genre, it involves the management of many individual units in real time -- not the direct control of these units, only basic orders, such as "go here" or "attack this." While most modern RTS games use the mouse as a selector for the individual units, Herzog Zwei uses the player's in-game avatar, the transformable robot, to pick up units, give them orders individually, and to refuel and re-arm them at outposts. This style of game may not play as efficiently with a joystick as it does with mouse control, but Herzog Zwei still gets the job done and leads to some fantastic strategic thinking within the game.
Each player starts out with a main base that has a limited number of hit points, and a transformable fighter that can magically re-form at your base. Ownership of outposts around the map generates money, which can be used to purchase military units like tanks and boats. Both the red and blue armies can purchase the same units and have balanced locations on the map. Players fight for the goal of destroying the enemy base.
Here is the twist: Your transformable anime fighter is the most powerful unit in the game, but it can't damage the enemy base. To attack the enemy base, you need to buy military units. To buy military units, you need a steady income of cash from outposts and your fighter must be functional at the time. When the fighter is destroyed, it takes a few precious seconds to be rebuilt at the home base.
These details force players to ask themselves a variety of questions. Is it worth the risk to get an outpost so close to the enemy fortress, or is it easier just to snag the closest outposts and to slowly encroach on the base? Should you risk the time it'll take to rebuild your fighter and try to wipe out some of the enemy base defenses with your robot, or just launch a team of tanks into the base and pull back to build more?
In the two-player split-screen game, the fighting is fast and furious, and the fact that the home base's hit points can never be repaired keeps the endgame from dragging on. The single-player game is a little repetitive since each map must be beaten four times, but at least there are four levels of difficulty to choose from and they can be chosen in any order.
There are also two endings to the single-player campaign since players can choose to play as the red fighter or the blue one. Regardless of color selection, the single-player endings are completely ridiculous since there are absolutely no story elements anywhere in the entire game but in the final screens and the manual. To read these diatribes about some guy named Ludwig feels more like you accidentally sat on the remote control and changed the channel than it being part of the game itself, or possibly as if you passed out while playing one game and woke up to see the ending of another.
Even worse, some of the game was never translated into English. Sure you can see a picture to find out that Waldung is actually a muddy swamp, but doesn't it just sound like shorthand for "Look at the bunch of dung I found on the wall?" The initials for ammo and fighter hit-points definitely aren't English, and the title Herzog Zwei is German for "Commander Two," possibly a reference to whoever wins the robot conflict in the game. Why did TechnoSoft include all the German language? Is the military theme a WWII reference? Rather than just making the game in English and therefore easier for the target American market to understand, the game's controls were translated in the manual, and that's a cheap fix only one step above no fix at all.
Once you get past its minor problems, however, the game is a classic that's replayable and enjoyable years after its release. This is a landmark RTS title that no strategy fan should be without, and it's a fine cure for those days when you want a different kind of RTS to control.
Graphics: The graphics were a little on the small side, but they were still nice for this original console RTS game.
Sound: The sound effects were bleeps and bloops but the music is easily among the best of the best soundtracks for any game if you like to hear melodic metal with synthesizers.
Enjoyment: The two player strategy here is so fantastic one can scarcely imagine it took so long for RTS games to become popular. It would have been nice if they made it easier to give orders to multiple troops simultaneously.
Replay Value: The two player game could keep you occupied for decades.
People who downloaded Herzog Zwei have also downloaded:
Heroes of Might and Magic 4, Homeworld 2, Hammer of The Gods, Heroes Chronicles, Gary Grigsby's Pacific War (2000), History Line: 1914-1918 (a.k.a. Great War: 1914-1918, The), Gary Grigsby's War in Russia, Heroes of Might and Magic II (Deluxe Edition)
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