Friday, November 26, 2010

Of Import: Neo Nectaris

One of my favorite games on the American TurboGrafx-16 was the turn-based strategy title, Military Madness.  It brought a modern, fast-paced interface and cool-for-the-era animated sci-fi graphics to the kind of hex-based military games long popular among pencil-and-paper wargamers.  The game was known as Nectaris in Japan, and it spawned a number of remakes on various platforms over the years.  But Hudson Soft's only true sequel to the PC Engine original, Neo Nectaris, never saw release in the US, and it's high time I gave this Super CD-ROM game a spin.

The game conveniently includes the complete, original HuCard Nectaris, under the Nectaris.1 item on the main menu.  There's also a handy Sound Mode that allows us to listen to the PSG (chiptune) and CD audio music tracks from both games.

Beyond the format, it must be said that Neo Nectaris is more of an expansion pack than a full-blown sequel.  It's very similar to the original game -- the units, movement rules and general approach are almost identical, though there are several new unit types.  Considering that five years passed between the first and second game, I was surprised to see that even the level maps are very similar -- that is, the maps are new, but the strategic considerations "read" and progress in much the same way.  Still, there are plenty of new and tactically interesting challenges ahead -- for example, on the third level ("DOLLAR"), one side is equipped only with infantry units, while the other has only long-range missiles, making for a close battle pitting intrepid troopers against sheer firepower.

There are, of course, some cosmetic changes afforded by the expanded CD media capacity.  The game opens with a brief but evocative animated introduction that sets the stage nicely:

The inter-level progress map screen is a little fancier now, though the map itself is almost identical, save a little additional texture detail added to the landscape image:

Neo Nectaris is not difficult to play with limited knowledge of Japanese, at least for anyone who's spent time with Military Madness in English, though the screen layout is a little bit different here.  Most screen displays are partially in English, and the four most-frequently-used menu options are ordered the same way as in the original - move, fight, inspect, and end turn.  It's not hard to jump in and play, but for serious players, I should mention that details on the subtle changes to familiar units and the newly-introduced unit types can be found at the excellent BASE NECTARIS website.

The new CD-audio music tracks sound nice enough, but the classic themes have been replaced with new tunes altogether, and I was really hoping for orchestrated renditions of the original tunes.  Still, the themes do change to reflect players' current status, so that familiar emotional driver hasn't been lost in the process.

The battles are rendered in a new, isometric perspective, though oddly some units are less animated than they were in the original game -- I was disappointed that the "Charlie" infantry units no longer run around in confusion as the long-range missiles fly in.  Still, the newly detailed backgrounds look quite nice:

Oddly, the animated factory invasion victory sequences are missing from Neo Nectaris.  All we get is a congratulatory screen of text:

Followed by the, er, Conbat Result Graph:

Even though much of the game feels a bit too familiar, it's nice to see that the challenge has been ramped up a bit -- even on levels 2 and 3, I occasionally found myself facing the very nicely-drawn defeat screen, my blue forces lying broken, but never rusting in the oxygen-free lunar atmosphere:

Then it was back into the fray, fighting for... whatever it is we've been fighting for all these years.  Oh, yes.  Resources!  On the MOON!

Die-hard Military Madness fans will find Neo Nectaris very worthwhile, though the Western Playstation version of the game and the recent downloadable remakes are easier to get hold of.  Fans may be able to pick up a copy here or here, depending on available supply:

Neo Nectaris PC-Engine SCD

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