When the TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine was released in the late '80s it failed to make the splash that its creators had hoped for. The console sold around 10 million units over the course of its lifetime, with only 2.5 million of those units making their way into US households, so it's no suprise that the original Military Madness [App Store] never became well-known. Hudson has updated the turn-based strategy franchise several times over the years (including XBLA, PSN, and WiiWare ports in 2009), and this newest iPhone adaptation makes MM a series that has seen releases across four decades. The iPhone's touch screen is a natural fit for the IP, so Neo Nectaris just might be the best version of the game yet.
The short cutscene that plays at the beginning of a new campaign in Neo Nectaris would lead you to believe that this is a sequel to the original game, but this is essentially the same tale told all over again. A ragtag band of rebels were defeated by the union forces at their base on the moon in 2089, and peace was abundant. That was the first game. Now, however, in 2099, that same group of rebels is developing weapons on (you guessed it!) the moon. Thus, you have been sent in with a special forces batallion to clear out the rebels. Despite the sloppily rehashed story, the 48 missions in this sequel are actually all-new, so old-timers need not worry about playing through the same old 32 levels from the first game.
Military Madness's similarities to Nintendo's Advance Wars series become quite obvious upon setting foot upon the battlefield. The mix of long-range units like rockets, mid-range units like artillery squads, and numerous close-combat tanks are nearly identical to the units in Advance Wars, and the games share a quite similar terrain advantage system. The first version of Advance Wars was released as Famicom Wars in Japan a year prior to the debut of Military Madness, so I'm not quite sure which series influenced which, but there are enough differences to make them unique in their own rights.
The most noticeable difference between MM and quite a few other strategy games is its use of a hexagonal grid system. This system can be confusing, initially, especially for players who've gotten used to quadrilateral-based grid systems in their turn-based strategy games. The spaces adjacent to units fall within that particular unit's "zone of control," which prevents enemy soldiers/tanks from progressing through the areas surrounding it and allows players to strategically set up roadblocks to force the enemy into a position that could potentially turn the tide of a battle in their favor.
Another feature of the game is the "stars" system, which rewards individual units with increased stats for every encounter they fight in. The ability to heal these units after a single turn spent in a factory (which cannot produce new units and must usually be captured by an infantryman) creates an incentive to retreat with units who've seen a lot of fighting to allow them to come back fully powered and enhanced later in a battle.
In-game tutorials and a unit description screen that can be pulled up at any point during battles makes the game extremely user-friendly, and I checked out all the old tutorials despite my long history with the franchise as a quick refresher. I was a bit disappointed that Neo Nectaris doesn't use 3D visuals like the recent WiiWare, XBLA, and PSN release, but the iPhone port does feature an updated soundtrack that sounds great and fits the game well.
There are a few issues that keep Neo Nectaris from greatness, most notably the omission of any multiplayer- local or online. Another problem I had with the game might sound a bit more nitpicky, but it's niggling: there is no real animation for unit movement; soldiers and tanks just "blink" their way over to their destination when moving. This is a problem that usually doesn't afflict modern games, so it could (and really should) be fixed in an update.
Military Madness: Neo Nectaris isn't much of a departure from the now 20-plus-year-old original game, but it holds up extremely well, especially with the new touch controls. Multiplayer seems too crucial to exclude, so I desperately hope that Hudson decides to support the game with the addition of those options in the future, but I'll admit that the single player campaign is so much fun that it can keep most people happy for now. If you've ever played Military Madness before, I probably don't need to convince you to check out this version, but for newcomers to the franchise I cannot stress enough how much pure fun this game is.
App Store Link: Military Madness: Neo Nectaris, $4.99