Now this brings me back.
Asterix: The Gallic War is a strategy game directed at children. Back in the early 2000s there was a clothing store we frequented that had a Playstation set up in a corner behind the stairs, which always drew a crowd of kids eager to get away from their shopping parents. However, The Gallic War was the only game available on it and I don’t think I’ve ever seen any kid make it further than 3 rounds. Many felt it was stupid that you just messed around on a map, but for me it awakened an early interest in strategy games.
When I found a copy of the PC version of the game in a retro store, I decided to revisit this childhood gem.
The game kicks off with an animated segment that looks like it could’ve come straight from the cartoon. The druid Getafix is looking to brew a new potion, but finds his stockpile of ingredients has run out. Asterix and Obelix are thus tasked with going out into Gaul and retrieving the necessary ingredients, which means having to wage war on the occupying Romans.
From there you are kicked to a map of Gaul on which you only hold the one remaining village that defies Roman rule. Each turn is cut up into 3 phases: first you get a new batch of troops to deploy to any of your provinces, next is the attack phase, and finally a reinforcement phase where you can move troops between territories you own. It’s basic, but undeniably effective.
I admire that a strategy game for kids is willing to present such dire circumstances. You are immediately surrounded and within attacking range, with no buffer states or anything else to keep off the Roman warmachine. Caesar’s legions are also effective; not only do they outnumber you, but in battle they can reliably take you on 2:1. They’ll almost always win an even battle, which makes it very challenging to claim and maintain a foothold.
Despite being a game for kids, it also has some notable depth to make strategy worthwhile. Keeping your frontlines narrow means you have to spread your forces less thin, in turn making it easier to hold off Roman counterattacks. You also have to be mindful of not letting provinces be cut off and surrounded, as you’ll lose the ability to reinforce and command them until you reestablish a path between it and the starting village.
While beating back the Roman hordes is fun enough already, the game varies up its strategy portion with mini-games and platformer segments. Select provinces will trigger these, and if you win the province automatically becomes yours with bonus troops being added based on how many points you scored.
It’s fun, but crude in its implementation. The very idea is already antithetical to the strategy portion, as you won’t have to deal with losing troops. If you know where such a province is, you can theoretically get away with sending a single unit against 20 and come out fine. Bringing more dudes gives you more health in the stage or bonus time in the mini-games, but these are too inconsequential. You can usually score some health refills early on in any level, while the time bonus requires a lot of manpower before it’s likely to affect your chances at winning significantly.
Losing these provinces is also extra painful, as it means you’ll have to replay the game attached to it all over again. Somehow, The Romans seem to be aware of this and will deliberately aim to retake these lands. I won’t advocate for save scumming, but there were times where I preferred reloading an outdated save over having to replay the bowling mini-game again.
The platformer segments are quite creative, considering they’re a side-feature for a different kind of game entirely. They are all set in 3D spaces, but different levels have different camera orientations, and each level has its own feel. Compare a level like the town, where you have to explore an open-ended stage while beating up guards to find a randomly-placed key, with a more straightforward level like the pirate fort, which is a linear path that has stage gimmicks like a raft ride.
The controls do leave a lot to be desired and hit-detection is wonky at the best of times. This is extra frustrating on PC, where by default the controls are mapped to ASDFG. Even by the end of the game I’d still frequently lose because I would run up to make a long jump and then end up performing an attack by accident. I also don’t think I have ever had any use for the charged special attack. It’s so slow to wind up and no enemy will ever be kind enough to just stand around for it.
This makes it hard to recommend the game to anybody but people who remember it nostalgically. It’s not a strategy game that will impress veterans of the genre and it’s too outdated for kids of today, but if you remembered playing it back in the day and could never beat it, then it’s definitely worth revisiting. I used to be a big fan of Asterix and Obelix, and finally getting to finish this game has rekindled some of my love for the series.