Combining elements of real-time strategy and resource management into a shmup, Herzog Zwei (“Duke 2” in German) is possibly one of the best games on Sega’s 16-bit powerhouse. Herzog Zwei is a two-player game in which the object is to destroy the enemy’s base. To accomplish this, the player was able to construct an assortment of units — including tanks, anti-aircraft guns, attack boats, infantry and armored cars.
Herzog Zwei was neglected by Sega at its release and was literally years ahead of its time. Nevertheless, it ultimately laid the foundation for games like Dune 2, Warcraft, BattleZone, and Command & Conquer by introducing most of the modern RTS conventions.
Herzog Zwei had some excellent graphics capabilities for such an early 16-bit release. It featured great split-screen action that allowed you to see what your opponent (human or computer) is doing. This feature was even hard for many early Genesis emulators to reproduce. Visually, Zwei is marked with a style that’s detailed and varied. The graphical details are crisp, clean and colorful — but they do show its age. The menus could also use some work to give it a more polished feel.
Zwei’s music is also pretty good. At first, I wasn’t much for them, but I later found myself humming the tunes from the game. The music is not like most games where the developers recycled some old melodies and put them in the game. As an added bonus, I found a remix of one of the tunes that is a free download.
The game is basically a strategy game that looks and sounds a lot like the overhead views in Thunderforce II (which is also from TechnoSoft). Your ship has three modes: Fighter airship, Transformer type ground fighter and air freighter. The other units you control could be programmed with certain predetermined behaviors, and once positioned on the field could be left to their own devices.
Aside from your main base and your enemies’ main base there are about six intermediate bases that can be occupied by you or the enemy. In fact you’ll have to occupy at least several of them, partially because you’ll need to re-power yourself over several of them to make it to the enemies base without being destroyed, and partially because you accrue money at a rate proportional to the number of bases you occupy and you need money to create troops.
There are a variety of terrains that you can fight over, each of which requires a different strategy. Combine that with the multitude of possible attack strategies and you will find that no two games are the same. You can either play against someone else with the screen split to show both views or you can play against the computer, in which case you have an option of making your view fill the full screen.
The main complaint of this game is its difficulty level. At times it seems like the computer has an unfair advantage – for example it could purchase and dispatch its units much quicker than human players. Many gamers, including myself have had a hard time just getting through the initial stages. On the other hand, others have mentioned that Herzog Zwei’s AI isn’t very advanced. Supposedly, it can quickly become predictable and easy to trap your opponent in single-player mode.
Even given these flaws, the single player game was still engaging and unique. But unsurprisingly, it was in multiplayer that the game was most impressive. Against a flesh and blood opponent the game became much more complex, and could make for hours of cut-throat fun. It was an experience that wouldn’t be rivaled for another two years, and that wouldn’t be seen again in console form for nearly a decade.
Perhaps because of its unique name, or because it was released long before Sonic the Hedgehog catapulted the Genesis into mainstream popularity, Herzog Zwei remains obscure to this day. A complete copy of the game will cost you around $30 and a cart on its own will demand around $15.
Game developers these days tend to stick to a single genre, rather than combining elements from several. It’s a shame because hybrid games like this always get me excited. Any way you looks at the game, Herzog Zwei is fun. In one player mode, you can easily find yourself losing all track of time. In two player mode, it’s arguably the games for the Genesis. It is rare that you find a game that has such a strong and effective blend of action and strategy.
In the early 90s, Herzog Zwei was just too “out there” for its audience. It probably didn’t help that gaming publications of the day didn’t know what to make of it, either. It was usually seen as a flawed shooter instead of a brilliant strategy game. Electronic Gaming Monthly’s score was around 4 out of 10 because they thought that the game was just too complex and hardcore. This past year, a different EGM editorial lineup listed Herzog Zwei among the top 100 games of all time.
Herzog Zwei was a sequel to the original Herzog on the MSX home computer, but had almost nothing in common with its predecessor in terms of gameplay.