I know there are some of you out there who are probably surprised, if not upset, that we would dare eliminate Herzog Zwei today. Or at least there would be if they were anyone out there following this project. “But Brad,” these fictional readers would say, “you can’t deny a Seal of Quality to Herzog Zwei! It was the first Real Time Strategy game ever made. It’s historically important!” Then, since all our readers are fictional, they would ride off on their unicorns while proving once and for all the infallibility of supply-side economics. And yes, these fictional readers have a point – Herzog Zwei is historically significant in the history of gaming. And you know what else? The Wright Brothers’ plane is historically significant is terms of flight history. You still wouldn’t want to fly that deathtrap from New York to Los Angeles. I think there’s a point somewhere in that example that I was trying to make, but screw it – it’s late and I’m almost out of cookie cake.
Well, the menu screen is certainly… utilitarian.
I will admit that Herzog Zwei is an amazing achievement for its time. But it’s also an RTS missing a lot of key features that we take for granted in these types of games. Like being able to issue commands to your units after you’ve deployed them. Or controls that are even remotely intuitive. Or a map that you can see while playing the game. You know, things that would help make it what those of us who write about games for a living like to call “functional”, or in layman’s terms, “not a pain in the ass to play”.
“But Brad,” those fictional readers from the first paragraph will say after coming back from a Buffalo Bills Super Bowl parade, “it was 1990. Those things hadn’t been thought of yet.” Well guess what? It’s not 1990 now. A lot of the old Genesis games from those days held up pretty well and are still fun to play even now. Herzog Zwei isn’t one of them. The point of this project isn’t to make a list of the 100 best Genesis games for their time. It’s to make the list of the best Genesis games right now. Why? Because Stryker and I don’t have a time machine, and even if we did, we probably wouldn’t go back to the early 90s anyway. Knowing what the best games of 1990 were isn’t that helpful to you, me, or any of our imaginary readers. We’d much rather know which Genesis games are still worth dusting off once in a while, and which ones are better left in a cardboard box in some forgotten corner of the attic of Stryker’s parent’s house next to the Atari 2600. And once you’re almost 15 years out from when they stopped making games for the system, the risk of these rankings changing gets to be pretty low.
A tactical map might have been handy before I stumbled into the enemy base.
Even so, you can’t say Herzog Zwei’s influence isn’t still felt today. It was the first Real Time Strategy game ever made. It’s also the first one to show us that RTS games don’t really work on a console. Almost 20 years later, that rule is still as true now as it was back then.