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Herzog Zwei (Genesis, 1989)

Technosoft’s masterpiece.

I feel sorry for the little army men.
And a genre was born.

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous


GENRE: Real-time Strategy

RELEASE DATE: 12/15/89 – (JP), 1990 – (US, EU)

Herzog Zwei isn’t just the first real-time-strategy game for the Genesis. It’s the first real-time-strategy game ever made. Yes, the genre that spawned such best-selling classics as Dune II, Command and Conquer and Warcraft started on a console; that’s gotta hurt some of the more prideful PC master race folks.

She’s beautiful.

I’ve been a console gamer for most of my life, which means I haven’t crossed paths with the RTS genre very often. When I did – Starcraft and Warcraft III at my friend’s house – I was in awe at the sheer amount of crap the games would ask you to track. These units on this end of the map, those units on the other end of the map. Bodies and buildings exploding, sirens going off. You’re trying to maintain your units’ positions while enemy units do their thing. I don’t know how the hell my friend stayed focused, but it just wasn’t difficult for him.

Eight maps, at your service.

Herzog Zwei isn’t much different, but as it’s the first of its kind, the strategy is less intense (blessed be). You control a fighter jet that can turn into a mech, and your goal is to take over bases littered around the map. Bases are either neutral (white squares) or controlled by you or your opponent (red/blue squares). You command units to take over bases, create units to defend them, then move on to decimating your opponent’s base camp. Easy as Zwiebelkuchen.

Those blue balls spell trouble.

Your transformer is a beast of a machine, but keep a watchful eye on its stats. The top of the screen displays both an ammunition and an energy bar. Ammunition only depletes in raw dog skirmishes with the opposing side. Energy goes down quickly while you’re flying, but when you’re in mech mode, you’re able to conserve. To re-fuel your bullets and energy, just head back to any of your bases and sit a spell.

You can’t win a war without hired guns. Armored cars, tanks, anti-aircraft tanks, boats, stationary cannons, supply trucks, infantry, and motorcycles are all important to build and build some more. To keep them coming, you’ll need lots of money, which thankfully regenerates automatically. The more bases you acquire, the more money you’ll receive.

Ready to serve, ready to die.

To build units, enter the main menu, select your unit, enter a command for them (commands also cost money), then wait for the unit to be built. You can build units from anywhere on the map. Once the unit has arrived, however, you have to fly to a base and transport them where you want to go.

Infantry are the lifeblood of the operation. They might be small, but they’re also the only ones who take over bases. Four infantrymen will get you a base, but they won’t be enough to keep it. If an infantryman from the opposing side manages to get into your base, you’ll lose one of your men. Keeping a base surrounded by tanks and stationary cannons is critical to its survival.

Waiting by your base for units to emerge adds to the tension.

There are a handful of menu commands you can issue each member of your squad. Fixed position, for example, lets your unit stand guard by a base and attack anything that comes near. Base takeover is limited to infantry and allows them to, er, take over a base. Units that roam around the map always need a supply truck or two to keep their ammunition and gas refreshed. My roaming units tended to wander into areas where they’d get stuck and then run out of gas. This is obviously a waste of money and manpower, so the more I played, the more I focused on building units with fixed position and limited movement.

The eight maps provided are quaint by today’s standards, but they’re big enough for the game’s purposes. Vulkan takes place in a volcano, complete with flowing lava that will incinerate your units, while Stadt is a town with industrial flim flam coursing through its metallic veins. There’s a desert, a jungle, an icefield. Beat all eight maps and you take over Germany, and by extension, the world. Herzog for no man.

Right towards the lava, no fear.

I am enthralled by Herzog Zwei, but I’m also absolutely terrible at it. Even on the easiest setting, the computer knows exactly what he’s doing. His movements are fast and methodical, while I feel like a bumbling intern who’s never experienced war. I’m not sure if the computer starts out with more money than me or just more experience, but he is a unit-building dynamo. Before I can even take over one base, he’s surrounded his bases with tanks, stationary cannons, and supply trucks. A bit of an exaggeration, perhaps, but the fact remains: the computer is a ruthless and worthy adversary.

I did my fair share of exploding.

And just when I thought I was getting ahead of the computer, he’d switch up his tactics. Once, I tried laying a couple stationary cannons by one of his bases. He couldn’t approach the base to destroy them without getting hit, but he seemed obsessed with destroying them. This left me free to build infantry and take over some of his other bases. Eventually, somehow, he destroyed my stationary cannons, then proceeded to make up for lost time. He built his own stationary cannons around his base, then came hauling balls for my base camp. Rather than give him the satisfaction of a well-earned defeat, I took the coward’s way out and reset the game.

I predict a rumble.

Prior to embarking into the heady world of Herzog, I was told by several people to play the game with a second person. To not even think about playing Herzog Zwei single-player. They were absolutely right. Even if only one person is good at the game, at least both people have to calculate their strategy with limited human brains. The computer has no limits, and thus, rips you (or at least, rips me) to shreds every time.

But I don’t care. The low barrier of entry makes Herzog easy to learn – and get addicted. No matter how many times I lost at the hand of the computer, I always wanted more. Whether you’re getting pummeled into the war-torn earth by a cold and calculating computer or laughing with your friend when they input the wrong command in for their tank, Herzog Zwei remains a hypnotic and engaging strategy title.


17 replies on “Herzog Zwei (Genesis, 1989)”

Good post, makes me wanna play it with you. I got into Civilization 2 for PC in my early teens. After a whole bunch o’ playin’, my “domain”, as it were, was pathetic (I was in the space race with bearskin rugs on my throneroom floor…). You’re right, these games are hard.

Man I loved the music in this game. Classic Technosoft electric guitars and drums. The music for each stage was really uptempo and kept you wanting to fight hard. Though I remember Dylan not really caring for the Thunderforce 2 music much so this is real similar.

Never played this one. Sounds like I would’ve enjoyed it. I think the name on the box had a lot to do with my lack of interest. If I ever see a copy I think I will pick one up.

I like RTS games, but I was never able to figure this one out as kid.

I tried to figure out why my plane kept dying without touching anything, and then just gave up and never touched it again.

This is one of my favorite Genesis games, I’m glad you were able to figure enough out to have fun with it. It DOES take time to learn.

For me early on this video store started rented Genesis games, and EGM hadn’t really reviewed this favorably. So I decided to rent it. I mean it had a transformer in it! Hey anything with a mech got my attention back then. (I’m looking at you Transbot.) so I had it for a weekend rental. And I had no clue what this game was suppose to be. Obviously I’d never played anything like it. It was crazy hard. I didn’t understand the commands or even exactly what you were supposed to do. Like someone mentioned I’d fly around and explode from running out of gas. I didn’t k ow how you took over a base. I slowly started learning how to play. A good way was watching the attract screen for gameplay tips. But still I don’t think I beat the computer. But I played with my friend and we had a pretty good time. But when the weekend was up right when I was starting to get the hang of it I took it back. Not really sure what to think of this game. It was hard and a little confusing. But I saw something in it.

Well later I saw this game on sale and I bought it. This one has the instruction booklet. (The rental copy did not, probrably leading to my confusion.) I throughly read it and figured out what all the bars were. And what all the commands did. I mean when I first played I didn’t even know how to win. Like attacking the enemy base. I learned that only units could attack the enemy base and not you. It all started coming together. Even then though I still struggled to beat the computer. I’d be capturing bases and building up defenses while the computer would come over and shoot me. And drop a heavy tank nearby or something. He was all over the place. Then I started learning that you have to multitask in this game. And it all started coming together. I started learning speed was helpful. Like flying soldiers to a vacant base to get the money flowing. And later doing multiple things at once. Like taking over a distant base while flying soldiers there while dropping other soldiers at a base and ordering them to take the nearest base without my assistance. Then I’d start sending fast motorcycles or light tanks to attack the enemy’s main base just to keep him occupied. Then I started trying to thwart the enemy’s objectives whil I was doing my own. With the radar you can see what he is doing, So I’d drop a few troops off, use the rest of my fuel and fly to the bae where the enemy was taking over and start to blast his troops before they could enter. Sometimes I’d lie in wait and destroy the enemy when he came around. All biding time while my defenses built, sometimes of course he’d use the same tactics. Next thing you know I was addicted, I’d be planning my attacks on the maps by which bases I’d take and fortify, and how I’d close in on him. It was almost like an action board game. I think to do good you just have to think smart and multitask. We’ll eventually I beat the computer the first time and continued getting better. Soon I’d be timing how far I could fly a u it before dropping it off and returning to an ally base without exploding, planting an early heavy tank at the enemies main base to get some damage in before he fortified it. The more devious tactics in loved taking an a it aircraft gun to his main base or smaller base and dropping it and camping it. Every time he flew in the missiles would hit him and I’d be there to shoot him as well. Rinse and repeat. Or building up whole armies and unleashing them in a giant assault an the enem all at once. (You can change unit orders any time.) Early matches on easy can be won with a sneak attack with a tank and anti aircraft gun placed at the main enemy base while your guard them and they chip away at it. Harder difficulty’s place an enemy defense at the main base from the beggining.

And then all the terrains were so different and had so many different strategy’s. Like the lake where you could send fleets of boats to attack. Or the caves where you had to worry about units getting lost and tight passageways making for intense choke point battles. I eventually was able to beat all 32 missions and beat the game. (8 maps times 4 difficulty’s). Some of the harder maps took over an hour of battle. When the computer and you would become entrenched in a near stalemate and the battle for even one base was an epic war. I th9nk the enemy AI was quite well done, while overwhelming lay hard at first, it made a formidable opponent when you got good at the game.

I love this game and can still pick up and play it today. It uses a good amount of twitch skills while still requiring strategic decisions. Your brain will be running full tilt when you play this one at a high level. And that is maybe the only negative thing. When you own the game and get good enough to beat it, then you have a friend come over and play competitively, it’s pretty easy to destroy them. Only when playing someone near the same level is it competitive, which is hard to do if your the only person you know who has the game. My friends stopped wanting to play this with me because I won every time, Unlike when I first rented it and we were on the same level.

But this game was pretty groundbreaking. You have a small but adequate number of u it’s with strengths and weaknesses, varied maps, and simple stars to monitor. (When a u it runs out of fuel or ammo it displays a little ! Bubble over its head requesting help.) the radar is immensely helpful. And somehow the game manages to keep track of as many units as you can put on the map. Sometimes for fun I’d take all the bases and build a massive armies of like 30-50 vehicles and unleash them all once for a devastating attack on the main base.

A few years ago I played this again and noticed that the second ending was not on YouTube so I uploaded the bad guys ending. It’s not documented but you can plug in the 2P controller and play through the game as the blue forces on the opposite side of all the maps and get the bad guys ending. (Which still somehow manages to end up good in the end.) it adds a whole other reason to play through the game agains as not all the maps are symmetrical and are slightly different in the strategys you use for the map. I posted the Blue ending on YouTube.

Anyway I’d recommend this to anyone who is willing to put the time in to learn the game as the payoff is worth it. Just that learning curve is a little steep in the beggining.

This is the best comment ever. Thanks for sharing, Sean! I look forward to getting better with this game over time. This is one of the few games I’ve played on this entire Sega journey that I plan to play again.

Never actually heard of this game before let alone seen it. But that title and US box art just scream shmup to me 😉

You made me extremely curious about this game now, as I loved placing RTS games back in the day.

I absolutely loved this game back when i bought it. I mean, I was a fan of Thunder Force II, and this had Technosoft in the box, so why not? I bought it, marveled at the awesome music (and complained at the reused sound effects) and then… what the heck did I get into? It wasn’t until a few days later that I played against a buddy that it all clicked. We spent literally hours playing against each other all the time and it quickly became our favorite game (until the arrival of Street Fighter II Special Champion Edition).

Fun fact: if you play a map for long enough against another player (I seem to recall it being around 3 hours), it seems that the system can’t keep up with all the resources anymore and you both get unlimited gold.

I discovered (by accident) that Herzog Zwei was not actually the first game in this series. The first was just called Herzog, and was released for the MSX computer line (might have been released for others, I don’t know). I figured the ‘zwei’ was just a fancy way of saying this was for two players, but it’s really just a fancy way of saying this is Herzog 2.

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