This image just screams "historical accuracy."
Back in the NES days I didn't have my own system so all of my gaming was done at other, luckier kids' houses. Since my friends didn't want to sit there for hours while I played "The Legend of Zelda" on their Nintendo most of the games I played were multiplayer. I experienced the co-op and VS hits like "Double Dragon," "Super Mario Bros 3" and "Contra" but the game I have the fondest memories of is the little discussed "North & South." The game is a crazy mix of real time strategy, competitive platforming and overtly racist cartoon caricatures. I seriously doubt this game would be made in today's politically correct climate but it remains a rarely discussed gem that's worth revisiting.
Note the Indian in a loincloth and sleepy Mexican. Classy.
The core of the game was: One player controlled the North, the other the South and you would try to win the Civil War. The overworld map was set up as a grid with icons indicating which side controlled what area. Visually it's very similar to a game like "Advance Wars" and other strategy games that came later. Players would take turns moving their units around and when your paths crossed you would engage each other on the field of battle. You could also merge your units together to create a larger force. And I think occasionally the Indians or Mexicans would decide to get involved and mess with everyone.
Dumbass horses are gonna run right into that river, I just know it.
From here, you are able to select your different units and fight in real time. This was the real hook of the game for me. Frantically firing a cannon to try and blow up the bridge, then switching to the cavalry to rush in and take out your opponents and then sending in the ground troops added up to hours of hectic fun. It was a real challege to manage all your troops at the same time. The cavalry could not move backwards so many times you'd be riding towards an assured victory only to have the bridge blow up in front of you, sending tiny horses and men plummeting to their deaths. And many a controller was thrown in rage because someone wasn't quick enough to modify the position of their ground troops and half of them fell into the canyons.
The key to winning these stages is knife management
What really set this game apart from other RTS games was the inclusion of side-scrolling VS stages. If you moved your troops to an enemy fort or train the game would move to a 2D view as your lone soldier attempted to conquer it over armed only with a few knives. The other player had a limited number of soldiers, each armed with a knife, to stop or slow down your progress. If you didn't have any more knives you could punch the opposing soldiers and send them flying into the air. And there was a time limit. These stages turned into some of the most intense gameplay experiences I ever had. One mistep could lead to failure, especially when you're running low on lives. I think this mode led to the most punches thrown in real life.
This video gives a good idea what the game was like, even though the person playing is terrible
Overall "North & South" was a unique title that boasted a variety of gameplay and a VS mode that was infinitely replayable. I find it odd that I never see it mentioned alongside NES classics but I'm sure that those of you who played it have fond memories. If you haven't experienced it it's worth checking out just to see how far ahead of its time it was. Now all we can do is wait for another cartoonish RTS/Sidescroller turning one of the most tragic events in American history into a children's videogame. I'm not going to hold my breath.