This obscure Japanese action game is a prototype of one of the first ever real-time strategy games – Herzog Zwei on the Sega Megadrive – and it is also one of the best games you can play on an MSX.
Herzog was developed and published on disk for the MSX2 by Techno Soft (nee, Tecno Soft) in 1988.
Let’s not get carried away here – Herzog is not Command & Conquer, but it is definitely an innovative game and still very playable today, either one or two-player.
You play a robot-suited ‘Mecha’ type guy and the aim of the game is ‘war of attrition’. Meaning: you have to keep building military units and send them to your opponent’s base to destroy it. Both you and your opponent can fly into the battlefield to destroy enemy units yourself, but the idea is to overwhelm the enemy by being tactical about your approach.
For starters: you can pick up units, fly them with you, and then drop them off near your opponent’s base (to save them the time, and risk, of travelling there themselves). You only have limited suit armour per life, though, so you have to get in, drop them off, then get out as soon as you can, then head back to base to repair your armour.
Building units is simply a case of bringing up a ‘buy’ screen and navigating a simple menu to add build orders to a list. You can still be attacked while in this menu, though, so you have to keep an eye on the scanner at the top of the screen to make sure you’re not being attacked while buying units. Heading back to base to send out a wave of new units is never a bad idea (compared to trying to do the same near your opponent’s base).
In the ‘buy’ menu you move the cursor up and down to choose units and can only build what you can afford. The cursor can also be moved left and right and this is vital for placing your bought units on a vertical trajectory. Meaning: move the cursor left and right to choose where your unit will start to move up the battlefield. Choose the middle and your unit will move up the middle. Choose the left and the unit will move vertically up the battlefield on the left. It’s a simple system that is a little confusing initially, so it’s worth getting your head around this before having a concerted go. Restarting is quick enough, so practise until you understand this. 🙂
In single-player mode the opponent is controlled by the AI, and does a pretty good job. Good enough to give me trouble initially, before I twigged how to beat him.
Note: in single-player mode your opponent has unlimited lives and you do not, so you have to be careful when and where you blast him. For example: if you fight him near his base he’ll keep re-spawning with full armour and eventually deplete your limited lives, so it’s not advisable to do that. It’s better to just leave him alone and do your thing and only blast him if necessary (like, if he’s threatening your units when they’re about to reach his base). Also: if you do blast him, avoid making contact with the resulting explosion – it can seriously hurt you.
The split-screen two-player mode was highly innovative for the time and still plays well to this day. In fact: Herzog is a video game that has survived the rigours of time surprisingly well. And if you like this game then you’re sure to like the aforementioned follow-up on the Megadrive, Herzog Zwei.
Note: anyone playing Herzog now who is struggling with the controls: to access the ‘buy unit’ screen press Space + Graphic (Graphic is mapped to Alt on my PC); and player two can access the ‘buy’ screen by pressing both joystick buttons at the same time.
More: Herzog on Wikipedia