Battalion Wars (GameCube) review
"To be honest, my Game Boy Advance SP, once a knight in shining (quite literally, at last!) plastic, has seen little to no activity in recent months. In a sense, then, I can actually relate to the poor thing, but I digress. "
To be honest, my Game Boy Advance SP, once a knight in shining (quite literally, at last!) plastic, has seen little to no activity in recent months. In a sense, then, I can actually relate to the poor thing, but I digress.
In its prime, its adolescent weeks, my GBA was host to one of the most entertaining handheld games I had ever played, Intelligent Systems's ingenious Advance Wars, but eventually its turn-based gameplay, at first an engaging exercise in chess-like strategy, became too tedious, too slow, for me to tolerate. (I later picked up Fire Emblem, which, in retrospect, was a poor decision.)
In its transition to the GameCube, the Advance Wars series has taken on an entirely new persona--a new developer, Kuju Entertainment, a new name, and, in a blessing to us all, a new philosophy. While Battalion Wars's primary focus is still on strategy and an effective allocation of limited units, it doubles as a third-person shooter/action-adventure, graciously replacing the nearly exclusive mental strain of its predecessors with a constant surge of adrenaline. The mental strain is still present, of course, but now it's actually fun, too.
The move from turn-based to real-time strategy, however, is a double-edged tank. Managing units, previously a simple matter of selecting, say, a recon unit with a cursor, now involves a few frantic swipes of the C-stick, a confusing progression of the X button's various assignments, and possibly, if you feel so inclined as to command that erratic bomber yourself, a costly delay as the camera switches perspective. Most situations involve a careful deployment of units with their respective strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes ordering a group of riflemen to attack a missile launcher, the gunship's greatest threat, while placing all your air units on sentry to protect them is a mind-scrambling ordeal, particularly with a standard controller setup.
However, the chaotic management of units is almost the game's greatest virtue. Sure, running into an enemy base with assault rifles in tow, dodging enemy fire and unleashing an unlimited array of bullets, is fun enough (and this action element of the game is virtually perfect), but the multitasking is almost a second game in and of itself, and catering to the entire battalion's long-term survival while simultaneously ensuring the enemy's short-term eradication is an exciting affair.
Its stout, cartoonish art style, faithful to the series, is Battalion Wars's most noticeable characteristic, though the game by no means adopts a War is Cute mentality. Soldiers's backpacks bobble on their backs as artillery shells explode in their faces; one of the omnipresent commanding officers, Brigadier Betty, delivers her orders of merciless destruction in a high, bouncy voice; and, yes, the adorably archetypical, evil Xylvanians appear to be vampires. Most of the varied missions begin or end with refreshing cutscenes, advancing the game's mild storyline with fun interjections.
Unfortunately, the game's outstanding presentation is overshadowed by its arid features; the only available option is the single-player campaign, which ends quickly.
Where it lacks in quantity, however, Battalion Wars sure makes up with in quality. The missions are worth at least a few replays each on their own, while the possibility of increasing your score and unlocking bonus missions adds an extra incentive. Before I had even halfway finished the campaign, I found myself replaying the very first mission simply to revel in the game's virtues, to absorb the sparse yet immersive environments, the inspired animation, and the ambient, military-inspired score--and, of course, to shoot me some Tundran scum.
Battalion Wars is, in a word, fun. Despite its brevity and its confusing interface, the game offers a variety of interesting units and situations that more than makes up for its rare moments of frustration. Alas, it is no Advance Wars, no heralded triumph of flawless innovation, but haven't we already decided that's a good thing?
Community review by Knux (December 29, 2005)
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