Sensible Software's Cannon Fodder, initially released back in 1993 on the Amiga, provides the player with a moral quandary at certain points during the game. Leading your squad of up to eight troops, all of whom look like they've just stepped out of Sensible's rather famous soccer series, you'll come across enemy soldiers that can be dispatched at the click of a mouse. For the most part you'll literally blow them away in a puff of red pixels and they'll vanish. Occasionally, however, they'll sit there in a bath of red, tinny screams filling your ears, flickering in pain.
It's your choice, of course, whether or not to simply continue on your merry way, or put the poor bastard out of his misery with a single click (I tended towards the latter). It doesn't influence the game, the guy is effectively dead after all, but it's an interesting moment in the rather cartoonish representation of war that might just make you stop and think a little bit.
Not that it in any way detracts from the fun. Sensible were all about reinterpreting genres in their own cutesy way and with Cannon Fodder - a game bearing the tagline 'War has never been so much fun!' - they created an accessible, slick and speedy, tactical take on war that was just as much fun to play as Sensible Soccer.
The top down view returns, along with simple controls: click the left mouse button to navigate, click the right to bring the rain. There are crates to pick up later on that'll contain rockets and grenades for demolishing buildings, and you can split your squad up as the game progress and your team expands, but that's about it. Objectives range from 'Kill all enemies' to 'Destroy all buildings', and by range I mean that's pretty much it.
Simple? Yes. Boring? Never. Everything's handled in a lighthearted, almost flippant manner. From the excessive cheese of the opening song to the goofy names of your brothers-in-arms to the awful puns that made up the mission titles (we love puns), it's bright cheeriness all the way. The pace of the game, zipping about jungles and Arctic wastes, spraying unlimited ammo everywhere and blowing up everything in sight, it all sounds a bit Michael Bay, but unlike Mr. Bay's work this has charm in abundance.
Sadly, it was a charm that was lost on some people. The game's signature poppy drew a fair bit of controversy, with the Royal British Legion very unhappy that a layman might mistake the game's use of the poppy for endorsement on their part.The Daily Star called it a 'shameful game' and urged its readers not to buy it, even though Sensible added in a disclaimer before the title screen saying that 'This game is not in any way endorsed by the Royal British Legion'.
The mainstream media castigated Cannon Fodder for perceived 'warmongering', the game's apparent flippancy striking an ill chord with a few grumblers. But it's Cannon Fodder's tongue-in-cheek representation of war, along with a few satirical signifiers here and there that makes the game so special. The perspective from which the game is viewed - positioning the player as a commanding officer - throwing resources (in this case the men that provide the game's title) away to complete objectives is nothing new. But by naming each individual, allowing them to gain in rank and stature with each completed mission, you as the player come to root for them to survive.
The game's menu screen goes some way to emphasising this point. Never too overtly, Sensible don't shove their message down your throat, but as the levels increase in difficulty, as you begin to lose more and more men, the hills overlooking the menu's recruiting office start to become dotted with graves marking those you've lost even as the recruitment line increases. As the game progresses and the graves stack up, the eponymous theme becomes even more prevalent. That even though you ever-so-briefly mourned the loss of Jools and Jops and Stoo and James Dean, you threw them away along with the other hundred. And then you glance up at the sports-like scoreboard that marks enemy deaths against those of your own troops and realise that everyone's just become a statistic anyway.
It's a relatively subtle way to deliver a message, one that my young self simply didn't pick up on; but revisiting the game later on as an adult, Cannon Fodder provides a most curious seeming contradiction. It's still just as fun and addictive to play as it always was, but there's a subtle message to appreciate as well. Something that the press at the time failed to pick up on, although had they read the manual, they might have twigged it too. After all, Sensible even wrote it down for them: 'As Cannon Fodder demonstrates in its own quirky little way, war is a senseless waste of lives and resources. We hope you never find out the hard way.'