REVIEW

REVIEW

Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp

June 13, 2023

GOOD

  • Gorgeous graphics
  • Great music for each CO
  • Crushing your enemies and seeing them driven before you

BAD

  • No matchmaking for multiplayer
  • Some levels are long, needless attrition
  • Very slow start for genre fans

GOOD

GOOD

This blast from the past brings the joy of combat, but also shows just how light on story these games were compared to other big names in the genre.

Reviewing a game that you enjoyed two decades ago can be rather tough. Advance Wars 1 was my first dip into the world of turn-based strategy games. I remember it fondly, which made me excited to dip back into the game. However, there have been two full decades of improvements to the turn-based strategy genre, and going back to where my journey started and removing the rose-tinted glasses was a bit of a shell shock.

Oh yay, combat!

Advance Wars has an exuberance about military combat that you rarely see in other games. In Fire Emblem, the cost of failure is the death of friends and relatives, or in XCOM, your memorial room slowly grows with the names of fallen comrades, a permanent reminder of the cost of your failures as a commander. Advance Wars has none of that! Your commanding officers can’t wait to get into the fray, to defeat the enemy.

Defeat means losing troops, which is often neatly ignored as the price of battle. The fights are seen as fun by most of the COs, which perfectly matches the cute graphics of two squads clashing. Even when obliterated, the units merely vanish, the only sign of emotion being the look of anger or sadness on the face of the losing CO. The tanks and helicopters are almost toy-like in appearance, turning the normally grim business of war into an elaborate break-time affair in the sandpit.

Speaking of the graphics and the hazy effects of memory, I had to go and find old screenshots to see how the graphics had changed. They just fit so well with Advance Wars that I think my “memory” of the old games got a graphics upgrade somewhere in the last few years!

The tanks and helicopters are almost toy-like in appearance, turning the normally grim business of war into an elaborate break-time affair in the sandpit.

Even when defeated, the COs tend to get away after a short exchange of words. In fact, there is very little in the story department of this game. Unlike Fire Emblem which will have you spending hours in non-combat areas, Advance Wars will give you a small bit of story at the same rate that it drip-feeds new units and tactical complexity to the game.

Getting back to basics

The pace of revealing new tactics and units will definitely make sure that no players are left overwhelmed, but it does feel pretty slow if you are familiar with the genre or the Wars series of games. Initially, you only have basic infantry available, and slowly new units get introduced, normally with an entire mission playing to their strengths. While this definitely helps cement a point, it does make for a few uninspired hours of play, waiting for challenges to arrive through other means.

In general, Advance Wars is not a tough game. It offers two difficulty options and most often the frustration is the design of some of the campaign levels, along with the inconsistency of certain parts of the puzzle.

For example, some maps have factories that allow you to create new units every turn, provided you have the resources. Other maps will randomly not have factories, meaning you have to look after your units carefully to reach the objective. Some maps are won based on the number of towns controlled, while others require complete domination of the enemy. The enemy can’t surrender, even when there are a dozen tanks rolled up outside their HQ and they have a single squad of infantry. It reminds me of those older strategy games that you needed to go scouting for that one remaining non-combat unit or building to net a win, and I wish that relic of the past was updated along with the graphics.

There are other conditions that are completely unpredictable when starting a new map. Sometimes there is a fog of war, while other maps will have none at all. The fog of war can be annoying at times, but there are a few fun units and tactics that lose their appeal when the fog is disabled. The menu before a campaign level starts doesn’t do much to reveal what sort of level you are dealing with. An icon for the fog of war, or no production buildings in use, would be quite useful. Instead, the game just lists a long string of how many of each building are present. It isn’t exactly easy to read either, and there is no explanation of why there is sometimes a fog of war, and other levels have none.

The menu before a campaign level starts doesn’t do much to reveal what sort of level you are dealing with.

It feels a bit jarring, messing with the momentum of the game. Would I have picked the tank specialist if I had known that I wasn’t able to build more tanks on that level? Do I need to be more careful with my units now, or is it a rush to an objective? Some sort of indication beforehand would help a lot.

Join the melee

Despite most of the units in the game using ranged weapons, the majority of them fight like melee units. Besides artillery units that can’t move and shoot in the same turn, the game is all about unit placement and how many adjacent squares you leave accessible. Tanks barrel into one another, and anti-air units slide into the shadow of the bomber they are about to take down.

Most units will counterattack when hit but with their now weakened power. Advance Wars favours the aggressor in almost every combat, except when units like the medium tank get involved. Actually, I dislike the medium tank unit, because it is so disproportionately powerful compared to most units. Unless you have a medium tank or artillery, get ready to lose a significant portion of your army to these brutes.

I dislike the medium tank unit, because it is so disproportionately powerful compared to most units.

Units needing to reach a target means unit placement is really important. Blocking off low-movement cost terrain will slow down an assault, allowing you a chance to soften targets with artillery strikes, or build a few more units. Unless of course, you are using Max, who apparently broke the targeting gear of every ranged unit in his army.

Love letters to the past

Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is a love letter to a time 20 years ago. Graphical improvements, the addition of multiplayer, new music that pays homage to all the 8-bit songs, and a gallery of character art all show that the developers loved the original games and wanted more people to be able to enjoy, or re-enjoy, Advance Wars 1 and 2. However, you might find yourself just staying for the combat, or getting annoyed at the mostly paper-thin plot. Oh and can the store NPC please calm himself? For the first dozen missions at least, he pops up after your score screen to tell you that he has new items in the shop. I felt so harassed by this man that I thought I was playing some overly aggressive free-to-play game on my phone. It just feels like poor implementation to have him announce it so often.

Speaking of, I wish the multiplayer had matchmaking. Unless you know which friend of yours has the game, you are completely stuck playing against the AI, because a basic feature like matchmaking doesn’t exist. It feels like a strange oversight. Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is great, especially for those who value combat and gameplay over story and writing. For me though, I think I am just more appreciative of the path that this game initially sent me down, looking for more tactical strategy games.

Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is great, especially for those who value combat and gameplay over story and writing.

It is also a sad reminder that this is the first Advance Wars release since 2008. That is a long time without a new addition, and this is more of a remaster than a new game. Sorry, tactical fans.

Review code provided by: Nintendo

Written by Garth Holden

June 13, 2023

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