"What makes the game good is that there are such a wide variety of ways the enemy can screw you over while you are hunting him down. Some maps have snow, which the enemy always finds a more welcome element than you do."
For some time now, I've had in my possession a copy of Advance Wars, Nintendo's tactical Game Boy Advance title. I had heard of the franchise for years, as it originated (I believe) on the original NES. This is, however, the first time one in the franchise has made it to American shores. Spurred on by positive comments from others who had already made the financial plunge, I forked over the cash to add it to my personal collection. What I got for my hard-earned cash was a truly excellent tactical RPG that fails to blow me away, but is worth owning just the same.
The plot for the game isn't much of interest. Some armies are fighting. Over territory. It's the usual military stuff. There are around three or four main colors which represent the various armies. You will be facing one army in particular, as well as occasional skirmishes with armies of other colors. The lack of fearsome names for each army hits the game's credibility a bit, but it's not so huge a problem as to be troublesome.
Now that you have the fascinating story (sorry, sarcasm has no place in this review; I will try to cease it) thus presented, it's time to learn what you will do about it. The game's goal, of course, is to reclaim your stolen territory and in general fight for the sake of fighting. To help you, you'll have your advisor, as well as sevral members that will join your team. These people each have unique abilities called skills that you will find useful in battle.
Battle. That is, obviously, what the game is all about. So I'll get right to it and describe a typical scenario. Basically, you see things on a map and then you see the next little flag (or flags; there are branching paths at several points) ahead of you. Select it and you go to the map for that area, where the enemy is startled to see that you have arrived before he could unleash his super-devestating forces. You're always a step ahead of that dunderheaded enemy, by the way, which grows so dull as to be perfectly expected.
Once the enemy finishes cursing his luck that you arrived just before he could have a certain victory, your advisor will tell you the conditions for the battle. Most frequently, you can win by either taking the enemy's base or wiping out all his troops while avoiding a similar fate for your own groups. Sometimes, you have to win in a set number of turns (a restriction the enemy does not have, for whatever reason). Sometimes you have to be the first to capture a set number of towns. Whatever the goal, the strategy is often quite similar: pull out your big guns and back them up with 'clean up' crews that can catch any stray enemy troops you might have missed.
What makes the game good is that there are such a wide variety of ways the enemy can screw you over while you are hunting him down. Some maps have snow, which the enemy always finds a more welcome element than you do. Others have rain, or there's 'fog of war', which means your enemy might be only a few spaces away but you'd never know it until you send out recon groups. There's enough variety from map to map to keep you on your toes. And if you let down your guard for even a moment, you'll suffer humiliating defeat.
I found that often, I would die on a map, then return and try a different strategy, then meet with instant success. So basically, a map is all about exploiting a different strategy. It's also about knowing what tricks your enemy can use. You'll often face the same captain, who will flee at the end of one map to pester you another day. He will have a certain ability, such as one that makes his enemies more powerful in snow or allows them to fire so insanely far that you don't stand a chance of winning that particular round of the battle. The small positive note I should mention is that you also have special abilities. That's the good news. The bad news is that your skills are so weak they might as well not even exist. Your troops are often overshadowed by the ability your rival possesses.
There are other elements to a battle that deserve a brief mention. Besides fog of war, you have to face naval battles, air battles, and so forth. These add a lot of variety at a first glance, but basically the same strategies tend to apply. Whatever your enemy has will be more powerful than what you have, but he's an idiot when he comes to using it. All you do, then, is set up your vehicle that happens to be best suited to defending against his attacks, then strike back when he leaves himself open. Along the way, you capture cities so your troops can rest, all as you either wipe him out or take his city.
If this review makes the game sound dull, well, perhaps it's because the game can be precisely that. But it can also be immensely rewarding. There are around 20 stages through which you can play, which means you'll get several intense hours out of this just from one go. And there's a multi-player mode, too, if you happen to have a friend with a copy who wants to link. All of that combines to make Advance Wars one of the best titles for the system so far, but not the best. Translation: buy this if you have enough money to buy more than 3 or 4 games a year, but otherwise save your money. There's bound to be something better available eventually, but not by a whole lot.
Staff review by Jason Venter (Date unavailable)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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