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Game Profile
Intelligent Systems
GENRE: Strategy
PLAYERS:   1-8
August 22, 2005
Advance Wars: Days of Ruin

Battalion Wars 2

Battalion Wars

Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising

Advance Wars

 Written by Dave Hulick  on August 30, 2005

Review: Two tanks are better than one. Unless it's one really big tank.

Germany and the Black Hole Army are very similar in a number of ways. For starters, both are very efficient at building large empires, celebrating said empire by throwing a world war, and promptly losing it all. While modern day Germany has learned it's lesson, the Black Hole Army just keeps fighting. ::sigh:: Will they ever learn? Hopefully not. Without them, there wouldn't be anymore Advance Wars games. And this would be a very bad thing. The third title in the Advance Wars series, Advance Wars: Dual Strike, chronicles the third world domination attempt by Black Hole and is the first title in the series to hit the DS. Does Dual Strike capitalize on the unique advantages of the DS, or is it just a quick port with little innovation? Read on to find out.

Many gamers hold the Advance Wars series in very high regard. Advance Wars and Advance Wars 2 were perhaps the best games released for the Game Boy Advance. However, many players were disappointed with the sequel, for it only added one new unit and only offered a new campaign. When Advance Wars: Dual Strike was shown to the public for the first time, fears that Nintendo would release yet another ?expansion pack? were at an all-time high. Featuring visuals very reminiscent of the GBA iterations, and music ripped straight from the original Advance Wars, Dual Strike was looking like a quick cash-in on the DS. My friends, lay these fears to rest. While the visuals and music are very reminiscent of the previous titles, there are enough new units, maps, and gameplay features to finally warrant the use of the word ?sequel? when describing Dual Strike.

Advance Wars: Dual Strike retains all of the incredibly fun turn-based strategy gameplay from previous titles. While almost any strategy game can be called a ?rock-paper-scissors clone?, Advance Wars gets struck with this label more often because of it's sheer simplicity. However, it is better compared to a game of chess. Players move units about the board each turn in an attempt to completely destroy the enemy or capture his headquarters. Every unit has a use in the game, and the balance among units is set almost perfectly. Like a good puzzle game, Dual Strike is easy to learn and difficult to master.

Two is the operative number in this game, as suggested by the title itself. Most battles have you selecting two CO's, or involve battling over two different battlefields at once. I'll go into detail over the dual-screen battles later, but for now let's discuss the biggest focus in the game: the CO. A CO is a character you select to ?command? your units. While he or she doesn't actually control anything (only you do), they do add different attributes to the units themselves. Some excel at defense while others excel at ranged attacking, for example. New to Dual Strike are nine CO's (in addition to all the characters from the previous games) and the ability to level up your CO's RPG-style. You gain experience from winning a battle and use this experience to buy new skills. These skills further add to the influence on your units and play a very crucial role in close battles.

Why on earth would you want to select two CO's at once, though? For Tag battles, of course! When one CO isn't quite suited for the task at hand, switch him out mid battle for someone who is. Selecting complimenting partners is very crucial on your path to victory, and the tag feature plays a huge role in every battle. When both your CO's spend enough time on the battlefield, they can execute a tag attack, and essentially attack two turns in a row. This powerful move can often turn the tides of war.

With such powerful tag attacks and new units, Advance Wars vets might be wondering how the absolutely perfect balance from the first two titles holds up. The answer is slightly disappointing. While the new units are well-integrated into the overall scheme of things, the tag attacks and CO skills can be frustratingly powerful. In the blink of an eye, your front line could be broken and the enemy could be cruising towards your headquarters without any opposition whatsoever.

The Nintendo DS wouldn't be worthy of its name if it didn't have dual screens, and Advance Wars: Dual Strike wouldn't be a worthy DS title if it didn't utilize those dual screens. While a majority of battles will take place exclusively on the touch-screen, certain ?DS? battles make use of both screens to display the battlefields. While the touch-screen remains the primary battlefield at all times, the secondary top-screen field is still of great tactical importance. Units can be sent to the top screen from the bottom to help the battle. And when you finally achieve victory, the CO from the top screen joins the effort down below and allows you to launch that crucial tag attack.

Multiplayer is as strong as ever, but like any turn based game it can end up being very slow with too many players. Waiting for your turn is mind-numbingly boring. Yet, for what it's worth the multiplayer modes in Dual Strike are well-produced and very fun. The game features single-card download play for up to 8 players, or multi-card play for up to 8 players. Obviously, the multi-card mode features larger maps and more features. Multiplayer is fun, but is ultimately overshadowed by the excellent, fast-paced single player.

There is not a shortage of things to do. Not ever. In fact, it is unlikely that even the healthiest person in the world will live long enough totally dominate every map in every mode of the game. There are hundreds of different maps, hundreds of war room battles, a somewhat lengthy campaign, an innovative survival mode, and even a fun but ultimately gimmicky real-time mode. The game also keeps track of just about every stat imaginable. There are even more stats tracked than in Meteos. Play time, units built, units destroyed, money spent, damage caused, spaces moved. Anything imaginable. Medals are awarded when you achieve a certain number of something, but medals are only used for show and cannot be used to purchase anything.

There is a store in Dual Strike, though. Credits you win from battle are spent here on new maps, CO colors, and wallpapers. If the hundreds of stock maps aren't enough for you, there is also a map creator. The creator is simply a joy to use thanks to a simple interface and wonderful touch-screen stylus control.

While the stylus is fun to use in the map creator, it is not the most ideal way to command your units in battle. The units are simply too small to touch and it is too easy to accidentally tap ?wait? instead of ?fire.? The d-pad is much more accurate and is nearly as fast as the stylus, especially if you're used to that control style from the GBA titles. The interface is very clean and the menus are very easy to navigate no matter what your control method of choice is.

Graphics and sound are not the main focus of any strategy game, and they are most certainly not the focus of Advance Wars: Dual Strike. The units are small, blurry sprites and the terrain on which they battle is generally unvaried and somewhat bland. When units attack each other, the camera cuts away to a close up of the battle and displays more detailed units battling in out. After this short sequence it's back to the overhead view. The artistic style is somewhat bland but the personality of each CO is conveyed well. The music is even more disappointing than the graphics. Featuring the exact same songs from the previous GBA versions and tinny, low quality synths, those expecting an upgrade will be sorely disappointed.

Bottom Line
Advance Wars: Dual Strike is a highly addictive game that will keep you glued to your DS for hours. While not a radical departure from the formula that made Advance Wars and Advance Wars 2 such great games, it does offer enough new content to be worth a purchase for Advance Wars vets. Dual Strike is proof that a game doesn't need to take advantage of every single unique feature of the DS to remain fun and garner rave reviews. Highly recommended.

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