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Advance Wars: Days of Ruin (DS) artwork

Advance Wars: Days of Ruin (DS) review

"Fans of the series will find Days of Ruin the perfect sequel, but those who don’t enjoy the slow pace and steep difficulty curve won’t find anything new to tempt them."

The Advance Wars series has a well-earned reputation for insanely challenging, but highly rewarding, turn-based strategy. Its cutesy-and-colourful style may have put some gamers off in the past, but Days of Ruin (a.k.a. Dark Conflict) sees a drastic shift to a post-apocalyptic setting. A deadly meteor shower battered the land leaving only 10% of the world’s population alive. They may be living, but the world has been plunged into a state of chaos. Rebels attack anyone and everyone in a fight to survive, and with a thick cloud of dust and ash blocking out the sun, it seems there is no hope for mankind. A band of ex-military personnel, led by the honourable O’Brian, have made it their mission to rescue the innocent in the hope that chaos can be purged from the world. Ed, Days of Ruin’s protagonist, is one of those saved by O’Brian’s band, and together, they set out to try and make the world a better place.

Despite the new doom-and-gloom feel to the story, you’ll still be playing Advance Wars primarily for the strategic turn-based battles. Days of Ruin takes place in an entirely different universe to the previous games, and as such, none of the old characters make a return. The new cast aren’t particularly memorable and the script isn’t fantastic, but it does the job. If you wanted to, though, you could skip all the dialogue and still enjoy it for what it is: an excellent strategy game.

Fans of the series will be right at home from the get-go, but it’s very accessible for newcomers too. The goal on each map is to eliminate all opposing units or capture the enemy headquarters, although a few missions have special victory requirements. When it’s your turn, you can begin moving units and performing actions depending on what unit types you have. Infantry, for example, can capture factories which allow you to produce more units and generate a turn-by-turn income, whereas rockets can attack units from a great distance. Capturing cities to gain funds and produce a diverse army of units is essential. With a huge range of ground-, air-, and naval-based units, there are limitless ways to play the game. Once you factor in terrain bonuses, fog-of-war and various other variables, you’ve got a lot to consider when planning an attack. It might sound overwhelming, and it certainly is in some respects, but the campaign trains you “on the job” so to speak; tutorials are built into the earlier missions, although Advance Wars veterans can choose to bypass these lessons and get on with it.

The core mechanics remain unchanged, and that’s no bad thing. However, some subtle changes serve to balance the game out a whole lot better. This mainly refers to CO (commanding officer, the character you play as) abilities; in previous instalments, it was possible to eschew any real strategy and rely solely on your CO power, an ability you can unleash after dealing (or taking) a certain amount of damage. That is no longer the case. These powers have been changed from tide-turning abilities to more modest boosts that require a bit of thought to gain full benefit from. Basic CO attributes have also been down-sized; instead of every unit receiving a passive boost, only those within a certain range of your designated “CO unit” will get the boost. The more enemies that are dispatched in the CO-benefit range, the larger the range will grow to encompass more allied units. It all contributes to the more central role tactics and strategy occupy in this game.

Outside of CO-related mechanics, temporary unit levels are the big thing in Days of Ruin. Each time a unit destroys another, it gains a level (which maxes out at three) for the remainder of the map. This adds a significant new dimension to the game in that stalling is now a riskier strategy. Sending a succession of infantry units to their demise to buy some time might not be very smart since it gives your opponent the chance to level up their units. The higher the level, the harder they hit and the more hits they take.

One thing that has certainly remained constant is the monstrous difficulty curve. Many of the later maps put you in very challenging scenarios, and the oh-so-ruthless AI is rarely forgiving. Gamers not used to such punishing difficulty may be turned off, but those seeking a challenge will be in for a real treat. In addition to the campaign, which exceeds twenty missions, there are hundreds more for you to wage war in. Trial maps open up as you advance the campaign, and free play is filled with maps of all shapes and sizes right from the beginning. Nabbing the elusive S-Rank for every map will be a source of fulfilment (and frustration) for the perfectionists out there.

If that wasn’t enough for you, the extensive map editor returns to add nigh-on unlimited replay value to the multi-player game. You can use a variety of tools to edit terrain and place pre-deployed units, allowing for the creation of some awesome maps. The cartridge stores a whopping fifty designs so you won’t be running out of space any time soon. You can upload your favourite maps to the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection for the world to download, or if you’re uncreative when it comes to map making, download some that other gamers have made.

For the first time in the series’ history, you can battle it out online with budding strategists across the globe. Fighting it out against a complete stranger (or strangers seeing as you can have four-way battles), having no idea of their battle plan, is a great way to pick up different strategies. As fantastic as it sounds, the time-consuming nature of multi-player maps means it can be a bit of a chore to finish battles. It doesn’t have the same pick-up-and-play appeal as something like Mario Kart DS, but if you can find players who will battle it out to the very end, you’ll get the most out of the Wi-Fi support. If you’re just looking to battle it out against your mates, extensive single- and multi-card support has got you covered.

Much has been made of the artistic shift to a darker colour palette, and to be honest, that’s the only real change in terms of visuals. The maps and units have exactly the same look as Days of Ruin’s predecessor; the lack of development in this respect is disappointing, but the battle sequences have a gritty look that really fits the bill. Story sequences are adorned with plenty of hand-drawn stills infused with the new-look visual style. For a DS title, the background music is of quite a high standard. Rocking riffs and techno tunes follow you into battle and, surprisingly, go well with the sounds of guns being fired and bombs exploding.

It may have undergone a slight facelift, but this is the same old Advance Wars you know and love. The many strategic skirmishes you’ll engage in provide hours of fun and frustration, but outwitting the sharp AI and netting yourself an S-Rank is extremely satisfying. Fans of the series will find Days of Ruin to be the perfect sequel, but those who don’t enjoy the slow pace and steep difficulty curve won’t find anything new to tempt them.

PAJ89's avatar
Freelance review by Paul Josua (February 07, 2008)

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