Handheld Review of the Month: Advance Wars

“What bus are you on for the field trip?” The year was 2006, I was in middle school. But even then I was a gamer. My friends and I always look forward to field trips. Getting out of school was great, however our fun began right as we stepped on the bus.

“I’m on bus 2, with you guys.” In some ways, I guess we looked forward to playing a game on the bus more than we did actual field trip sometimes.

“Awesome! What are the rules?” We learned a while ago rules had to be picked in advance, or else you’d lose precious time playing on the bus.

“No fog. First team to capture 12 cities. No Sami.”  With those words, we parted and began strategizing for the match.

Advanced Wars is a strategy game that spans four different titles from the Game Boy Advance to the Nintendo DS. It’s a turn based strategy game that makes the horrors of war almost light hearted and cheery, despite the fact you may be blowing up a battleship with a couple of rockets on the coast line. Advance Wars has been a favorite of mine over the years.

The original Advance Wars was released in September, 2001 and by Intelligent Systems. Players used units to either route their opponent, capture their headquarters, or reach a specific objective to gain strategic dominance over their opponents. Players used up to eighteen different  units (assuming the map allowed so) ranging from foot soldiers, tanks, bomber planes, and even battleships. To add to the strategy of the game, maps also could have fog of war, as well as different terrains that units could or could not pass through. However the thing that set advance wars apart from other turn based games was the influence of an army’s command officer (CO).

At the beginning of each map, players are allowed to choose a CO that had specific strengths and weaknesses. In addition to that each CO had a CO Power that for the turn boosted their units in one way or another.  The greatest example would be the two COs Grit and Max. Grit’s units excelled at indirect combat, but were weak at direct combat. Max was the exact opposite. His units excelled at direct combat while generally were miserable with indirect combat. Some COs did things like fought better at sea, or could see further into fog than others. To win you had to play to the strengths of the CO you picked.

While Advance Wars had a great single player campaign with solid replayability, it excelled at multiplayer. The reason being? You only needed one Game Boy Advance to play with four people. Players could take their turn and then physically pass the game to their opponent. Fog of war was also handled by hiding the screen out until the next player was ready. This allowed those road trips, or field trips in my case, to be occupied with hours of fun without the hassle of link cables.

Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising, was released in July, 2003. Bringing the game a lot of new features including new terrains, new units, new COs, as well as a new game mode called War Room, which allowed players to play against computer controlled opponents without playing the campaign.

The biggest change to the series was the addition to Super CO Powers. With the new game, the original CO Power meter that filled up was changed to small stars and larger ones. When the small stars lit up, a player’s CO Power was available for use. When all of the stars were full a player’s Super CO Power was ready for use. However certain characters gained their CO Powers at different rates. CO Power meter management became a much larger focus of the game with this change. A well placed and timed Super CO Power could easily win you the game.

Like it’s predecessor the game kept several key features in the game like, the beloved multiplayer function, as well as custom maps.

The next game in the series was Advance Wars: Dual Strike, released in august of 2005. While the new iteration bought new graphics, and just about everything we loved about the previous games, but it introduced a couple of things that really hurt the game’s development of strategy.

The main reason for this was the introduction of a function called, “Tag System. We know before we choose a CO that had specific weaknesses. Well now players could  team up with another CO allowing the use of two. However the effects and abilities could only be active by one CO at a time, unless you used a “Dual Strike”.

Previously a well placed Super CO Power could turn the tide of battle. Dual Strike allowed the player to activate one Super CO Power and then allow your units to move once more and activate the second. Not only did you get the benefits of both CO’s Super CO Power, you also pretty much got a second turn. While certain CO Powers worked better together (and in fact players were rewarded for finding solid combinations) it was sometimes better to continually harass opponents with Super CO Powers, or even just normal CO Powers. An army in shambles wouldn’t be able to do much, even with a second turn.

Another big change to COs was that they could actually level up and gain generic bonuses for their armies for single player game modes. The more you played a CO the more bonuses you got add to your army. Wanted to move across forests quicker? You could give increased movement speed across forests to your units. Tired of your planes and ships sinking because they ran out of fuel? You could give those units an ability to burn less fuel each turn. These powers were very much needed for some of the latter missions in the campaign, as well as the hard mode of the campaign.

The game also added a couple of features like timed challenges, or limited resource challenges. In addition they added plenty of War Room Maps so a player wouldn’t run out of things to do. I think it took me almost three years to finish the majority of the War Room Maps. Overall Advance Wars: Dual Strike is probably my favorite of the series, despite the fact that the Dual Strike ability, probably shouldn’t have given players the chance to move their armies twice in a single turn.

The final game of the series is Advance Wars: Days of Ruin released for the Nintendo DS in January of 2008. While the game made it stateside, it was actually canceled in Japan. Despite that the game was well done and very different from it’s predecessors.

A major change of the game was the fact that it took place in a completely different setting than the previous three games. It actually took part in a post-apocalyptic world where 90% of humanity has actually been killed off by a meteor strike that hit the earth. To make matters worse the actual event has caused a massive amount of dust into the sky, blocking out the sun leaving the rest of humanity in a very dark world. From the previous title, which like I said earlier almost make war look cheery, is much darker and has a much more serious tone in the game.

Another large change to the series is the fact that units level up as they do combat with other units. This gives players incentive to keep units that have progressed well alive, or even to retreat to repair and heal up. Previously the game had a different mentality of healing and repairing troops, which this change largely wanted to impact. An army of veteran units was not to be trifled with.

The biggest change I feel though was the reduction of influence that the CO had upon their army. In the new title all of the old CO’s have been replaced, as well as several old functions have been removed. Players must now cause a CO to join up with a unit at their HQ. Once they’ve done so an area is highlighted around the unit. Units within this area are influenced by the CO’s abilities. Units attacking or being dealt damage in this zone increase the CO Power meter, as well as increases the range of the zone. Once full the player can unleash their CO power similar to previous iterations in the game. After the constant Dual Strike spam from the previous game, I felt this was very welcomed change at first, but realized I missed my iconic COs as well as their abilities.

While all of the games I feel are worth playing, I would play Dual Strike and Days of Ruin for anyone looking to try the series out. However if you’re looking to play against someone you could always try out Advance Wars By Web, a flash version of Advance Wars Dual Strike that you can play for free. You can check it out here http://awbw.amarriner.com/. There’s still an active community there and even leagues you can join to play.

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