This reconstruction of one of the bloodiest battles of WWII's South Pacific campaign is the latest in the Strategic Wargames Series begun with Falklands 82. It uses a system similar to that of its predecessor, with full map display at all times, five levels of difficulty, phased order sequences and a game design that follows in PSS's philosophy of 'playable' games (ie ones that do not take more than a couple of sessions to complete).
As with Falklands, the author (James Bethell, who wrote both games) has willingly sacrificed some authenticity for the sake of playability. There is logic to this move. A detailed simulation of the conflict would definitely have strained the limits of a disk based game, let alone one on cassette. The game still tries to cover the battle in reasonable depth.
The package is simple, consisting of a small cassette case and booklet of instructions. Loading takes no more than a couple of minutes (which is a shame as the loading screen is a very good rendition of the planting of the US flag on the beach at Iwo Jima). Once the game has loaded, the first of the aesthetic improvements to Bethell's game system becomes noticeable. Everything is joystick driven. In a wargame there's no reason why this cannot always be the case, as the increase in the speed of interaction between player and computer allows straightforward implementation of a strategy, instead of having to put ideas through a needlessly muddled series of arbitrary keyboard interactions.
All the game functions, from selecting difficulty, selecting a unit to order, the orders themselves (Move, Attack, Land, Pass), are simply selected from information windows and confirmed by pressing the fire button. All relevant information on the unit currently selected is also displayed in an information window to the left of the screen. This information is shown in an abstract points system. Units have an aggression factor, defense factor, movement factor, and a range factor, all of which affect combat ability.
The player (as there is no two-player option) must always take the side of the American forces, with the objective of eliminating all the enemy units between turns 32 and 36 (depending on the difficulty level set). The enemy may fortify positions, make suicide attacks if a unit is about to be wiped out, and launch air attacks against the carrier force bringing reinforcements and artillery support to your units. As long as the offshore fleet is well defended, and weather permitting, you may launch air strikes against the enemy.
Initially, the player must establish a beachhead with the first of his units (reinforcements arrive throughout the game), and there are six beaches which may act as landing sites. Many of them are penned in by minefields, and so a careful choice must be made as to which units land where. As many beaches as required may be used with the single provision that units may not be stacked in the same area.
That really sums up the game. Getting into the game is an extremely simple process, no doubt because it was designed with beginners in mind. And this brings up the question of why PSS include arcade sequences on their more 'serious' games and yet not on these introductory efforts. Not that I am advocating their use at all, but it does seem rather strange. There is some animation in the game, however. Air strikes by either side are rather crudely depicted by showing a simple aircraft silhouette passing over the target area.
There are faults with this system. Air strikes can only be called either after an attack by ground forces or by a unit that deliberately tries to attack whilst out of range. This really could have been made neater. The limited intelligence used in the game seems to be affected only by proximity and not by terrain. Because the designer has decided to make the whole island visible during play, the display size of the units is very small indeed and, when several units are in close proximity, this can lead to confusion. I can see this game appealing to those who feel daunted by some other companies' more complex offerings but who would still like to venture into the area of wargaming, but I must stress that its appeal for the more experienced player is likely to be very limited. Because of the way the author has changed historical details in the name of playability, anybody looking for an accurate means of simulating the battle is likely to be very disappointed with this game.
For all that, the final result is playable and PSS are not demanding that you break the bank to obtain a copy. Someone just looking for a way to pass a couple of hours at the keyboard without wanting to risk a migraine may get something from Iwo Jima. For anyone else, steer clear. It probably won't be worth it.
Well laid out instructions but the map looks slightly crowded.
A crisp map of Iwo Jima is let down by poor unit markers and terrain features.
Great for the beginner but apart from the historical notes (which could have been longer), there is little for the more demanding player.
Too much has been left out for playability's sake for this to be considered authentic.
Easy to get into and good, fast interaction makes the game a doddle to play.
Value For Money 39%
Cheap but even a beginner would master the game before long.
Pleasant fun for a minute or two but severely lacking as a wargame.