North and South is a game I remember being more entertaining than I found it to be for this go-round. It's a bizarro action/strategy game set in the U.S. Civil War, but instead of plaintive fiddle music and dramatic letter readings, you get some cartoony take on it made by a Belgian team and published by the Japanese.

I guess no one at the Belgian company had a map handy, and was working from rough memory of a drunken "gap year" of backpacking or something, because the map of the U.S. is just all over the place. States are sort of roughly in the right places, but the borders are bizarre and look like they were scrawled in by a five year old.

You start out with two units per side, and each side owns a handful of states in their territories, with the middle of the country and the west largely up for grabs. States along the railroad line are protected by forts, and the main objective is to take and hold these. They generate more money than the regular states without forts, and troops can also be shuttled along the railroad to move farther per turn, as they only move from one state to a neighboring one per turn when on foot.

It's not a bad setup, but what kills it are the arcadey sequences that represent battles between armies. They're just clumsy and not at all well thought-out. When two armies meet, you go to a battlefield where the army is divided into equal portions of infantry, cavalry and cannon. You can only control one group at a time, and switch between them with the B button. The problem, at least against the computer, is that the computer can control all three simultaneously while you're frantically stuck flipping between them. The cannon basically becomes useless because to fire it, you have to hold down the button and wait on a sliding bar, to guesstimate how far you'll have to fire to hit the incoming enemies. This takes goddamn forever, if you miss you only have time to try again maybe once or twice before the incoming enemies touch your cannon and neutralize it. And while you're sitting there watching a bar, you can't control your infantry and cavalry, who are sitting around helplessly waiting to get slaughtered. I guess it might be better against another human player, but a human against the computer even at the lowest levels of difficulty stands a pretty good chance of getting wiped out within the first two or three turns just due to severe disadvantage in battle.

There's a couple of other arcadey modes, two side-scrolling portions for when you attack a fort or an enemy train. Both are basically like a clumsy Rush-N-Attack as you guide a lone trooper through a handful of enemies and charging dogs.

Apparently this came out originally on the PC and various home computers of the world (Amiga, Amstrad, MSX, etc.), and those versions appear to have more options (including the army battles to be entirely computer-controlled) and be a bit better polished. As is, this NES one is less about strategy and more about getting the hang of quirky, poorly-designed arcade sequences.

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