Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Cannon Fodder 2 (Amiga)

Cannon Fodder 2 hand grenade title screen Amiga
The first Cannon Fodder game caused a little bit of controversy due to its use of a poppy for its logo. The Royal British Legion apparently thought the game was offensive to millions and didn't much appreciate their symbol being associated with it.

So for the sequel, Sensible Software went with a nice safe inoffensive image of a hand grenade for their logo. Fortunately for them Something Awful hadn't been created yet, so they got away with it this time. And everyone was happy.

Stuart Campbell as Field Marshal Douglas Haig
I'm already starting to get the feeling this game didn't quite have the budget of the original. Going with photoshop instead of a photoshoot for the opening credits was a bit of a clue.

Stuart Campbell was actually a game journalist before joining Sensible, working as the editor of Amiga Power... which got dragged into the Royal Legion issue too due to plans to put the Cannon Fodder poppy logo on the magazine's cover. Such an amazing amount of moral outrage over a game that's basically anti-war.

I want disk two Lord Kitchener poster
After thorough visual analysis and comparison I've come to the conclusion that yes, Lord Kitchener does look more cross-eyed here than on the original poster. In case you were wondering.

You know, sometimes I'm half-tempted to make a post just about 'insert disk' screens. A page full of basically nothing but pixelled floppy disks. Maybe even an entire tumblr. That's when I'll know I've finally gone crazy.

Cannon Fodder 2 recruitment hill
This is definitely familiar, though more purple than I remember. Plus they've replaced the old Cannon Fodder hill with a big pile of delicious chocolate mousse.

Right, before I start playing I should probably set up a save disk.

Cannon Fodder 2 please wait while men format your disk
What, no stupid messages at the bottom of the screen to keep me from dozing off while I wait for it to format the disk?

I gotta admit, the text did make me smile though.

Cannon Fodder 2 mission 1 this is how it begins
This is how it begins, with the troops flying in to their next mission via helicopter. Except the helicopter wasn't able to make an appearance due to technical problems, so now it's just a flyby of some landscape.

Cannon Fodder 2 mission 1 level Jools and Jops
I'm playing as Jools and Jops? But I killed them off in the first game!

Right away it's obvious this is going to be more difficult than the first game. For one thing, Cannon Fodder's first level didn't start me off on a screenful of enemies, with one of them already lined up to take a shot at me.

Okay just so you know what's going on, the game's a mouse controlled shooter with the goal generally being to take my little pixel men (currently hanging out down in the bottom right) around the level and use them to make all the little enemy pixel men dead by aiming my crosshair at them. The enemy outnumber me, but I have better guns and I only need to hit them once for a kill.

I completed the very first mission without losing a single guy! All that practice I did in the first game is paying off. Speaking of the first game, this Heroes in Victory screen looks a bit familiar somehow...

Reviewers at the time accused the game of being more like an expansion pack for Cannon Fodder than a new game in its own right and I can see their point. As far as I can tell it's exactly the same game with (mostly) new art and all new levels. But with 70-something stages it's a bloody long expansion pack.


MISSION 2 - PHASE 3 OF 3: "TAKE ME I'M YOURS". 
THREE STAGES LATER.


Cannon Fodder 2 middle east
Yeah, it seems if you're not firing wildly in all directions the second a level starts, you're not playing it right. You could lose your entire squad in the time it takes to figure out where you even are on the screen.

DOS
Bloody land mines. They were hard enough to see in the original game, but in this they're absolutely invisible. I'm just lucky I set one off with a stray bullet before I walked right into the minefield. Now I'll have to sweep the path with gunfire to set them all off before I go down there. Fuck, I'm sweeping everywhere with bullets before I go anywhere.

This is the DOS version by the way, for the sake of comparison. The first game came out on almost everything, but this one was apparently only released on Amigas and PCs. They've redrawn the graphics a bit for the DOS port to add some extra shades, though I prefer the sharper look of the original art.

MISSION COMPLETE! No wait... shit I walked on a mine after shooting the last guy? Oh come on I killed all the enemies, I blew up all the buildings, that's clearly a fucking win!

I'm losing way too many soldiers on this stage, but if I load a save I'll be put all the way back to start of the mission and have to replay the last two stage. Though if I end up without enough soldiers to continue I'll be totally fucked, so I suppose I will have to load.


MISSION 3 - PHASE 1 OF 4: "COMPOUND FRACTURE".
AFTER REPLAYING ALL THOSE STAGES AGAIN.


Oh shit, I am so lucky. See my men down there on the bottom middle of the screen? Now see that door currently flying at them with lethal force from the direction of that exploding hut? It evaporated just a split second before hitting them and instantly wiping me out. I don't know why the game's being so nice to me all of a sudden, it didn't even drop the building's roof on my head!


MISSION 3 - PHASE 2 OF 4: "SAY IT WITH ROCKETS".
THE NEXT STAGE.


I... have no idea what just happened. I started the level, some enemies ran at me, I shot them and lost. Back to phase 1 again then I guess, seeing as I'm trying to keep my high rank soldiers around for a while.

This game got a lot of critical acclaim and high scores on release, so I almost feel like any complaints I make are actually revealing my failings as a gamer more than any genuine flaws in the game. But when I'm confronted with a new type of enemy who can kill my precious team in one shot from the other side of the screen two seconds into the level before I've even moved... and I had to search a fucking screenshot afterwards to even discover that he existed... well, there's probably some degree of shitty game design involved there.


MUCH LATER, BACK ON PHASE 1 (OF 4). 30 THOUSAND RETRIES LATER.


Cannon Fodder 2 explosion
Look at that, two enemy structures taken out simultaneously. They ain't gonna be spawning from them again.

Look at this shit, I've fucked up on phase two and reloaded so many times now that I'm actually GOOD at phase one. Though it's nice to know that it possible to get good at the game and I'm not entirely at the mercy of random chance.


EVENTUALLY, ON PHASE 2.


I... can't believe I just made it to the end of phase 2! There are so many rocket guys hiding just off screen, it's ridiculous. The map seems to be laid out like a puzzle though, with the bazooka soldiers standing dangerously close to trees. If I stand in the right place, their rockets detonate against the trees before they hit me, taking out the bazooka troopers in the explosion.

Speaking of trees, I really hate these trees. I'm not sure what Sensible were thinking when they made it so that your soldiers could get stuck on them, but holy shit is it frustrating. Damn, I'm actually getting furious at this video game.


MISSION 3 - PHASE 3 OF 4: "TIPPER TOPPER".


Well I've finally completed that level. But do I feel joy or a sense of relief? No, because I've got two more phases to go before I can save or get new recruits, and my beloved team I reloaded so many times to keep alive have already died. But fuck loading a save now, I'm never replaying that rockey level again.

This level starts with a fun and interesting trick. You start in the bottom right of the screen and the enemies spawn from the doors, then come down the right side to shoot you. But the ammo crates you need to destroy the doors are also lying on the right-hand side and they explode if you accidentally shoot them.

Oh wait, did I say it was fun? I meant it was actually really annoying.


MISSION 3 - PHASE 4 OF 4: "IS IT A BIRD".
A RIDICULOUS NUMBER OF RETRIES LATER.


Man, I don't believe I actually did it. All phases of mission 4 are finally completed, and we hop on board our flying saucer to fly back to the hill for some much needed recruitment and disk operations.

Wait... flying saucer? What?

Cannon Fodder 2 UFO flyby
Yep, we're in space now. Plot twist!

So now we're on an alien starship. No explanation why, not even a hint. I take a few steps forward and immediately lose my entire team down a hole. TRY AGAIN.

    
Man, those floating severed eyes are already starting to bother me almost as much as the creepy flying fish/birds from the first game. They're not enemies, they just drift by... judging me.

The briefing said 'destroy enemy buildings', but... uh, we're in a spaceship. What inside a spaceship counts as a building?

Also here's another important question, where the fuck are the explosives I need to destroy said enemy structures?

I have no idea why I thought this teleporter would work. Well if I can't use it, I'll try blowing it up and hope it counts as a building. This game is so strict with the grenade and rocket ammo that if I waste even a single shot I might have to restart the entire level.


MISSION 4 - PHASE 2 OF 3: "UH OH WE'RE IN TROUBLE".


Okay this right here is a perfect example of what this game's like. There's only one path I can take, and when I head down it my team's immediately wiped out by a bazooka enemy that I couldn't see. Well okay he's on the bottom right of the screen now, but I honestly couldn't see him at all on the way down.

I'm sure there's a trick to this, I just wish I didn't have to lose my entire team to discover the puzzle.

Boom! Rocket launcher guy around the next corner too. You can't see him of course, but he's there, off screen.

To be fair I don't think the developers ever made any secret of the fact that this game is meant for people who finished Cannon Fodder 1. Which means I'm not actually meant to be playing it in the first place, as it's not for me. Though I do have to respect a team with the nerve to say 'screw trying to appeal to new gamers and maximise sales, we're going to exclusively target the 5%* of people who finished our first game and found it too easy!'

* Made up number. Very likely to be entirely wrong.

Hmm, I've still got enough soldiers left for a few more tries. Can I finish this last phase and make it back to the hill for saving and fresh recruits? Nope, fuck that, I've had enough.


The thing stuck going around in my head while I was playing this was 'why aren't I enjoying this genuine classic loved by thousands?' Well first I thought it might have been this bloody heat... but then I decided that one of the main reasons is because the game's a hard as nails puzzle shooter where pure random chance can get your entire team wiped out in a second, and yet it's bolted onto a lives system designed to make the game harder. The trial and error puzzle solving gameplay wouldn't be so bad if the cost of failure wasn't so high.

Plus the characters get a higher rank and better stats the more missions they complete, so when Brigadier General Jools gets stuck to a tree and killed by a lucky shot on phase 3 (of 4), I'm at a disadvantage from then on through no fault of my own. It's like a shoot 'em up stealing all your power ups away when you lose a life. It suits the 'war is hell' theme perfectly, but I don't really need the game to be any harder to be honest.

I think if they'd replaced the 'complete 4 phases in a row before you can save' system with a Super Meat Boy style level map that gives you the option to replay levels to improve your performance, it could have worked out better for the game. But then again I think that about everything.

You know, I only had one goal when I was playing this, and that was to get far enough into it to get a screenshot of the purple alien planet. And I couldn't even manage that. It even had giant mushroom trees and I can't even show you them!

Oh hang on, I've had an idea...

Cannon Fodder 2 Demo
I just remembered that I've got a demo disk with four of the alien world levels on it, so I can actually get screenshots of it.

It's funny how turning everything purple gives the game an entirely different vibe. Also now I can't tell who the civilians are anymore until it's too late. Not that'd be able to avoid them anyway, seeing as they like to hang out in front of the enemy spawn buildings.

Cannon Fodder 2 Demo
The levels are still bastard hard, with a thousand ways to accidentally die, but this demo disk has one big advantage over the proper game; it's got a level select! Plus there's there's no ranks, no limited supply of recruits and no multi-phase missions. It's just four levels and infinite retries. Still annoying, but way less stressful. Honestly I think if the whole game was like this I'd have enjoyed it much more.

I also have to admit that it took me way too long to figure out what the little flying aliens on bikes were about. In my defence I've never actually seen E.T.

Oh right, I nearly forgot to mention that the Cannon Fodder 2 theme music is probably the best thing about the whole package. Maybe not as good as the original game's theme, but worth a listen. Peace.


If you're dying to say something about the game, or all those words you just read, please take advantage of the comment box provided! Even if you're reading this in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I could never see what everybody seemed to love about Canon Fodder either. It's fun for five minutes, but past that it's just annoying.

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