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150 SNES games reviewed #20: Cannon Fodder

Cannon Fodder can best be described as an action-strategy shooting game. It was developed by Sensible Software and originally published by Virgin Interactive for the Amiga in 1993.

It got rave reviews across the board from pretty much every Amiga magazine at the time despite also causing controversy with its humorous take on war. Virgin soon ported the game to other home computer systems as well as to the Jaguar, Mega Drive, SNES and 3DO.

With my complaints about some other games being ported to the SNES people could expect me to get a bug in my butt about this game. After all, the controls pretty much show themselves to be mouse controls pushed on to a pad (play if for just one minute and you will see what I mean, you move a crosshair on the screen and then press a button to move to that point or another button to shoot in that direction).

The player directs troops through numerous missions, battling enemy infantry, vehicles and installations. The game is incredibly playable – sure, the controls might be a little strange, it might also seem a little basic and maybe in some ways it is, but it just works. What the graphics lack in quality they make up for by having an amusing cuteness to them.

Cannon Fodder doesn’t feature much music. There is no music during the missions themselves. Instead these are accompanied by sounds such as bird cries, and of course gunfire, explosions and the screams of the dying. There are a few tunes that play during the briefing and debriefing screens though and these really help to set the scene.

Cannon Fodder’s greatest strength is its dark humorous tone. This is what made some people originally love it but also caused a lot of controversy. Its creators always talked about how they intended it to convey an anti-war message, which some reviewers and fans at the time recognised and which seems obvious to me now. The problem is that certain newspapers and solider-related charities had real issues with it. They thought it was making war into too light a subject and taking the piss out of those who had suffered and died in war.

Cannon Fodder is definitely a game that I would refer to as a classic, and unlike some other games from this time period it is still very playable. That is in part down to its simplicity but you also need to thank its dark sense of humour. This was a rare treat of a game in the fact there was a message hidden behind the action, back when other games just wanted to sell themselves to you as mindless action, this game had a point.

Every time a gravestone appears on the hill, every time you have lost a man you cant help but mourn for his death. The soldiers are not just a group of faceless numbers, by giving them names, by allowing them to rank up and by a cross being added to the hill for every loss, you start to view them as people. You have favourites, not many other games achieve this with the exception of Fire Emblem and X-COM. I am going to have to give my first decimal score here. I can’t decide between seven and eight, so 7.5 out of 10 it is.

I was incredibly lucky with this game. I went to a retro store – one which is usually stupidly expensive (they charge £15 for the old NES Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt cart despite having three copies in stock for one) – and all they wanted for this was £4. Having looked online you can get the PAL cart of this game for about £13 or if you want to spend a little more you could get a boxed copy for around £25. Important things to note though are that this game was available on everything so you might be able to get a cheaper version on another format some of them such as the Amiga version have little things which are missing from the SNES version (the title song has amusing lyrics).