Herzog Zwei is an unsung classic from the Sega Genesis library and it's finally available for Switch in a brand new Sega Ages release.
As a huge fan of the Thunder Force franchise, I was surprised to see that Herzog Zwei was created by the same developers as I've never actually heard of it before. What's even more surprising is how ahead of its time it was considering it originally released back in '89 and laid the foundation for many real-time strategy and MOBA games. That's impressive stuff so it makes you wonder why more gamers aren't aware of this genre-defining classic. Anyway, you play as General Ludwig who's on a mission to stop the evil imperialist General Balsaga from taking over his country of Aria. This story simply supplies a background for the combat as it doesn't really go anywhere beyond its premise. In fact, the battles could be merely seen as Red versus Blue because it really doesn't make a difference.
The basic gameplay formula of Herzog Zwei has you and your opponent start at opposite corners of a map at your respective home bases and 9 neutral bases scattered across the map can be claimed by either side. Doing so will provide boosts like expand your reach and increase your revenue. You use this cash to purchase units which you place wherever you wish. These range from infantry that can occupy bases to tanks and stationary missile launchers to supply vehicles. Meanwhile, you control a jet fighter that can transform into a mech which you'll have to do so you can shoot at both air and ground-based foes. You and your units have limited health, ammo, and energy so charging at bases is a must and this constant juggling makes for one frantic formula. As a matter of fact, I actually found myself gripping the controller tightly while on the edge of my seat as battles progressed and became exceptionally tense.
Packing all of these mechanics into a Sega Genesis game means that the controls and menus take a very long time to get to grips with but thankfully, there's a comprehensive tutorial that does an excellent job of teaching you the basics as well as explaining various strategies. These are hosted by a silly commander who sometimes makes fun of Herzog Zwei's more dated aspects as well as mentions an absurd amount of references to other Sega games which made me laugh out loud at least a few times. After all is said and done, I must say that this is one of the best tutorials that I've ever seen in a video game. However, the controls and menus remain clunky and it often feels like learning how to play is similar to reading hieroglyphs. It pays off but it takes a long time to get to grips with it all.
Seeing as this is a Sega Ages release, there are plenty of cool additions that make purchasing it a must even if you already own the Genesis cartridge. The most notable feature is online battle mode which allows you to fight another player. Of course, you can also play solo against the Computer Brain or against a local chum via split-screen. Before starting an offline match, you can choose handicaps for each player as well as a battle map to fight on. For the record, I beat the computer on my first attempt with the default settings.
Although Herzog Zwei is an impressive game, it has some limitations. For starters, the artificial intelligence can be extremely stupid at times. Not only do your units sometimes drive off cliffs, you'll also see your AI opponent make dumb decisions like in one fight, they kept trying to attack a heavily-guarded base instead of taking over some unclaimed bases for themselves. These moments make the gameplay feel frustrating and a bit hollow at times and when you consider just how long some of these battles take, it can be a substantial issue. Speaking of which, I wish the battles took less time because 1 closely-tied match against the AI lasted over 2 hours which is an undeniably long time. In other words, it could use some sort of mechanics that speed things up whenever it's heated.
It's mind-blowing that Herzog Zwei released over 3 decades ago as it holds up as an incredible real-time strategy game and playing it made me wish there was a modern remake that smoothed out its more dated aspects. I look forward to the announcement, Sega!
- + Intense blend of real-time strategy and overhead shooting action
- + Tutorial is informative and hilarious
- + Has online multiplayer and other goodies
- - Very steep learning curve and dated controls that take a lot of getting used to
- - AI can be frustratingly stupid
- - Battles may take a super-long time