Late last night I found out that the third entry in the long running, usually controversial Cannon Fodder series had been released and tried it out... only to experience pretty great disappointment. But the upside is it inspired me to make a thread dedicated to one of the most quietly controversial (and very fun) gaming series never to make a splash in the west.
The original Cannon Fodder was originally a 1993 Amiga game by Sensible Software that wound up being ported to just about every major (and minor) gaming machine available at the time - from IBM DOS PC to Atari Jaguar to even Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. Uk gamers will probably get wide grins on their faces at the mention of Sensible as they were the creators of one of the best Soccer series of all time - Sensible World of Soccer. However, in the US, for obvious reasons, Sensible isn't as well known, with Cannon Fodder likely being their biggest export. Sharing a tiny bit in common with their Soccer series (namely the tiny characters), Cannon Fodder looks like an RTS in screenshots, but it's actually a very straight forward action game, played entirely with a mouse (or cross hair on consoles without a mouse).
You begin each mission with a set number of troops. The mission objectives usually relate to killing a bunch (or all) of the badguys in a given area, blowing up buildings, rescuing others, and so forth. You control your troops with a simple 2-button mouse. You right click on a spot to move either your entire troop, or individual soldiers (if they're selected). You left click in an area to have your currently selected troops fire in that direction. You have other controls listed on the side, including using a soldier's individual items, like grenades, or segmenting off your troops into smaller units. Cannon Fodder doesn't have lives or really any punishment for losing. If all your troops die on a mission, you can retry that mission as many times as possible. Rather, the only downside to losing a battle in the game is that your soldiers themselves are gone forever. Every soldier in the game is generated a name and rank (with the starting four being the names of the programmers of the game, with Jools, Jops, Stoo, and RJ being sort of the series' mascots). As you compete missions, surviving soldiers gain meaningless rank, which gives you, at a glance, a visual of how long they've survived. When you begin each mission, you see your current troops marching to their inevitable death, passing by a giant hill. When you start the game, the hill is empty, but as you play, every soldier which dies gets buried on the hill, with a small tombstone with his name on it. Every single troop that dies throughout the course of the game gets added to the hill, and by the end of the campaign, your hill is usually completely overrun by tombstones. Ultimately the only incentive for you to not lose, is that you might feel slightly bad about sending a long-surviving, decorated soldier to his death.
Therein lies one of the sources of controversy surrounding Cannon Fodder. If there was ever a game more misunderstood by mainstream media, I'd be surprised. From start to finish, Cannon Fodder has an extremely apparent, tongue-in-cheek anti-war message to spread across. The series theme song, which became a moderate hit in the UK, is called "War has never been so much fun." It's extremely catchy:
The vocal theme song has been included in every single version of the game, even the Gameboy Color version, because it's the heart of the message the game is all about. The repeated refrain:
"War! Never been so much fun!
War! Never been so much fun!
Go up to your brother,
kill him with your gun.
Leave him lying in his uniform
dying in the sun.
(So much fun!)"
The title screen to the game is Remembrance Day Poppy, the symbol of veterans who served in WWII in Britain, with a cannon ball in the center. The game's title surrounds the poppy. Seeing the symbol of WWII veterans with the words "cannon fodder" on screen at the same time sparked outrage in the UK. This outrage escalated when the game was released on Armistice Day. Despite the obvious anti-war message of the game - the game's manual ends with "And on a more serious note: don't try playing this at home, kids, because war is not a game - war, as Cannon Fodder demonstrates in its own quirky little way, is a senseless waste of human resources and lives. We hope that you never have to find out the hard way" - the media reacted harshly to the game, decrying it, ironically, being a pro-war advocate and intending to make kids think that war was a game and to be made fun. Sensible stood by their product, and as such it never fully recovered from it's initial critical backlash. Despite this, the game was an absolute blast to play, and became a massive cult-hit worldwide.
There are 3 Cannon Fodder games. The best is undoubtedly the first, which is available on GoG for a paltry $5.99
. All ports of cannon fodder are pretty good, and largely the same. The Gameboy Color port winds up being phenomenal for the hardware, due in large part to all the gameplay being intact, along with the full, voiced theme song, and a minute-long FMV preempting the game. The best version is the Amiga version, but no version stands heads and shoulders above the rest.
Cannon Fodder 2 was released only for the Amiga and DOS, unlike the heavily ported prequel. It's more of the same, taking place in a wider variety of levels. The DOS version is currently unavailable online. Like it's prequel, it also attracted much backlash, and its slogan was "War has only been this much fun once before."
Cannon Fodder 3 was released a while ago, and isn't made by Sensible Software. It was outsourced to some russian developer, and most of the series quirky sense of humor is missing. The core gameplay remains the same, but the visuals are more inline with something like the GCN Advance Wars games than Cannon fodder:
I admit it might be bias talking, but I flat out don't like CF3 as much. It seems like too much of the same, with all of what made the original games worth playing removed.
The series also had, bizarrely, a number of cross overs with other Sensible games, and even a few Amiga games not made by Sensible. The most popular of these cross overs had to be the ones with Sensible World of Soccer. There was Cannon Soccer, sent out as a free bonus, which was essentially 2 bonus levels set in a snowy background, where the Cannon Fodder troops battled waves of Sensible Soccer players running plays. The inverse also occured - Sensible Soccer 93 had a special matchup inspired by the Christmas Time German-British truce
, where cannon fodder soldiers replace the sensible soccer players. One of the last big-time Amiga games released, Virocop, had an entire world dedicated to cannon fodder, where Virocop fought the Cannon Fodder soldiers.
Though it's largely lost to time, Cannon Fodder is still apparently remembered enough for it to get a d-rate sequel nearly 20 years after it's release. While that's not something to celebrate necessarily, the first two games in the series are.