Advance Wars: Days of Ruin Review

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Advance Wars: Days of Ruin Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Intelligent Systems

Platform: DS
Reviewed on DS

"A terrible asteroid strike has left the planet devastated. Few survivors remain and the world is in chaos. Toxic dust clouds are choking out the food supply. New diseases strike without warning. Terror runs rampant as people do whatever is necessary for their own survival.

"One small band fights to restore human dignity in a world gone mad... but the mission seems impossible. Their own country is being led by madmen. Their former enemy thinks only of revenge. And behind the scenes, a mad scientist with unbelievable power dreams of eliminating the human race once and for all."

Kyle Ackerman

Adolescence can be tough for teenagers, but Advance Wars: Days of Ruin isn't suffering from a pimply childhood at all. Days of Ruin promised to make the Advance Wars turn-based strategy games grow up. In some sense, that's true. The art style has become more mature, and the plot is darker than in past games. Rather than amicable warfare between cheerful and colorful states, humanity has been nearly exterminated by a celestial accident and the remnants of the population still continue their petty wars. Truthfully, anyone who found the past Advance Wars games to be too "kiddie" won't be impressed by the changes. But anyone with the slightest interest in strategy games will love the Advance Wars games, and Days of Ruin nicely refines the experience, making it the best Advance Wars game yet.

Apocalypse Soon

Advance Wars: Days of RuinA lot has changed to make Days of Ruin more adult. But most of it isn't nearly as important as the changes in the already strong play. In my review of the original Advance Wars for the GBA, I even called that game "My Child's First Wargame." Much of what makes Days of Ruin more mature doesn't work as well for Western audiences as it does for Japanese audiences. The biggest change is the style of the art – which is meant to appeal to an older audience. Those knowledgeable in the ways of manga and anime will recognize the difference. Others will just think that the cartoonish-looking stuff is a bit different.

The tale that surrounds Days of Ruin's many story missions is darker than in past Advance Wars game. A series of asteroid strikes has killed most of the planet's population and left the skies filled with dust. Plants are dying now that the sun can't be seen and the few survivors are banding together in search of shelter and food. At first, the plot seemed more mature, but after playing several of the story missions, the different players were just as much caricatures, and the villains, just as melodramatic, as in past games.

Finally, Days of Ruin has entirely different art for the units themselves. The game can be played at a lower level of zoom, in which case, the units on the battle map look just as they have in past Advance Wars games. However, you can also zoom in to see slightly less of the map, but the units use different art, looking less cartoonish and more military. The zoomed-in art makes everything from ships and tanks to infantry look sleeker and more dangerous. The thing is, the graphics aren't the important thing in Days of Ruin. The unit symbols are just that – symbols. I never used the zoomed-in mode because I far preferred to see more of the battlefield, even if it meant using the same graphics as in past Advance Wars games.

Out With the Black Boat, in with the Bikes

Advance Wars: Days of RuinThe "adultification" of Advance Wars in Days of Ruin may not be that important (it certainly doesn't detract), but the improvements in gameplay are enormous. Clearly, the role of every unit type and the way commanders act have all been reconsidered, rebalanced and improved.

Unbalanced units, like the "black boats" from Advance Wars: Dual Strike, have been removed, and several new units have been added that make things more interesting. Expensive carriers can build and launch seaplanes that are remarkably effective against ground units but have limited ammunition and fuel. Infantry can now be deployed with motorcycles, making them more mobile, but bikes are unable to board gunboats and transport helicopters. Maneuverable gunboats stock one powerful shot and can transport infantry, making it easier (and cheaper) to sneak troops onto distant beaches. There's even specific anti-tank artillery that can counter-attack, improving the rock/paper/scissors nature of unit balance by viciously destroying tanks and even taking down brutally powerful war tanks.

Advance Wars: Days of RuinA few changes to existing units make them much more useful and powerful. Battleships can both move and fire, making them deadly on the battlefield (as long as they don't run afoul of submarines). Even better, transports have been changed to "rigs." They are, essentially, the same, but with an added ability. Each rig can build a single, temporary airport or temporary sea port. This is really useful for repairing air and water units closer to the front lines and changes the play dynamic substantially. Dusters are an air unit that lies (in both power and cost) between helicopters and fighter jets. Altogether, along with the many tweaks to the power of various units, the units are more balanced and play is considerably more varied depending on your choice of tactics.

Finally, the commanding officer system has changed. Rather than watching over the battlefield like all-powerful gods, manipulating their pawns, COs now need to occupy a unit. Nearby units will benefit from being near their commander (the same way COs granted special abilities in past games like improved speed or indirect fire range). To power up sufficiently to use special CO powers, COs need to be in the thick of battle. This, too, makes battle more interesting tactically and more personally involving.

Human COs are Superior

Advance Wars: Days of RuinThe single player game alone, including both the campaign and "free battle" modes, is more than enough to justify purchasing Days of Ruin. But the multiplayer clinches it. You don't have to search around for a friend with whom to play hot-seat style. You don't even have to stick to games with other friends holding a DS within range. With Days of Ruin you can connect using the DS Wi-Fi connection to anyone in the world.

The game supports a worldwide, ranked matchmaking system so after you play for a while you'll start to run into players of a comparable level, and get the kind of matches that the AI just can't offer. When you consider the superior balance of the units, and more sophisticated tactical options, this makes Days of Ruin a must-have for strategy game fans. There is one caveat: if your Wi-Fi connection is spotty, the moment that you have a connection problem you will be tossed from the match, and it will count as a loss, however far ahead you might be.

Days of Ruin isn't the kind of purchase you should have to consider for long if you own a DS. You should have bought it already.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on May 13, 2008 2:58 PM.

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