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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
Intelligent Systems
GENRE: Action
PLAYERS:   1-4
January 21, 2008
Battalion Wars 2

Battalion Wars

Advance Wars: Dual Strike

Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising

Advance Wars

 Written by Patrick Mulhern  on March 13, 2008

Review: War is hell on two screens.

I will get right to it, Advance Wars: Days of Ruin is the fourth, and quite possibly the best, title in Nintendo's and Intelligent Systems' long-running Nintendo Wars series to grace the western world. Seeing as there have only been four titles in the series to come overseas, two for Game Boy Advance, and now two for the Nintendo DS, such a claim isn't too glamorous. But all of the franchise's titles to come overseas have been well-received both commercially and critically. To get my neck spread farther across the chopping block further allow me to submit to you the following claim, that Advance Wars: Days of Ruin is the greatest turn-based strategy game to grace a handheld system.

Audio & Visual
The first major difference between this entry in the Advance Wars series and all previous, is the breakaway from the series' colorful and cartoonish visuals. The story's characters remain more cartoony than you may expect from a game based on war but they are presented in a much darker tone with earth colors such as greens, browns and reds being thrown about much more than say happy colors such as oranges and yellows that series fans are used to. The game also features much more detailed art than I remember from its DS predecessor, Advance Wars Dual Strike. So much so that Days of Ruin can make one feel that Dual Strike is actually a well done GBA title and not an early DS title. Days of Ruin also includes a new 'zoom' mode available on maps as shown in the screenshot to the left. Sadly, I have not found much use for the zoom mode but it does allow you to check out your units at a nifty 2.5D angle.

The audio aspect of the title is a pretty basic affair and the least impressive aspect of the title. Overall the audio that is present is just about on par with what one would expect but the story fails to have any voice dialogue, which is probably due to the size of a DS cartridge being the limiting factor. I cannot stress enough how much darker this title feels when compared to all the others. Most players will either love or hate the change as it is a big break from all the previous titles but this video game journalist really appreciates the spice thrown into the franchise and that the developers were willing to take a chance at changing something in an established series. The darker tones cause the game to not only come off as more mature and allow for more added detail but they are simply more fitting for the game, as the characters are fighting for their very lives.

Along with a darker art presentation comes a much darker story than we are used to seeing in an Advance Wars title. Gone are the days when the Black Storm, lead by a war-mongering lunatic, is trying to take over the world and in comes a band of former members of the Rubinelle 12th Battalion just trying to stay alive after a meteor strike destroys much of the planet. Upon the opening campaigns the player will take control of Will, a survivor of the meteor and former cadet at the Rubinelle military academy. Gameplay basics are learned through this time as the player begins the story. Players can expect a whirlwind of activity and story in the first few missions only to have it settle down into direct antagonist/protagonist action in the later campaign maps.

The writing for the title has definitely gone in a new direction for the series as well. Like the art the campaign is much darker than any previous campaign before it and to top it off the dialogue, message and characters in general are all a bit more mature. I prefer not to go into great detail regarding the story but suffice it to say that the characters have more emotion, more realistic dialogue and more moral issues than in any previous Advance Wars title. Oddly enough, Intelligent Systems felt that they needed to keep at least some comedy in the story and therefore added the good Doctor, complete with terrible one-liners. Seriously, I think I chuckled once. Bad comedic timing aside, the difference in the Doctor, Will, Lin, Brenner and even the host of bad guys offers up a broad range of characters with many different views, goals and aspirations than before. No more is it just about destroying Black Moon "for the homeland." Regardless of the generally awful comedy the campaign offers an above average story when compared to the rest of the series although stage designs in later missions can become incredibly difficult.

Ahh gameplay, the heart and soul of the gaming world. Days of Ruin did not bringing any sweeping changes to the gameplay, nor did it bring any major changes at all. Not only did it not introduce anything radical, but it actually lacked its predecessor's main feature, multi-front warfare that utilized one screen per war front. Back when I reviewed Dual Strike I mentioned the feature only in passing, but it goes to show you, you don't realize how much you like something until it is gone. The only consolation to the loss of such a feature is that upon completing one of the fronts, the player was basically guaranteed to win as the Tag Team ability was incredibly overpowered in the previous title.

Intelligent Systems may not have created any new gameplay features but they certainly covered strategists where it matters the most, as a horde of new units and terrain modifiers and even the ability for units to gain experience were added. As a lover of Warcraft III, the ability for a unit to rank up from I to II to Vet with slight bonuses to defense and offense was something I took to heart, even if the stats do not persist. The development team also added a nice mix of new units including the Bike, a new unit capable of capturing buildings, the Flare, which can clear away the Fog of War, allowing one to attack previously unseen enemies, a new massive tank aptly named the War Tank. Air and sea also saw some additions with a powerful, single-shot capable Gunboat and Seaplanes which can be created via the Carriers. The addition of a units specifically designed to counter others rounded out the new additions with the Duster airplane cleaning up infantry while still being able to attack air, including high-flying Bombers, and the Anti-Tank unit which crushes ground based direct assault units of all kinds.

As mentioned, the developers also created some additional terrain modifiers to make the combat that much more complex. Some of these are even destructible such as large Meteor chunks which can hamper the players forward movement substantially in some cases, or be used to bottle neck an opponent in others. Even the seas received some new terrain in the form of Rough Sea which impedes that movement of naval units while Mist offers them a defense bonus. There a more modifiers to be discovered but I will allow you to do just that. Probably the addition with the most impact on the game is the Rig unit which allows players to create temporary air and naval outposts to refuel and repair units. In longer skirmishes and battles, especially those that come down to attrition, these features and knowing how best to attack the excellently designed levels can turn the tide of war more than anything else.

Previously, if a player was in a pinch they could always count on using the CO Power to help regain the upper hand. But Intelligent System has modified that sure fire, tide-changing ability causing it to be far weaker. First off, COs come into the game much later than before, and in the campaign, the player can not pick any CO they want. On top of that the CO is now placed on the battlefield and although they bring the unit they are attached to offensive and defensive boosts, and the same boosts to areas in the CO area, they are still in the line of fire and often the main target of the artificial intelligence. This can cause one to lose their CO just before they wish to use their ability, destroying any chance at swinging the battle in their favor. The CO nerf forces the player to think more about every move they take and is one of the main reasons that the single-player campaign became so difficult in Days of Ruin, the other being the well designed AI.

Days of Ruin is feature rich aside from the deep single-player campaign and pre-made single-player military exercises know as Trial maps. The big news is that the title boasts online multiplayer over Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection service. And not only does it include it, but it is probably the best use of the technology to date. The multiplayer settings has a horde of maps, over 150 readily available, and the number is truly limitless as the Wi-Fi Connection allows players to share maps they have created in the Design Maps area of the title. Players can also download random maps created by others or maps based on an approval rating system. To top things off the game can store up to 50 custom maps before having to make room. Although gamers may have lost some single-player modes, the addition of such a strong online multiplayer presence, along with the solid single-player aspects and old school local multiplayer more than make up for any losses.

Bottom Line
So in the end Intelligent Systems largely left the gameplay aspects of the series alone, while introducing a radically different art direction that allowed the story to become more mature. Days of Ruin may be marked as a turning point in the series, and with good reason, as the title could end up being heralded by some players for pushing the series in new directions, or bemoaned by others who enjoyed the plucky war game and its comedic aspects. I for one am glad that Jake is gone. God I could not stand that character from Dual Strike. Despite the possible break in the fanbase, I believe both sides would agree that the title's gameplay as a whole remains spectacular and the introduction of such a deep multiplayer experience plus the Map Designer adds an incredibly amount of replay value. Obviously, I recommend all fans of the Nintendo Wars series to grab this title, but on top of that I require any turn-based strategy player with a DS to pick up this game, if only to test themselves on the punishing final campaigns.

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