Advance Wars Review

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Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Intelligent Systems

Platform: Game Boy Advance
Reviewed on Game Boy Advance

Lead and advise the Orange Star army against incursions into their territory by Blue Moon forces, the Green Earth armies, and others, to ultimately face a mysterious and manipulative foe. If the campaign itself isn't enough, fight pick-up battles or compete head-to-head with human opponents, unlocking extra generals and scores of maps along the way.

Kyle Ackerman

Advance Wars takes colorful, cheerful battlefields, adds a handful of good-spirited, anime-styled commanders, and uses them to build a turn-based strategy game of simplified warfare. A first glimpse of Advance Wars might suggest that it should be called My Child's First Wargame. In truth, Advance Wars is not just a brilliant and engrossing game – it alone is reason enough to purchase the Game Boy Advance.

The graphics are cute, with cartoonish commanders leading carefully drawn (and painfully cute) military units into combat. Despite the war-ridden theme of countries named after primary and secondary colors at odds, most of the enemy commanders are (or become) close friends, ultimately facing a threat more universal than their petty conflicts over territory. Hidden within the simple, bright graphics is surprising strategic depth. Depending on the map, ground, air and sea forces may be available to participate in the fray. Each has their own abilities, and while there are more and less powerful units, Advance Wars balances combat through an elaborate plan of rock-paper-scissors strengths and weaknesses.

You, the player, effectively control every move of your troops, but ostensibly serve as an advisor to a commander of the troops in the field. Each commander is unique, with talents that may lend advantages, offset by weaknesses. For example, Andy is well rounded and can occasionally use his CO power to repair all of his units in the field. Grit is an excellent marksman, and has improved range and accuracy with artillery units, but has a tough time going head to head in direct combat with opposing forces. Others are better in the air or at sea, at scouting or with infantry forces. Depending on which CO you choose, and which you face, outcomes can be dramatically different on the very same battlefield.

Victory is simple – you must either eliminate all opposing forces or capture the enemy's HQ. Of course, you'll have to navigate plenty of cleverly designed battlefields, and deal with potential waves of reinforcements. While some skirmishes start with set forces, most battlefields include not only cities (which can repair and resupply allied forces) but factories, harbors and air bases, which can be used to build ground, sea and air forces, respectively. Cities you posses provide income to fund the construction of new troops, so most battles are all about using infantry to take and hold cities so that you can build sufficient forces to win.

Advance Wars is missing features that PC strategy gamers might see as shortcomings, but these omissions seem reasonable given the limitations of the GBA hardware. You can't set waypoints for your units to follow, so you will have to direct every unit to move and attack, every turn. Also, the AI for computer opponents is decent, but not particularly sophisticated, and will happily fall into traps you set for it or foolishly sacrifice units. In order to control difficulty, the game often starts giving your computer opponent more starting cities, more forces, or both. Alternately, you might face an enemy CO who is strong at sea and weak in the air on a map full of water, with no planes or helicopters.

The campaign mode that the game offers (with an associated light plot) is plenty of fun, but is far from all Advance Wars has to offer. Every time you complete a battle (including in the campaign), you earn coins that can be used to purchase access to more play modes, maps and commanders. This lets you play individual pick-up games against computer opponents on the map of your choice. Even better is the ability to play against a human opponent. You can link multiple GBAs, or just pass one back and forth. You can even play in Vs. Mode, which allows up to four players (real or computer-generated) to compete as friends or foes. You can even design your own maps or incorporate the fog of war into your battles to make life more interesting.

Despite its simplicity, Advance Wars includes just enough sophistication to leave you a meaty, if straightforward game that can provide countless hours of enjoyment. Advance Wars is so good that it would be worth purchasing a GBA even if this were the only game you could play. Of course, Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising is on its way soon.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on May 3, 2003 12:51 PM.

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