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Virtually Overlooked: North and South

Candace Savino

Welcome to our weekly feature, Virtually Overlooked, wherein we talk about games that aren't on the Virtual Console yet, but should be. Call it a retro-speculative.

After exploring the offensive Spanish for Everyone over at DS Fanboy, we wracked our brains trying to think of another game that failed to adhere to the politically correct school of thought. The first title that came to mind was North and South, and if you've ever played this game, you'll probably understand why.

This 1989 NES (among others) game is a bit of an oddity. Not only was it one of the first real-time strategy titles in the industry, but it also included two platformer minigames that were all kinds of excellent.

Aside from its genre mixing, though, you're probably wondering what was so controversial about this title. To explain that, we might have to give you a brief history lesson first.

You see, in the 1800s there was a little skirmish known as the American Civil War. Some French developers apparently thought, "Wow, isn't that funny!" and hence, North and South was born. We Americans aren't so uptight that we can't laugh at ourselves, but it just seems a little weird when you can play a game, choose to fight for slavery, and win. It makes you feel guilty when all you want to do is waste some abolitionists. Not guilty enough to lose, of course, but we're sure "Honest Abe" would understand.

Oh, but North and South doesn't stop there. One magazine advertisement for the game warns you not to forget "the Indians and Mexicans whose only pleasure in life is attacking you!" Yeah, we're not even going to touch that one.

German commercial for the game

We wouldn't have a problem with this game being so inherently racist if it wasn't just so much fun to play, because then we could just forget about it and move on. But, alas, North and South is too great to cast aside so easily. We'd go so far as to say that if this game was released in its original form one day with online play, we'd probably have no need to ever leave the house again. It's just honestly that ridiculous, that addicting, and that fun.

For all the hype we're dishing out, the gameplay in North and South was really quite simple. One player controlled the soldiers of the North, while another player (or the computer) controlled the soldiers of the South. Each man represented an army of six infantry units, three cavalry units, and one cannon. The goal was to completely wipe out all of the other player's armies (or at least be in the lead by the time the war ended).

The terrain of each stage affected the gameplay. Hint: If you fall in the water, you die.

During the battles, you could do cool things like blow up bridges in order to make it more difficult for your opponent to reach you. You were only able to control one type of unit at a time, whether it be your infantry, cavalry, or cannons, which could make defending yourself difficult if you were on the attack. Once you completely wiped out the other team's forces (or had yours wiped out), the battle would end and the loser's man would disappear from the map. If your army got crippled, though (say you survived with only a cannon), you'd be pretty screwed for the next battle. Luckily, you could choose to combine armies on the map if you knew that one would be too weak to survive an attack.

However, North and South wasn't all about battles. Your success in the game depended a lot on strategy. For example, if you collected enough money, you would be given an extra man to add to your grid. Collecting money could be as simple as acquiring territories (the more territories you commanded, the more money you would collect at the start of your turn ... hooray for taxes!), but this is also where the platforming came in. If you landed on an opponent's base, you would have to race against the clock to take down their fort in an action packed minigame. Your opponent would have a limited amount of men to throw at you, but you also had only a limited supply of weapons.

And if you were lucky, really, really, lucky, you'd get a chance playing the train minigame. It was based on the same principles as the fort game, only it rarely happened that you were on the right space at the right time to play it. Also, if you successfully took control of the enemy's train, you would get tons of gold.

It's unfortunate that a game like North and South will probably never see the light of day on the Virtual Console. The reason this game is not likely to show up is not because it's awesomely bad, and not because very few people have actually played it, but because a game like this has no place in the politically correct world we live in. Unfortunately, the silly humor, entertaining music, awesome sound effects, and brilliant gameplay of North and South are likely to be unexperienced by many, all because the game took its satire a little too far.

*Note: The last four screens were from the Amiga version of the game.

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