I enjoy strategy games, but had never played the Advance Wars games before. I suppose it was just something I missed out on initially, and, in looking back on it later, figured that as a GBA exclusive, I likely wasn’t missing much.
After about 50 hours, I’m pretty content to admit that I was wrong.
The GBA’s Limit
Advance Wars is a typical turn-based strategy game in which you take control of Orange Star’s forces in an attempt to push back the relentless assault of the Blue Moon’s army. These are the first two warring countries in the game.
The Advance Wars world is seemingly dependent on perpetual combat; unfortunate for its citizens, but great for us, because that’s where the fun starts. In every mission, you are plopped on one end of a map and the enemy is on the other end, with nothing more than a few unclaimed cities, some mountains, or a small river to separate you.
Initially you only have standard infantry units (with one or two anti-tank units) as well as a tank or two, and maybe an APC for re-fueling your vehicles and re-stocking ammo. This was about as far as I expected the game to go, as I again figured how much could really be pressed onto a GBA cart. This expectation was defied in every one of the next few missions.
After the first few skirmishes, the game then introduces you to the concept of capturing cities. Unclaimed cities can be captured by infantry so long as they are placed within the cities. Cities require 20 points of ‘damage’ before they are captured, and occupying infantry can only deal ‘damage’ equal to their max health (which is 10). This means that, for the next few missions, I was running around occupying anything and everything I could before my men could become too damaged.
After this, I was then introduced to the COs. These are your commanding officers, and each of them has a special ability which will give you a considerable boost for one turn. This ability is filled gradually over the course of the match, and which CO you pick when going into battle could pretty significantly influence your strategy.
THEN, I was introduced to the concept of the factory, which allows you to use money that you gain each turn from occupied cities in order to build new units. From helicopters, submarines, light tanks, mid tanks, missile launchers, and faster transport units, there are any number of options to keep the war machine rolling along.
Also, should you be crafty enough to be able to occupy your opponents HQ, then you win the round automatically. All of this isn’t even touching on the map variety. Some maps are even shrouded in a fog of war, which means enemies could be lurking anywhere just outside of view. A pretty common, but always effective, strategy game trick.
Fire When Ready
The combat in the game is simple: a unit has to be within range in order to fire on an enemy. This varies from unit to unit, typically inversely proportional with their power, but also in proportion with how ubiquitous they are. Standard combat units are fairly week, but extremely common, so they have to be right next to a unit in order to fire, whereas a tank can be a few squares away, and hit pretty hard, but it’ll cost a pretty penny to replace should it get overwhelmed.
One thing that always makes me nervous in strategy games is the implementation of luck as a mechanic. Some games like Steamworld Heist are incredibly stripped back in this area, and if you feel you can make a shot, then you will. However, there are those games like XCOM which seem to relish in the lies they will tell you with regards to your hit and crit chances.
Thankfully, Advance Wars is much closer to the Steamworld Heist side of things. The only thing luck can do is to cause you to deal slightly more damage. This is great, because it’s often a fairly negligible amount so it never feels too bad when you get hit by some, but it’s also bonus damage, so it feel great to deal out.
The campaign itself also never becomes too stale, as aside from the great map and unit variety, there are a few branching paths within the story. None are too drastic, and they do always feed back into the main story eventually, but it was a nice surprise that there are any choices to be made here at all.
Sights & Sounds of the Battlefield
If you’re wondering why the art style so far has looked somewhat familiar, it’s because this remake was made by Wayforward who also made River City Girls and the Shantae series.
Wayforward has always put forth some pretty beautiful art in their releases, art which is especially welcome any time they decide to remake an old game. In this package you get an opening cinematic, as well as partially animated, and partially voiced, models anytime a character speaks. You also get unique CO ability animations any time you break those out.
The only point of contention I’ve seen about this game is the change in gameplay art style. As opposed to the concomitant pixel-art of the GBA game, all in-game models are now in a sort of chibi 3-D toy style. For a few fans this was fairly off-putting, and I can understand. If they were to remake any of the GBA Castlevania games with 3-D models it would come off as cheap, whether it was or not.
We’ve all seen similar complaints with the Link’s Awakening remake, and the recent R-Type games. Admittedly, it can make the game look a little cheap, and it would have been wonderful if (like the Diablo II remake) there was an option to switch between both styles, but at a certain point, I hardly noticed it anymore. Not to say that you will be able to look past it if you absolutely loved the look of the originals, but it never hindered my enjoyment of the actual game.
Have At You!
The main thing which I imagine most fans will be excited for is the ability to not only make, but to share your own custom maps, as well as download the diabolical creations of other mad-men.
After the first few missions, you are given some campaign coins and are shown that there is now a shop available on the main menu. This shop allows you to buy new COs, collectibles, or new maps and map parts.
There is also multiplayer. Though this may be somewhat disappointing as you can only play with people on your friends list. I have no idea why this is so limiting, as I imagine most people who are going to jump into the online are not too likely to have a friend who also spent $60 on a GBA remake. Maybe it was just a limitation of development, and maybe it would have detracted in some way from the great single player experience, but this is still a weird omission.
Oh Yeah, There’s Two.
One thing I’ve neglected to mention throughout this whole review is that there’s two games in this package. While the second game is mostly iterative and doesn’t had a ton of new things, it’s also an entire separate game, filled with all the fun and variety of the original.
This is a full priced remake. For many older fans who have played the originals to death, aside from the visual touch ups (as well as the arguable downgrading of the in-game art), there’s not too much here to get you excited if you weren’t excited already. The custom maps feature and ability to share them online is great, but the lack of any meaningful online will be a disappointment for many. Though, if you have a die-hard friend group who don’t mind shelling out for the online service as well as the remake, then I’m sure you’ll have some fun.
The real value here comes from the possibility that you may be someone like me, someone who had never played these games before. For us, this is a great deal. If you are into strategy games and only know Advance Wars because maybe you’d seen the box in a Gamestop in 2002, then this is a pretty easy recommend.