Developer: Sensible Software
Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Designer: John Hare
"War has never been so much fun!". Thus begins the theme song of Cannon Fodder - an excellent game developed by British developer Sensible Software, with a theme song you will be humming to yourself for weeks after having heard it only once. While Sensible Software are probably best known for their brilliant series of football games, Sensible Soccer, their other series, Cannon Fodder, is equally brilliant. Oh, and they're also responsible for one of my favourite strategy games, Mega lo Mania - expect a review of that title some time in the future!
In Cannon Fodder you control a squad of cute little soldiers from an overhead perspective, much like we know it from real-time strategy games today, who are sent on missions. The missions start off with simple objectives such as "kill all enemy", "destroy enemy buildings", and "destroy enemy factory", but as you progress in the game you get harder missions requiring you to "rescue all hostages", "kidnap enemy leader", "protect all civilians", or "get civilians home". There are 24 missions to complete, spanning terrain such as the jungle, Arctic wastes, the desert, moor lands, and the underground base. Each mission consists of up to sic phases, meaning that you have a grand total of 72 levels to complete - and that's no small task, as this game gets deviously difficult after a while.
Before you take on a mission, you are presented with "boot hill", where your eager recruits line up waiting to be tossed into battle. The first time you see boot hill it's empty - it's just a green, grassy hill with a lot of soldiers lining up below it. But as you loose soldiers in battle, each of those lives lost is depicted as a grave on boot hill. Higher ranking officers get nicer graves while your common foot soldier gets a simple wooden cross. While the humour in the game may be very tongue-in-cheek, little touches such as boot hill show you, that the designers also wanted to send a message about the meaninglessness of war and the losses it brings. Many did not perceive it as such back in the day though, and the game drew criticism because of its humorous depiction of war.
You control your little troopers by clicking with the left mouse button where you'd like your troop to go, and then clicking with the right mouse button to shoot at enemy soldiers. If you click both buttons at the same time you either throw a grenade or shoot the bazooka, depending on which one you have currently chosen as your secondary weapon. The secondary weapons are used to blow up buildings and vehicles, but a well placed bazooka shot is also just the ticket when dispensing with enemy snipers.
The game is a joyful mix of strategy and action. Sometimes the best way of completing a mission isn't the most obvious one, so planning is definitely needed, and running heedlessly into battle will almost certainly get you killed in the later levels. Sometimes you need to split your troop up into smaller troops in order to get through the levels. You can of course only control one troop at the time, but the troops that you aren't controlling will defend themselves, so this can be used to perform a pincher movement if need be. In some missions there are vehicles available such as choppers, tanks, and jeeps, and using these vehicles in the correct manner is often paramount to your success in the mission. Some missions also have sentry guns that you can use to fire rockets or shells at your enemies, adding to the destructive fun!
Your soldiers gain in rank for every mission they survive, and an increase in rank means an increase in range when shooting, so these high ranking officers quickly become invaluable resources, and you will cry bitter tears when they finally die. The first four troops are called Jools, Jops, Stoo, and RJ - named after the game's main programmer (Jools), musicians (Jops, RJ), and graphical designer (Stoo) - and if you are in any way like me, you will quickly become very affectionate with these four characters. These are the troopers you start out with, and pretty soon you will be protecting them as much as possible, by sending lower level grunts out as cannon fodder, in order to keep these guys alive so that they may increase in rank and become super soldiers with an incredible range.
The original Amiga version of Cannon Fodder was ported to a plethora of platforms some of which are SNES, Sega Mega Drive / Genesis, Atari Jaguar, 3DO, and even what seems to be a pretty miserable port to Game Boy Color. So if you don't own an Amiga or CD32, there's no reason not to be playing Cannon Fodder. I'd of course recommend playing the original Amiga version though - which by the way plays perfectly in UAE. If you are interested in looking into the enormous back catalogue of the Amiga, but you don't want the hassle of setting up an emulator, I'd recommend taking a look at Cloanto's Amiga Forever package. It's an easy (and legal) way to play old Amiga games. If you do pick up a console version, I'd recommend playing it on a console that supports a mouse, like e.g. the SNES.
Fun fact: When setting out to design Cannon Fodder the main designer, Jon Hare, wanted to create a kind of "Lemmings with guns". Apart from the cute little characters you control, I'm not sure I see the resemblance, but it's fun to think that that's where the idea came from.
Verdict: As you have probably sensed from reading this review I LOVE Cannon Fodder, so please do take this with a grain of salt, but I can't for the life of me find a single thing I don't like about this game, so the score has to be a pure 5/5 from me. The One Amiga Magazine gave it a 93% back in the day, and like me the reviewer couldn't find anything to dislike - I quote: "There are a few faults... well all right, there aren't but I had to put that line in just to keep my status as objective journalist."
If you'd like to play Cannon Fodder today, and you don't have an old Amiga lying around, you could try the PC version that you can get at GOG.com - http://www.gog.com/game/cannon_fodder