['A Game Collector's Melancholy' is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. Nintendo’s Wii has been on the shelves for a several weeks and interest in its Virtual Console feature is growing. Now that Military Madness has just been released for the Virtual Console, let’s take a look at Hudsonsoft’s strategy gem.]

Lunacy

military_madness_boxart.jpgNEC’s TurboGrafx-16 (known as PC Engine in Japan) has a special place in the hearts of collectors. Brought to America in late 1989, the TurboGrafx-16 was the underdog of the fourth generation consoles and struggled for life against the much more popular Genesis and Super Nintendo systems. Saddled with a complex variety of models, formats, and peripherals and a limited catalog of primarily Japanese games that most Americans were unfamiliar with, the console limped along for a few years before being consigned to the dustbin of history. Sad, but not too many tears were shed. However, all of the qualities that worked against TurboGrafx-16 in the marketplace make it irresistible to collectors and one of the key titles for TG-16 enthusiasts would have to be Military Madness.

Developed by Hudsonsoft and released in 1989, the game carries the somewhat more dignified title of Nectaris in Japan. Its narrative set up is good guys versus bad guys, slugging it out in a science fiction war on the surface of the moon.

At its core, Military Madness’ turn-based strategy is very basic. Each unit on the play field has an attack strength, defense strength and a movement allowance. In combat these factors are modified by terrain and encirclement. Over time, attack and defense erode as the unit suffers losses, although this is offset somewhat by the hardening of experience. Also, some unit types are weaker or stronger against other unit types to keep things interesting.

The game can be seen as a refinement of a wargame formula first articulated in 1986 by System Soft’s Daisenryaku and later employed by games such as Panzer General and Iron Storm. But it is the elegance and simplicity of Military Madness that sets it apart from other similar titles. While the game’s mechanics are easy to understand, better put a pot of coffee on because mastery will take some time.

Military Madness is also blessed with an excellent AI opponent. Aggressive but good at playing defense when necessary, the AI is flexible and surprisingly life-like. As the game’s minor-key soundtrack turns quietly in the background, it is easy to imagine yourself facing off against a devious cybernetic mind, cool and subtle. Death comes quickly in the hard vacuum of Mare Nectaris.

Monomania

military_madness01.jpgSearch for Military Madness online and expect to pay about $35 for a complete copy. Games for the PC Engine/TG-16 came on a format called a HuCard which was also called a TurboChip in America. It was a chip embedded in a thick, plastic card about the size of a credit card. The cards were stored in custom CD jewel cases with booklet inserts and then packaged in cardboard boxes about half the size of the old CD long boxes. Although the cards are mostly indestructible, all the extra packaging has a tendency to go missing, so pay a lot less if you are buying just the card by itself.

Over the years there have been a number of versions of the the original Nectaris. In 1992 it was ported to the NEC-98 and Sharp X68000, two popular Japanese micro computers.

A sequel called Neo Nectaris was released on CD-ROM for the PC Engine DUO in 1994. In Neo Nectaris battles were fought across a martian landscape with a variety of new units. The game was further enhanced with detailed animations and a CD audio soundtrack. Unfortunately, the TG-16 was pretty much dead at that point so it never received an American release.

A PC DOS version was created by a German developer in 1995. It was unusual in that it was complete remake done under license from Hudsonsoft. A Windows 95 port of the PC Engine version was released for Japan in 1997.

Japan also got a Gameboy version in 1998. Nectaris GB included a map editor and a feature called GB KISS that enabled data to be swapped between games via infrared ports built into the cartridges. It also took advantage of Hudson’s GB KISS LINK peripheral, an infrared modem that plugged into a personal computer, allowing game data to be shared from the cartridge and a hard drive.

In 1998 Jaleco published a Playstation remake of Military Madness for America called Nectaris: Military Madness. It was largely the same game as the original, padded out with an abundance of extra maps and a map editor. The graphics were upgraded in places and polygon battle scenes were added. Visually, the end result was not entirely successful. The maps had a blurry, smoothed over look and the battle scenes dragged an already time consuming game down to a snail’s pace. However, the moody music was intact and the underlying game play was tuned to perfection.

Jaleco packaged Nectaris: Military Madness behind the most generic cover art that I have ever seen and it is unlikely that anyone who wasn’t already familiar with game even bothered to pick it up. As a result, online auctions are probably the best place to find it for around $20.

In addition to the Wii version, Military Madness can also be found on mobile phones. A neat idea, but completing a single map can sometimes take hours of concentration, making the game seem ill-suited for quick, on-the-go play.

Involutional Melancholia

military_madness07.jpgYears ago I had an opportunity to buy a TurboDuo system, still in the box, along with Military Madness, Vasteel, and Dracula X. The owner was going to let the whole thing go for fifty dollars. I passed.

I don’t know why. I probably wanted to spend my money on Descent for the Playstation, thinking that it looked “cool” or something. Oh well. I am beginning to realize that collecting is really about the empty spaces on a shelf, the things that are lost and gone.

My collection can never be complete. I can only attempt to fill varying degrees of absence. It makes me a bit sad when I think about it, but then I remember games are fun to play! So, with Military Madness now available for only 600 Wii points, I won’t be letting this one slip away again.

[Jeffrey Fleming is a Bay Area book dealer and writer. More of his writing on video games can be found at Tales of the Future.]

Images: (C) 2006 Hudsonsoft, Inc. All Rights Reserved