Friday, 1 August 2014

Chapter XIX: North & South

Did you ever have a game that you had to get rid of because your friends wouldn’t shut up about wanting to play it all the time?

Well, I did have many of those, and while most of them weren’t necessarily bad, I had to set up an “accident” so I could preserve my sanity. Two of the unfortunate fatalities of these kinds of accidents were North & South and Dino Dini’s Goal! I will write about the former.

North & South wasn’t necessarily a bad game, and for a short while I got to play it every now and then and had some fun with it. Games that mixed strategy and arcade segments weren’t that uncommon back then, and right off the top of my head I can recall Defender of The Crown and Joan of Arc. The thing is, this game while not having much depth when it came to the strategy part, did the arcade segments with such slickness and panache that was unheard of. Also, it had a very solid multiplayer component that made the game shine when it came to the open battle segment.

I wish I also had inflatable boat with a viking dragon head at the front
But, like I said, the game didn’t have much depth, and after a short while it got a bit samey. So, it’s kind of surprising that my friends Lil’ John and Louie CF kept nagging me to play it all the time, especially because they had almost as many hours of playing it as me, since I hardly did it alone. But well, I’m not the kind of person to eat the same box of cereals twice in a row. I need some variety in my life. North & South had to go.

Another factor that helped with my decision was that my friends were awful players. I did write before about how much I wanted to have peers that could pose a challenge once in a while. So imagine how boring it was to play this game over and over again and trying to put some arbitrary handicaps on myself, like using the joystick with the left hand, as to make it a little bit interesting. It didn’t work out in the end.

I think I “accidentally” used North & South disk as a saved games disk for some other game. It was probably some football manager game like The Manager or Premier Manager. There was a bit disappointment among my friends when the sad news came. Even if they wanted to find the game again it wouldn’t be easy. Skeggtown was a small town in the countryside without any game store at the time. There was hardly anyone else with an Amiga.

I can bet that Louie CF and Lil’John never played North & South again ever.

Louie CF and Lil'John reaction when they heard the news
The game has a great presentation all through every aspect of it. When I was young I used to read a lot of franco-belgian comic books like Asterix, Lucky Luke and Quick & Flupke (“Quim e Filipe” in its Portuguese translation), and while I never read anything from The Bluecoats, which North & South is based on, I was aware of those comics and liked the overall aesthetics. I never cared for American comics but even today I still love the look of the European counterparts. This game while not being a technical marvel has a very consistent and pleasant look and it’s very faithful to the aforementioned comics.

The sound design is great, and because of it I really love messing with the main menu with its many cool details. Every option, like choosing if there are any Indians in the game, is accompanied by some really nice sound effects. In the end I choose to play with the Union, even accounting for the fact that Patrick Swayze did fight for the south in that 80’s drama series, because those confederation leaders were a bunch of racists, or so I’ve heard. There’s also the option to pick between three different generals, and I had no doubt that I had to take the bearded one because he has a sort of Hemingway-esque coolness. Not that it mattered in gameplay terms anyway.

It's even possible to tickle the photographer's butt. Seriously.
The strategic layer of the game is comparable to the board game Risk, but even simpler. The only territories that matter are the ones with rail roads and one state next to the sea that occasionally brings reinforcements. Besides, the AI isn't very smart, because I kept making mistakes in the battles but I always had the upper hand in the war with my bigger numbers.

The arcade sections are where the fun is, provided that there is a friend playing with us of the same level. I thought about asking my wife to play with me but then again I knew that it wasn’t a good idea, as I shouldn’t wake the demons of my past. I can picture my wife asking me to play North & South every night, and what kind of excuse would I find in 2014 for the game to disappear?

No, they weren't sunbathing. They were committing the weirdest mass suicide ever
Against the AI, the battles are fun for a while, but they get old really fast. The AI kept driving its infantry to the bottom of rivers and gorges like if they were lemmings, or maybe these little soldiers were conscientious objectors and were tired of this not very long war. It lasted only 8 months due to the cheer incompetence of the confederate generals.

I'd rather play literally as a boot running away from a clock
There’s also other arcade sections where we are asked to either storm or defend a base or a train. These are quite hectic and could be comparable to a cross between Dragon Ninja and Kick-Off 2, if that makes any sense. I did remember these being particularly hard, but I suppose I was just a shitty player back in the day because I managed to win every one of those sections, even the first time I tried. I was also disappointed that these segments don’t maintain the high quality of the graphics and look a little drab.

In the end I got the conclusions I was expecting. The game might be fun with the right company but it’s just too shallow and easy in one player mode.


  1. Fun to read someone else's experiences with some games, particularly ones I've covered on my blog. =) With this one, I have always had a strange relationship. Because I didn't own an Amiga or an ST (or a disk drive on C64) when the game was fairly recent and living its heyday, I never got to really learn how the game works until I actually wrote the comparison, although I did play it plenty against friends who had Amigas. When I did the comparison, however, I noticed how easy and boring it is against a computer, but it does serve that one purpose to practice some moves against a human opponent when you get the chance. I still like the game, but I would never probably ever play it again unless I was facing a human opponent, and even then the match would have to be fairly even to be worth playing. You should try out some of the other versions out there - the arcade sections are more comfortable to play on the NES, for example, and the DOS version seemed to be the best overall in terms of playability.

    1. I should have read your blog post about the game before playing it, since apparently different generals mean different difficulty settings. This is what i get for playing the games without reading the manual first.

      Too much time spent back in the days playing pirated stuff:) Old habits die hard.