Veteran fans of the Advance Wars series still get the addictive game play and endless hours of strategic scenarios with new additions and a boosted storyline. Just like the three previous Advance Warinstallments (two on the GameBoy Advance and Dual Strike on the Nintendo DS), this quality title remains highly challenging (think of chess/checkers…times 100). Familiar characters are wiped away along with the rest of the world in a darker themed installment.
Venerable characters Max, Andy and Sami are absent here. Instead an apocalyptic event storyline meshes with survivors with varying alliances in the Rubinelle and Lauran armies. This game also eliminates the characteristic Commanding Officer Powers of Max, Andy and Sami. No Neo/high-powered tanks, increased repair abilities or accelerated base/HQ-capturing capabilities in a deep campaign. Players can even get off the beaten path and test their skills in the trial maps on the way to overall victory. The campaign still has the familiar format with some nice storyline twists beyond the basic good vs. evil scenario (or, in this case, ravenous vs. benevolent).
The boosted storyline includes COs Will (“an innocent kid”), the seasoned Brenner and opportunistic Lin. These characters exist more for story than for the war battles, mainly due to the reduced CO power. Isabella, a mysterious girl who seems to know vital military secrets, and top gun pilot Waylon (one of the most difficult campaign levels) also factor in.
This game also features three new vehicles. The bike, a motorcycle with sidecar, which gives a nice feel of throw back military time, even hints of Mad Max (check out the character named Beast). These long distance travelers are great from capturing bases. The duster planes can attack air and ground while the Anti-tank has indirect and direct battle capabilities. Players expect more primitive weapons, especially if there’s lots of dust (maybe the sand storms introduced in Dual Strike was the brain child behind the theme).
CO powers take a back seat in this adventure. A more realistic approach that makes the power even more special because it’s rare. COs can travel in vehicles from HQ or unit producing buildings. Any vehicles carrying a CO increases the offensive and defensive power of the vehicle and surrounding vehicles within a certain range. The CO gauge fills as you succeed, providing a very useful bonus, especially in the campaign mode. All offensive units get an individual rating as well. As each unit defeats another, it levels up (to a maximum of three). A unit containing a CO automatically gets the highest level. The trial maps are a great way to master the helpful CO powers, plus you have easy access the brief field tutorials when pausing in battle mode.
As if the game wasn’t hard enough, Fog of War moves to the forefront. Again, this element matches the theme well (lots of dust settling around the world). Flares help the situation, but you’ll likely still run into ambushes, which basically skip your turn. Stick to the woods, reefs or other hiding places to keep your units concealed on land and in the sea. Players can see hidden units when directly next to them, but those pesky ambushes quickly become a common event. Nooo!
Mobile production makes a great merge with supply vehicles. The rig (formerly known as Armored Personnel Carrier) can supply units and also produce temporary airports on land and ports on the water coasts. Carriers, one of the most versatile units, can attack air units, hold air units plus produce seaplanes. Maybe the next edition will enhance the infantry more (i.e. mortar and grenades). The battles provide plenty of content (almost 200 maps including familiar classics) as the touch screen assists in map design.
The battles still come down to a numbers game. You still get an estimated damage percentage when you attack, but some instances of normal attacks randomly show increased/decreased results after the attack is carried out. As in previous installments, players are graded with an S, A, B, C, etc for their performance in the campaign levels. The base point system for your grade has been updated to maximums beyond 100 points. This appealing addition greatly enhances the overall appeal (a great offset for the high difficulty). You might surprised how well you do… like you’re getting all the extra credit points on a school test.
For the first time ever, Advance Wars players can test their skills online, trade maps and chat it up with friends (both registered). Players can find opponents at their current level or randomly. Believe me there are plenty of great challengers out there. You might even make a friend. A group of two to four can also play multicard games among themselves. Multicard opponents are automatically registered in your friend list. The 12 digit friend codes help protect players from unfriendly foes (even themselves) as they enter online battles – a nice feature for younger players. You can even check the rating of your map (no more than 50 units on it).
Full voice chat, great with the Nintendo DS Headset, features well into some passionate battles, which have time limits. The reduced color palette matches the theme while the impressive music has some great drum beats and an accessible “jukebox” music player. Is there a chance we’ll see Max, Andy and Sami again? It’s possible they survived the asteroids. Only time will tell. In the meantime, this deep, highly competitive title is one of the best!