North & South

aNorth South USA 188x266 North & South NES Nintendo Review ScreenshotDeveloper: Kemco
Publisher: Kemco

Released: December 1990
US Cartridge ID: NES-N5-USA

Players: 2/Simultaneous
Genre: Simulation
Supported Peripherals: Controller

ROM Size: 2 megabit
Mapper: MMC3 (128k PRG, 128k CHR)

Requires Flash10

North & South, like Rescue: The Embassy Mission, is a Kemco produced NES port of the popular computer title by prolific 80s French computer software publisher Infogrames. Juxtaposed against the dramatic tensions of the American Civil War, North & South’s comedic take on the hostilities that split America in two presents players with an North South USA 005 North & South NES Nintendo Review Screenshotopportunity to rewrite the course of US history. Steeped in the aesthetic stylings of the reknowned 1970s Belgian comic Les Tuniques Bleues (The Blue Tunics), North & South combines turn-based strategy with action in a briskly-paced two-player affair akin to a much simplified game of Risk.

At the beginning of each game, players must establish the conditions under which they wish to play. In addition to choosing whether to play as the Union or the Confederacy (and against the CPU or a friend), the conditions under which both sides start are decided by selecting which year of the war to begin play during (1861-1864): each grants the two sides a rough approximation of their territories and force strength from the specified period. Toggles for incidental game events are also included, providing for the possibility of inclement weather conditions, hostile Indian attacks, or the arrival of reinforcements mid-battle.

After a brief introductory sequence that outline the outlook for the player’s chosen year and side, play begins on a political map bearing a very liberal interpretation of the 1860s North South USA 032 North & South NES Nintendo Review ScreenshotAmerican landscape. Each side takes turns moving their armies into position: units can overtake an undefended enemy state merely by walking across its border and occupying it. If a defending unit is present to counter, shots will be fired and a battle will ensue. During battle, each side has control of three primary unit types: cannons, limited to nine shots each per engagement; cavalry, excelling at fast approaches; and infantry, the most flexible and balanced unit of the group. Units begin with a single manned cannon, three cavalrymen, and six infantry soldiers, but units may stacked atop others to increase numbers and strength. These battles play out in real-time, with the fight for supremacy enduring until one side decimates the other, or one concedes defeat by retreating. Under most circumstances, a win results in the victor taking possession of the contested state, but if the state being fought over has a town within its borders, a side-scrolling stage must be successfully completed. Dodging dogs, soldiers, and bombs, the player must guide their onscreen avatar to the center of town where they’ll replace the enemy flag with their own, taking control of the state.

North South USA 078 North & South NES Nintendo Review ScreenshotTo improve the odds of victory, states captured along the railroad lines will provide tax revenue (resulting in more units on the board) if one side controls all of the states between two stations, though this is not always a guaranteed payoff: if the enemy captures a state along the route, an opportunity will be given to relieve the train of its cargo via another side-scrolling stage, where victory requires reaching the conductor and holding him at gun-point. Additional units can also be gained by holding down North Carolina, where a friendly ship occasionally drops off reinforcements.

North & South is an interestingly innovative take on the historical strategy genre console game. Though lacking the historical authenticity touted by Koei’s bread and butter, Kemco’s simplified approach provides a far more novice-friendly experience, owing to the inclusion of action scenes, as well as the notable lack of Koei’s signature “spreadsheet-style” stat management. The control in the platforming segments is stiff and unintuitive, with the strange jump control timings proving incredibly irksome; though these shortcomings can eventually be compensated for with enough practice, it’s incredibly North South USA 096 North & South NES Nintendo Review Screenshotinfuriating that the game poses such an unnecessary barrier to entry for the uninitiated.

Thankfully, the CPU doesn’t pose much of a challenge, so the controls aren’t too troublesome while playing solo – however, the game is designed with two players in mind, and this indeed provides the optimal experience. Gameplay fares better in the overhead battle segments, with the characters responding smoothly and immediately to player inputs, leaving any potential issues in these scenes stemming more from a lack of knowledge of the control scheme than from the sloppy programming that runs rampant over the side-scrolling areas.

The graphics are full of humor and small details, helping to carry the game by giving it a stiff shot of personality, their apparent deficiencies when compared to their PC brethren notwithstanding. Framed cinematics laid over the action feature stereotyped portrayals of Confederate and Union soldiers, native Americans, Mexicans add a great deal of atmosphere, maintaining as pleasantly offensive a picture as possible in its cheeky 1980s North South USA 174 North & South NES Nintendo Review Screenshottrappings. The music is sparse, but what is present is clever and plays homage to its history: Dixie and Yankee Doodle play when needed, and are rendered well. The sound effects are unobtrusive and appropriate, which is a blessing, since they fill the great majority of the audioscape. A secret, ludicrously overwrought and enormously entertaining sound test can be accessed by entering the Konami code (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A) at the beginning during the introductory bugle playing sequence.

North & South is an incredibly fresh and innovative title that plays like nothing else on the NES, a notion that few other titles can lay claim to, and makes for one of the system’s most enjoyable co-op titles. It’s campy, playful mocking of the otherwise serious subject-matter make North & South a light-hearted affair that, while by no means perfect, more than qualifies it as a worthwhile use of a free afternoon.

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flag us North & South NES Nintendo Review ScreenshotNorth & South
Kemco, 12/1990
flag jpn North & South NES Nintendo Review Screenshot ノース&サウスわくわく南北戦争 (Noosu ando Sausu Wakuwaku Nanbokusensou)
North & South – The Exciting Civil War
Kemco, 9/1990
flag uk North & South NES Nintendo Review ScreenshotNorth & South
Infogrames, 1/1992