"We definitely do not get enough thought provoking situations throughout the average day. Whether it be sitting in college mindlessly daydreaming on how you can ignore the next upcoming class or watching that same anime rerun you have seen thousands of times, there just has to be something that can be both interesting and difficult. It wasn't soon after I asked myself this question that I came upon Advance Wars: Dual Strike. "
We definitely do not get enough thought provoking situations throughout the average day. Whether it be sitting in college mindlessly daydreaming on how you can ignore the next upcoming class or watching that same anime rerun you have seen thousands of times, there just has to be something that can be both intriguing and difficult. Simply put, there is really only one particular genre out there that seems to be on top of things when it comes to these aspects. It wasn't soon after I asked myself these questions, that I came upon Advance Wars: Dual Strike.
Titles belonging to this particular field always seem to be let down by one problem or another. Slowdown, units that do not properly do as they are told, boring money saving -- the list goes on. My doubt soon vanished though, as each week slowly passed by. My pre-emptive cause for concern being unnoticeable compared to the intense combat stages and flawless presentation of one of the greatest real-time strategy titles available.
Welcome to duty.
Advance Wars: Dual Strike does what really no other game in the genre has done. Take its best qualities, including an interesting storyline, balanced units, and excessive combat options, and add a touch of innovativeness using the system's primary strength -- the touch screen. While this may sound like a repetitive point and click venture, the sheer number of options and commands you have at your disposal, bring about a sense of immersion behind the roles of the characters you will be working with. By the way, have I mentioned that most of them are completely insane?
Jake: Alright, looks like we have got them on the run.
Max: That's right, run you freaks!
Jake: Get out the dinner plates because you just got served.
Rachel: Okay, settle down Jake.
Pretty sure the troops are thinking each and every day, "Why the hell am I risking my life for these idiots?" Then you realize once you get past Mission 2, that the villains of Black Hole, are even more insane. Brains in tanks, women with hair styles that defy gravity, and pale faced gremlins that make up the majority of your antagonists, will have your soldiers feeling a lot better about their superiors. You really get to know these characters as time passes and choosing the right one will give you something to hysterically laugh at, with the added bonus of an advantage in the war zone. Since not only can you choose from several CO's for each mission you accept, but you can take advantage of each of their powers as well. For example, grab Sensei when you want more bonus capabilities for your air force or perhaps Rachel to give some extra artillery support. The game throws situations at you at every turn and the decision making begins even before the battle.
Once you get the hang of it, you will also be able to distinguish between units and select which one is the perfect match-up for the oncoming opposition. Even though shuffles involve a little rock/paper/scissors, thinking ahead will save less defensive units like rockets and anti-air, from biting the dust early. So, instead of wildly sending that tank in to crush that weakened transport vehicle, why not use your missiles first to destroy that hidden helicopter? Then circle around and use the tank's full assault on the reconnaissance, while a couple able mech troops can annihilate that battered jeep. I love when games throw stuff at you like this and taking circumstances turn by turn will be the difference between victory and getting your ass swiftly kicked.
Unfortunately dominion by clearing out the masses of your foes is not the only way to take home the win. Taking over a diverse type of buildings, doing this before the enemy, and winning before a certain time limit are all ways to be rewarded even further. Airports, tank factories, radio centers, all are neutral when you and your squads move into each territory. And having your infantry capture each center will promise you more funds for your team and the more you have, the easier it is to wear out your competition. Money takes a large part in the art of war and depending on how much of it is in your possession, could be the difference in purchasing a 7,000 gold basic tank or the 22,000 gold monster that is the Neo-tank. Big difference, eh?
Putting those economics skills to their maximum potential though will come into play once your commanders join up for a little tag team fun. Twice the command, twice the firepower, and twice the game-play options. This is where the DS's shining feature really comes through.
Now while it is usually unnoticeable, the top screen is primarily used as a window for progress stats, unit stats, and so on. While convenient, it is nothing you could not really figure out for yourself as you watch the fray play out. That is, unless you failed every math class since grade school. However, this all changes when two commanders get in the driver seat and open up a dimension of the game that will double the strategy and difficulty. It is affectionately called dual strike and will give you the option of controlling two teams of units at once. As two commanders join up and wreak havoc on both their respective land masses, their powers will continue to heighten until your power meter is full. Also, based on the compatibility of those two CO’s, will result in different destructive motives. Giving your team two turns to advance and attack, sending a wave of energy to pick at weakened units, or spreading hellfire ravaging across the landscape to engulf your poor adversaries, are all options at your fingertips. Isn’t being in control fun?
Though what’s not fun is the occasional difficulty spike and by spike I mean a three thousand foot wide canyon violently being torn apart by a tremendous earthquake. This mostly takes place in the War Room, a scenario based mode that gives you and the other side a set number of units. Your job is to take their bases and wipe out their force, as the campaign previously suggested. What makes things rough is that sometimes you will feel that what you are given is not nearly enough. This would all be stand-able if it weren’t for the fact that the challenge seems inconsistent. Level two could be easy, three could result in a hole in your wall, and four ends up being but as simple as the second. Of course if you are a pro at these types of games or a quick learner (which I am not), the problems may not feel as hazardous as it seems. Nevertheless, expect replaying the same mission several times throughout, as there seems to be a pattern to Advance Wars: Dual Strike. A puzzle that is just waiting to be solved. A lock waiting to be picked.
If you have undoubtedly followed the series since its debut on the Game Boy Advance, then the visual difference is not too apparent. Battlefields are colored about with each unit having its own distinctive feature and artwork. Nothing is too difficult to distinguish and the “Fog of War” missions that spring up now and then are fantastic. Characters have a very anime-ish feel to them and have their own expressions based on the mood their in. Complimenting the fast paced feel to the game is an explosive soundtrack with a rocking introduction, mysterious themes, and upbeat battle compositions. Just a couple little things that transform the whole package into something a little more. And that right there is what signifies everything that is the Advance Wars series. Taking an original concept and transforming it into just what the genre should be.
In the end, what it all builds up to is a strategy game that doesn’t hold back from being different and it is this unique feel that gives this gem such energy. The personality of the individuals, the strategy to each mission, and the various modes of play are phenomenal. Whether it be taking over that final tower with just a handful of men or using your jets to rip through the last defenses of the Black Hole’s fortress, the game rewards you with a sense of relief and accomplishment. Even when trouncing the AI is not good enough, you and a friend can square off and decide which one has to buy the other lunch for the day. In conclusion, what more can be said that hasn't been said already? If you are new to the series, buy it. If you are a veteran of the series, buy it. Both intelligent and compelling, Advance Wars: Dual Strike is far and away the best title on the DS and one you’d have to be delusional not to grasp.
Staff review by Branden Barrett (October 07, 2005)
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