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Game Profile
Game Boy
Intelligent Systems
GENRE: Strategy
PLAYERS:   1-4
September 10, 2001
Advance Wars: Days of Ruin

Battalion Wars 2

Battalion Wars

Advance Wars: Dual Strike

Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising

 Written by Ilan Mejer  on March 19, 2002

Review: Intelligent System's first Gameboy Advance title, and the fifth game in the ongoing Wars series...

This is Advance Wars, the most original first party Nintendo title to be released for the Gameboy Advance yet. Various incarnations of this Intelligent Systems developed franchise have appeared on the Famicom, Gameboy, Super Famicom, and Nintendo 64... but only in Japan. Intelligent Systems is the underrated developer responsible for Nintendo's lesser-known hits, such as Metroid, Kid Icarus, Paper Mario, and the never-seen-in-America Fire Emblem series.

Advance Wars is a turn based strategic war simulation. The majority of the action takes place on one of over one hundred scenario maps, which is laid out in a tile-based format not unlike a chess set. Each tile represents some sort of terrain, each with its own strategic advantages and disadvantages, visibility, and rules of engagement. Every scenario pits two or more armies at odds, each occupying a portion of the total map. The various armies are laid out in predetermined areas on the map, usually hinged upon the story or background information unique to that specific map or scenario.

In the Campaign Story Mode you begin as a trainee in the Orange Star Army and must complete the in-game tutorial before you can access Advance War's main modes. The tutorials fully induct you in all aspects of Advance War's complex warfare methodology. The tutorial spans over a dozen ?missions? of varying length and complexity, and will culminate in your appointment as an Advisor to the Orange Star Army, consequently opening up the last five of the eight main game modes. As an Advisor to the army, you will direct one of many Commanding Officers throughout Orange Star's campaigns and lead vast armies composed of over twenty unique units. You must direct your forces such that you will be able to dominate the roads, subjugate cities and factories, and eventually terminate enemy activity in the area. Most missions will end either with the capture of the enemy headquarters or with the total annihilation of their forces. However, some unique scenarios will require you to eliminate only certain targets, capture a specific amount of cities before the enemy does, or defend a specific unit or location for a given amount of time.

The Campaign and Advance Campaign Modes offer you a very decent amount of gameplay and replay, as well as an opportunity to earn Advance Wars Coins. After every mission you are ranked and awarded an according amount of AW Coins. These coins are used in the Battle Maps room to recruit enemy COs, purchase almost a hundred new maps, and unlock the Advance Campaign mode. The Versus Mode is a 1-4 player mode that allows you to share one GBA and game by passing the system from player to player on each turn. Link Mode is similar, but allows you to link up to 4 GBAs with one game for a mini mission or up to 4 games for a full sized mission. The War Room is a huge collection of maps and scenarios that you can access as you purchase more maps from the Battle Maps room. Like the Campaign Mode, you are graded upon completion of missions and will win more coins which you can use to purchase yet more maps. Finally, the game even allows you to create your own maps and missions with its robust Map Edit mode.

Advance War's depth of gameplay becomes apparent halfway through the tutorial mode, and the subsequent game modes fully realize that potential. With approximately twenty units, spanning ground-, sea-, and air-based craft, Advance Wars requires strategy and forethought over quick thinking and twitch-reflexes. This game is statistics heavy, but thankfully, the in-game interface provides you with all of the intelligence you will ever need, as well as doing most of the number crunching for you. Each scenario is broken up into turns. On your turn, you will be given the opportunity to give one command (which vary from unit to unit) to each unit directly under your command. Actions include attacking enemy units, occupying installations (infantry only), loading and dropping other units (transports only), refueling units (APCs), etc.

Infantry are the slowest, but can travel over any terrain, eventually. All units are able to travel a certain distance which varies from vehicle to vehicle and usually dependent on the terrain type as well. Tanks, transports, and jeeps can travel much faster, especially on roads, but cannot cross over mountains or shallow rivers. Aerial craft can travel over any terrain, but crash when they run out of fuel and gain absolutely no terrain defense bonuses when in combat. The game gets ultra detailed in the sense that all of the dozens upon dozens specific rules simply make sense. For instance, infantry can climb mountain without resorting to passes, but it lessens their mobility greatly, thereby simulating the arduous nature of the trek. However, perched on mountains, infantry gain huge defense bonuses when attacked and enjoy an expanded field of visibility. Terrain and weather conditions can equally augment travel and visibility and hinder your advances.

Attacking units and capturing/liberating enemy/neutral cities is also crucial to an army's success. Capturing cities will garner you with additional funds each turn, and factories and other installations will allow you to expand the capacities of your war machine. Any infantry unit can enter and occupy an installation, and the amount of turns required will vary depending on that unit's remaining HP. Combat is split into two varieties, direct and indirect. Direct combat will occur when units such as infantry, tanks, submarines, or fighters occupy a tile adjacent to an enemy's. Upon selecting combat, you will be treated to a beautiful, hand-drawn, side-view cut-scene depicting the attack and counterattack, if any. Machine guns blaze, rockets fly, and explosive weapons shatter amongst the enemy troops, in a colorful and glorious style that never gets tired. Artillery allows the implementation of strategic, indirect (or ranged) combat. Once an enemy unit travels within range of one of the game's indirect combat units, that artillery will be able to fire upon the intruder, without fear of counterattack. However, indirect units are much less agile than direct units, such as tanks, and fair poorly against them in direct combat due to extremely weak defense ratings. Every unit begins with 10 HP, and can only be healed with the use of specific CO abilities or by resting in a city. Once a unit's HP reaches 0, it is forever destroyed. Certain units are ideal against other unit types, further expanding the game's strategic depth.

Furthermore, every CO in the game is unique, excels in certain attributes, is weak in others, and gains the ability to use their CO power every few game turns. For example, Andy is a well-rounded Orange Star CO that has neither strengths nor weaknesses. His ability, Hyper Repair, allows him to heal 2 HP to every unit under his direct command. Other COs specialize with Direct or Indirect units, in aerial or aquatic warfare, etc, and have CO powers that play on their strengths.

Graphically, the game is bright, colorful, and detailed. The map screen is limited by its tile-based nature. However, the presentation is spruced up with sporadic unit animation, clever explosions, nice weather effects, and other environmental animations. The game only stretches the GBA's muscles during the impressive anime-like introduction, the battle cut-scenes, or when CO powers are unleashed. The game is complimented by an aesthetically pleasing, functional, and informative user interface that easily allows you to access units, examine buildings and terrain, execute commands, or explore the game's dynamic help menus.

Advance Wars was one of the earliest Gameboy Advance games to truly showcase the system's audio tools. Unlike other early GBA efforts, Advance War's upbeat and powerful industrial tunes could never be reproduced on the classic Gameboy, and it will not let you forget that. Every CO has his own unique tune that plays all throughout his turn... every turn, for every mission. In the later missions, you could take up to half an hour deciding on all of your armies' actions, you will be listening to your CO's theme quite a bit throughout this lengthy game. The sound effects are pleasantly accurate. The weapons all sound authentic, and the explosions are happily satisfying.

Bottom Line
Advance Wars represents the epitome of gameplay on the Gameboy Advance. It not only introduces us to a genre of gaming that has long been denied to the West, but it also sets the bar high in single player and multiplayer gaming, both. Truly, Advance Wars utilizes every feature of the GBA link system, and is equally strong in both its single player and multiplayer elements, creating a total package of unrivaled gameplay with a near infinite replay factor.

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