When it launched on the Sega Mega Drive / Genesis back in the very early days of the system, Techno Soft's Herzog Zwei confounded quite a few people. It came from a studio which – in the west, at least – was most famous for its Thunder Force series of blasters. The top-down perspective looked similar to the free-roaming overhead stages in stablemate Thunder Force II, which led many to assume it was the same kind of deal. In reality, Herzog Zwei – so named because it's the sequel to the MSX and PC-8801 game Herzog, which means "Duke" in German – is a totally different kettle of fish; in fact, it's credited as being instrumental in the evolution of the Real-Time Strategy genre and is cited as an influence by the developers of RTS titles such as Dune II and Warcraft.
Still, it's easy to see why that wasn't immediately obvious back in the early '90s. Rather than controlling a mouse pointer – as you might expect in other RTS games – you're actually placed in the cockpit of a fighter jet which is capable of transforming into a robot at the touch of a button. In both modes, you can call upon a fairly powerful projectile attack which is used to dispatch enemy units and the opposing commander, who also zips around the 8 available arena-like maps in his own morphing mech. Your craft has an energy gauge and fuel gauge; the former is depleted when you're attacked and the latter is consumed by movement. Either of them reaching zero causes you to dramatically explode and respawn back at your HQ, which is located in one of the corners of the map, but you can restore both gauges by hovering over said HQ or any friendly outpost. You also have an ammo gauge, which, once depleted, leaves you unable to defend yourself.
Your objective – which is shared by the enemy commander – is to attack the opposition HQ until its energy level is reduced to zero. The catch here is that your robot's cannon is incapable of damaging your rival's base, and you must instead rely on your army of foot soldiers, attack cycles, tanks and boats to get the job done. These units have to be manufactured using money which slowly builds up during play; the more outposts you control on the map, the faster the cash flows in. Outposts are 'taken' by sending in four of your foot soldiers, and it's possible to steal them from the enemy, too. Because there are always 9 outposts on each map, there's rarely a stalemate situation where both sides have the same amount of bases, which keeps things lively.
At the point of constructing a unit, you have to select what command you want to give it. These range from the basic "patrol this area" order to the vital "attack the enemy HQ" command, and understanding which one to use in any given situation is a massive part of success in Herzog Zwei. For example, it's no good giving a tank a "patrol" command if you want it to remain next to a vital outpost and defend it. Units also have their ammo, fuel and energy gauges, and these can be restored if you pick one up and ferry it to a friendly base. Alternatively, supply trucks can restock other units with fuel and ammo (but not shield energy), with the caveat being that these particular units have no means of defending themselves, so they must be protected if you want them to be effective in the field.
Once a unit has been constructed, you can pick it up from any of your outposts in your jet fighter mode and airlift it to the position you want on the map – assuming, of course, you don't get taken out by the enemy commander or one of his anti-air missile units, or run out of juice en route (fuel is consumed at a faster rate when you're carrying a unit). Units that are in trouble can be picked up in this fashion, too, which gives the game a gloriously hectic feel; even when the tide of battle is very much in your favour, there's always something to do somewhere on the map – be it defending your base from hostiles, rescuing units which have fallen into ravines or simply dealing with the enemy commander, who will be occupied by very much the same concerns as you are. In particular, the contest to hold onto the 9 outposts is something you'll spend a lot of time on; because you lack enough fuel to simply ferry your forces directly to the enemy HQ, controlling these bases is essential as they serve as staging posts for your conquest.
Herzog Zwei is a dense and complex game, then, but you could never accuse it of lacking balance. Every unit in the game can be dealt with effectively once you understand how things work. The anti-air units are capable of picking the opposition player's fighter jet out of the sky with a few well-timed, heat-seeking missiles, but they can't defend themselves from other ground units and are therefore easy fodder for tanks. Gun emplacements pack the most deadly firepower and can deal with both ground and air units, but they're totally static – motorbikes, on the other hand, lack the grunt to contend with heavy armour but they're incredibly fast and therefore ideal for scouting or drawing out enemy units into traps you've set elsewhere on the map. Furthermore, each unit has a different cost and build time attributed to it, so the weaker units usually cost less and take less time to make than the stronger ones. Learning how to mix and match your forces is key; missile launchers need to be defended by tanks while weaker foot soldiers – the only ones capable of occupying outposts, lest we forget – should be escorted by stronger units whenever possible.
What makes the whole experience even more gripping is that, unlike the popular RTS titles which followed it, Herzog Zwei places you directly in the heat of the action. You're not some omnipresent field marshall watching over the action from the relative safety of your base, as is the case in games like Command & Conquer – you're deep in the action yourself, switching from jet to robot form as you ferry troops and deal with incoming enemies first-hand. Finding that the enemy's staunch defences are too robust for your troops? Then why not drop right into the middle of his formation in robot form and take out those pesky units yourself, thereby opening up a gap for your tanks to come rolling in? This makes the game totally unique in this particular genre, because it not only tests your micro-management and tactical skills but also your reaction time and trigger finger.
Furthermore, the 8 maps included offer a wide range of challenges which helps keep the game fresh. For example, Vulkan is set on a planet covered in molten lava which damages your units if they happen to move onto it. Alternatively, Abgrund is dotted with canyons which create a confusing maze-like surface, while Strand is covered mostly by water, which means you have to make good use of your attack boats as well as effectively transporting your forces in jet mode. While 8 maps doesn't sound like a lot, they're varied enough to present a good range of tactical possibilities, and each one encourages you to change your strategy in subtle ways. They can also be tackled in single-player on one of four difficulty settings, which gives the game even more longevity. Progress in the original game was handled via a convoluted password system as the cartridge lacked battery back-up, but in this Sega Ages update you can save at any time.
Were Herzog Zwei a solely single-player experience, we'd still give it a high recommendation, but it's the game's two-player mode which really makes it a solid-gold classic. Playing against another human opponent is one of the most rewarding gameplay experiences money can buy, provided both of you are adept enough with the game's mechanics and can endure the rather narrow split-screen window. It's not uncommon for two-player battles to go on for over an hour as the balance of power swings one way and then back again; it might sound like hyperbole, but this really is one of the finest two-player games ever made – which is remarkable when you consider it's over 30 years old.
This new Switch release takes this appeal to the next level by offering online multiplayer, which means you'll never be short of an opponent. You can choose to either join a random game or create a room, which other players can identity via a four-digit code. Performance is pretty stable on the whole, but we did notice the odd stutter during gameplay. There's also no way of logging a player's skill level so matchmaking is absent, which means that total newcomers could find themselves lumped in with tactical experts who quickly obliterate them. If you like your multiplayer a little more up close and personal, then it's worth noting that Herzog Zwei lacks local wireless play across two systems, which means you'll always have to play on a single machine – and, as is the case with online play as well, the split-screen view is the only option on the table, which means your rival can see your view of the action at all times. It would have been nice to have the full-screen view, if only for online play.
This update includes an excellent "Herzog Academy" tutorial mode which does a fantastic job of breaking down the game's systems and mechanics. Set over 12 chapters – each one explained by a wide-eyed female commander who constantly makes humorous references to past Sega titles like Virtua Racing, Out Run, Shinobi and Fantasy Zone – this mode is essential for anyone who has yet to experience Herzog Zwei and even has interactive segments where you're tasked with performing certain objectives to prove you've taken all of the advice on-board. The female commander even pokes fun at the game's obtuse nature and warns against throwing down the controller in a rage when it all becomes too much to handle. It's a nice touch, for sure.
Elsewhere, the usual raft of Sega Ages screen filters is available, while the default wallpaper which surrounds the game's 4:3 screen area is packed with information pertaining to the current status of your bases, units and jet fighter, and even includes a handy mini-map which means you don't have to keep dropping back to the unit construction screen to see what's happening on the wider battlefield. There's also a 'helper' mode which allows you to tinker with various settings to make the game easier or harder; it reminds us of the handicap mode in Street Fighter II. Finally, the game also stores replays of your previous battles, in case you feel like breaking down what went right (or wrong, for that matter).
Finally, special note must be made to the game's fantastic soundtrack, which comes courtesy of Naosuke Arai and Tomomi Otani. Techno Soft has a reputation for creating amazing rock-like game music, and while Thunder Force and Hyper Duel tend to get the lion's share of the acclaim when it comes to music, Herzog Zwei arguably showcases some of the company's best audio work; if you're a fan of MIDI-style '90s game music, then you'll positively adore the soundtrack on offer here.
There aren't many games from 30 years ago that you can truly say have stood the test of time, but Herzog Zwei is such a perfectly-balanced strategy offering that it's genuinely hard to pick fault or suggest how it could be improved or enhanced. Sure, the unit AI can be a little basic, the online play is a bit jerky and the split-screen mode in multiplayer cuts off a lot of your viewing area (and also reduces the ability to launch sneak-attacks) but the core gameplay is utterly fantastic, and remains just as addictive and engaging in 2020 as it was back in 1989, when the game first arrived in Japanese stores. In single-player, the varied map types and scalable difficulty mean that Herzog Zwei will keep you entertained for weeks (if not months and years) but when played with another person – be it locally on the same console or online – this game is elevated to a whole new level of greatness. Even if RTS titles aren't your cup of tea, we highly recommend you give this one a whirl because, outside of spiritual successor AirMech, there really hasn't been a game quite like this since.
What a bittersweet moment this is. A great game but the last of the Sega Ages titles on Switch. The releases the last couple of years has given me so many gaming hours. I'm still gutted they're not doing any more.
At least SEGA AGES is going to have a great game for it's last release
I hope it doesn't take too long to come to the West!
Inject it into my veins.
Just another Genesis rom release with a fancy tutorial mode..
Virtua Racing seems like the only SEGA AGES release to really push the boat out. that Star Wars Arcade M2 talked about would of been nice, or one of the Dreamcast/Saturn games they hinted at doing when they started this some years ago..
Guess if we want any more rare SEGA arcade games your have to get one of the Arcade 1up machines or that Mini SEGA astro arcade machine
Shame it is the last release.
Reading this review reminded me a whole lot of another hidden gem: Daisenryaku VII: Modern Military Tactics Exceed by SystemSoft Alpha for the Playstation 2. It received very mediocre review scores when it was released and, due largely to its tabletop miniature game aesthetics and fairly dull campaign, quickly ended up in bargain bins.
But what those reviewers obviously missed was stumbled upon by my friends and me: an amazing hotseat multiplayer mode for any combination of up to four human and AI players. Over 400 real-life units (air, land, naval) from 8 countries (USA, Russia, China, Japan, Germany, UK, France, and Israel) and the ability to make your own maps mean endless replayability. Think of a hex-based iteration of Advance Wars on super steroids, with multiplayer, on a console, and you get the general idea.
Oh yes, and it's not rock/paper/scissors or units of the same type necessarily being equal; an M1A2 Abrams will wipe the floor with T-72s, for instance.
Our group spent probably thousands of hours playing it, and our sessions often ran upwards of 10 hours without a victor, so we'd save our progress and come back to it during our next session. Every one of my friends ended up buying their own copies.
If memory serves, Herzog Zwei likewise had mixed reviews (thinking specifically of EGM) when it first came out. It just goes to show that some games hide more beneath the surface than sometimes gets reflected in a review...sometimes a LOT more.
‘There aren't many games from 30 years ago that you can truly say have stood the test of time.’
I could write a list but we’d be here all day. 🙂
Still hoping for an update to the Advance Wars series on Switch.
@Fandabidozi Was about to say the same thing, but you nailed it lol
@Zuljaras So, yeah... here's another recommendation for you...
I thought this was only released on the Japanese eshop...does the game include English language options?
@TG16_IS_BAE @Fandabidozi The point I was making is that, even after 30 years, I don't think I'd change a single thing about this game. Sure, there are other titles from that period that are 'perfect', but not as many as you perhaps assume... even some of my favourite games from the '80s and '90s have certain elements that have aged badly or could be fixed, but Herzog Zwei really does feel perfect to me. A bit like chess!
@ThanosReXXX I saw gameplay for that game and it did nothing for me. Dune 2 The Battle for Arrakis on the other hand is really nice Sega exclusive
@Zuljaras Well it was originally a PC game, but definitely the only console it's on.
When can us Westerners expect this?
@Magitek_Knight Yeah you are right. I only played it on Mega Drive
Also isn't the PC version different?
I'm old enough to have loved it on its release for the Genesis. And as the article says, it was an incredibly fun two-player game. My friends and I played it for hours. The ability to switch between RTS and action (morphing between a jet and a mech to destroy automated enemy units) made it very unique. If it comes to the U.S., I'll definitely pick it up.
@ClassSonicSatAm To be fair, 14 of the 19 Sega Ages releases included arcade games, so the implication that this has been a series mostly dominated by Mega Drive ROMs is a little unfair.
I agree that some more uncommon stuff would have been nice, but the likes of Virtua Racing, Puzzle & Action: Ichidant-R and G-LOC have been big wins in my eyes.
@Zuljaras I've played both versions, it's pretty much the same game. Only difference I noticed was the Sega version has a different soundtrack and no save/load.
@Damo That makes a lot of sense, I misinterpreted your initial statement.
This is true — although, to be frank, I have the same reaction when it comes to modern games, which are "dated" in the sense that they're very typically of our own era. But I get what you're saying.
@Damo thanks for the clarification!
Disappointed to have the Sega AGES line end but at least this a good way to end out on.
I am torn about this review. On one hand, pleasant to take a look at a classic game and the last of the Sega Ages offerings. On the other, do we really need another review of the game? When resources are limited and there are so many new games every week, it's odd to have NL commit its reviewers to this and other re-releases rather than look at new offerings. Same can be said of the recent Punch Out release. Who does that review serve other than the nostalgic audience? There's a lot of shovelware on the eshop, to be sure, but there are also plenty of games that never get the review treatment on this site.
@giantenemycrab True but I think it's worth it to do reviews of obscure old games like this as well. I've never heard of this game, and it sounds pretty unique. I think there's just as much value in reviewing stuff like this, as there is this weeks newest indie metroidvania with rogue like elements.
If only they had also released Target Earth, the Golden Axe series, and the rest of the Sonic and Phantasy Star games on Ages....
Wouldn't it be wonderful to have all of these Sega Ages released as a physical compilation ? I can but dream
@pip_muzz I’m really pissed they’re stopping here. Left sooo many classics in the vault. But with the other article that NL posted the other day about Sega still wanting to release older games on the Switch gives me a bit of hope. Fingers crossed 🤞🏻
@step_over they ended up doing that with the 3DS. I doubt it but That would awesome! 😊
Anyone else sick of the page not loading properly because it's rammed and overlayed with ad after ad , for shame Nintendolife !
After Burner Climax would be nice. You can't even get that anymore, and the arcade machines are nowhere to be found anymore. I miss that game.
@pipes Yeah I honestly was expecting Golden Axe at some point. And not getting Phantasy Star II with the QOL improvements from the first one is really really sad.
@Damo Thanks for this review. You sold me on it.
@Darlinfan You seem really nice. When discussing things with friends or the people you work with and you don’t agree with them, do you always miss the point and go after them personally or do you reserve it for online comment sections? I hope you have a very nice day.
@Zuljaras Except for the fact that it's not a Sega Megadrive exclusive: it came out on various platforms, as well as on PC. I played the superior Commodore Amiga version, back in the day, which was a time when PC gaming was also still inferior.
As for this game: sometimes, you need to try and play a game instead of watch it, to understand it and have it click with you. You could always try it out in an emulator first, and then decide. It doesn't come this highly recommended for nothing. NLife is definitely not the only website that gives it such a positive review, so that alone should already tell you something.
@Damo First class review. Still gratified to see this game get attention. Never thought I'd see it. Would never have thought to see it get this kind of treatment after 30 years, either!
I did however hope, back then, for a sequel or another similar game (and even dreamed up features). AirMech might have pulled it off for me, if it wasn't keyboard/mouse centric and free-to-play.
@ThanosReXXX You are right. I will try it on emulator and possibly on the Mega Drive Mini.
@Darlinfan You are a very angry person. Look at what you're writing. Clutching pearls. Bitching. Poor imagination. I think you need to go outside and maybe get some fresh air.
If you'd read my post, which you evidently didn't, you'd see that it starts with "I am torn." That means there are two sides of this. That's a very important cue for you to interpret as "mixed feelings." In case you ever interact with people, you'll want to have that kind of context cluing in mind!
Point 1: Classic game. Nice to see it getting some rub.
Point 2: Glut of new games getting no reviews as this site, like all others, has limited resources. Herzog Zwei is not a new game. It's been reviewed by many other reputable publishers. Unfortunately those same publishers don't review a lot of the great indie games.
I know it's going to be super important for you to have the last word and fire off another angry reply, so just know that I'm not going to bother reading it. No matter what sick burn you think you're conjuring up, I won't see it, I won't care, and you really should find human companionship.
The AI can't be changed without completely changing the game, but the opportunity for full-screen online is greatly missed..
Outside of the online multiplayer, it's tough to decide if I should play this over the original. The tutorial mode is nice but I'd have really liked a campaign mode or a few other improvements. Looks solid overall though!
any ETA on when the western release will be?
Totally missed that this was on eShop. Thanks for the reminder!
I hope they release these sega ages in a collection physically. Mosy likely wont but i would love it
FINALLY US eshop release! Thank you SEGA! felt like ages xD! good thing I waited.
@Reprise I assumed it had, seeing as it came out in Japan ages ago.
I've been interseted in this since Classic Game Room did a review years ago. Nice to see there is now a legal avenue to check it out.
Yes it’s here in europe now too
Anyone down to play online PvP? I wanna git gud! haha Please message me to add friend code.
This is Herzog enthusiast Taylor. I think we played. I need to practice, cause I'm not as good as I thought. I'm in Alberta
@Taylorrr yo!! yup good games! happy to do more practice games!
To anyone reading this review, There is a small hardcore community that loves this game and are looking for players online. Check out the facebook group here https://www.facebook.com/groups/2248363153 .
You can also search for opponents on Twitter by clicking the #HerzogZwei hashtag and add them. You can check out my Twitter if you want to add my FC to play online PvP : https://twitter.com/Ishmokin
Also to anyone who wants to see how high level Herzog Zwei online PvP looks like? check this out : https://www.youtube.com/watch?fbclid=IwAR0zsE5F1SeO8DOkG0Ksb_MWq3ygrQZ08YFYJpyH3fYNfpDoOKgn6qnzQA4&v=_a-sVUn-eMQ&feature=youtu.be
Made a discord group to help organize some games online. Please feel free to join! https://discord.gg/2z93ZU3ZCP
Good review but "There aren't many games from 30 years ago that you can truly say have stood the test of time"? Seriously? I'd say there's hundreds. I play more retro than I do modern games. Most modern games are 10 hours worth of gameplay hid behind 100 hours worth of BS to get to it.
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