The software industry, it seems, is moving increasingly towards big licence deals. Not content with movie and book tie-ins, cartoons are now on the menu as well. The British have lifted Batman, Superman, Garfield and even Snoopy from celluloid to the world of animated pixels, and the French have followed with classics like Asterix and Tintin. And now another comic strip has surfaced as a computer game - this time a French hit called Les Tuniques Bleues. The result is North And South, an American Civil War story that mixes typical wargame strategy with comedy and arcade-style conflict.
The strategy element is planned on the map. There are two competing sides and flags indicate their territory. A single character, dressed in either brown or blue, lets you know if the land is occupied. Your aim is to defeat all opposing troops; best achieved by fighting for territory around the railway line which runs across the map. If you can capture enough land, you'll find the train starts dropping pots of gold into your lap - you get an extra man with every five pots.
The map is divided into territories and within each turn you move each of your armies into adjacent territory or combine two troops - then the enemy does the same. If there's any opposition already occupying the land, you fight in an action sequence to decide who controls the territory. The train then chugs along the track with the gold.
The railway line is the key to victory. Wherever possible, the train runs on tracks through adjacent territories which are commanded by the same army. The game starts with the train running between enemy territories, delivering gold. You must break the row of three adjacent enemy territories to force the train to deliver gold to your own territories and allow you to buy more troops.
There really isn't a lot to admire in the graphics department. The map is okay but the action sequences are awful. Scrolling is ridiculously jerky in both the fort and train scenes.
The battle sequence is hardly any better with character sprites little more than a few pixels square. It's pretty difficult to be impressed by cavalry or cannon firepower that you need a magnifying glass to identify.
The game is graced only with the occasional burst of sound to create spot effects such as the moving train or cries of war.
As long as you aren't after a realistic representation of the Civil War, the first thing to hit you about North And South is how much fun it looks to play. Then you realise you have an inadequate manual to digest and some serious playing skills to dust down.
It doesn't take long to figure out the best way to attack opposing armies once you've taken control of the railway line, but reaching that happy situation can be hard.
Played on the strategy mode, probability decides who should win, but when you're taking part in the action scenes you need to master the keyboard for success, and even then the odds are weighted against you. For example, it's impossible to control more than one band of soldiers at a time, yet the enemy is moving the lot simultaneously. Tackling these with the keyboard, now outdated as a control method, only makes an unfair challenge, even harder.
Having stacked up the bad points, it would be easy to dismiss North And South as an anachronism but it has its high points. The action sequences keep it alive and the plot requires you to give some thought to where you move. However, the map is too small and the possibilities too tedious to make it worth the effort.