Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is brilliant. After a more than decade-long hiatus, Intelligent Systems‘ otherwise dormant turn-based strategy series makes a thunderous return to the battlefield. And, I won’t be the first to say that it’s long overdue.
With the Fire Emblem series stealing the spotlight since its resurgence in popularity on Nintendo 3DS, it felt like we’d never get to see the Orange Star nation army roll out again. That situation changed, with the Japanese developer handing the baton to WayForward to rebuild fan-favourite Game Boy Advance classics Advance Wars and Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising from the ground up to be redeployed on Nintendo Switch. The result is an experience that delivers everything that returning players loved about the originals, with some modernised additions.
For the uninitiated, Orange Star commander-in-chief Nell is on hand to help instruct you through every gameplay mechanic that makes up Advance Wars. Her optional Field Training will go over basics from using the cursor to issue commands to capturing cities, observing terrain advantages and the importance of resupplying your units. These three-part training missions may seem like a brief introduction, but veteran commanders will know that each game’s more challenging battles can rage on for quite some time.
It is each game’s Campaign that the majority will spend the bulk of their time with. In the original, you are Orange Star’s latest recruit and must team up with its lead Commanding Officers – Andy, Sami and Max – to learn the truth behind an unexpected attack from its neighbouring country, Blue Moon. With the groundwork laid, the sequel noticeably runs wilder with the concept and, without wanting to spoil any of the surprises that await, is best experienced after you have seen the first through to its conclusion.
The succession of battles that you must overcome in Advance Wars are largely a wrestle for control of each map. While protecting your Headquarters from being captured at all costs, you will fight to dominate your rival Commanding Officer’s advancing forces by capturing deployment fund-generating cities, unit-producing bases and airports, and unleashing your CO Power – or the Super CO Powers introduced in the sequel – to help you temporarily gain an advantage.
Your standard victory conditions are to capture the enemy’s headquarters or to destroy all of their units. This is a near-constant throughout the original game, but, with confidence in its blueprint, the sequel delivers more variety in approach to ensure that longer play sessions don’t become too one-note – whether that be more freedom to choose your Commanding Officer or the mission objectives that you must achieve. This can come from bursting pipeline seams to halt a factory’s troop production to evading a Black Cannon’s wide range to knock out its power source or capturing an enemy laboratory before it self-destructs. Every battle requires a different approach, and your well-tested strategies will only carry you so far without adapting.
The units under your command, which range from Infantry and Medium Tanks to long-distance Rockets and Battle Copters, each have their own strengths and weaknesses to take into consideration. Victory will often require that you command the land, sea and sky, reacting to whatever units your rival generates to march in your direction. While you aren’t drowned in options as to what units to produce, each has a clear purpose and the selection makes the experience more accessible and easier to gain a footing with on the whole.
There are two difficulty settings – Casual, for players just starting out, and Classic, for experienced players looking for a challenge – and if you misjudge a unit movement you can choose to reset your last turn in its entirety. You can also hold the ZR Button to speed up battle animations, and, while I couldn’t find a way to make this more permanent, you can head to the Options to reduce or turn off the battle and capture animations that you see to let you work through missions more quickly.
You are awarded a rank based on your battle performance across Speed, Power and Technique categories, rewarding you with coins that can be redeemed in Hachi’s Shop. It’s here that you can unlock more content to enjoy in the game’s other modes, whether that be battle maps to use in War Room or music tracks and artwork to listen to or pore over in the Gallery.
Away from each game’s Campaign, you can battle it out in War Room, Versus or Online. War Room lets you choose any unlocked Commanding Officer to face the CPU in single encounters, whereas Online lets you send out an invite to challenge anyone on your Friend List to one-on-one matches. Meanwhile, Versus lets you challenge other players or the CPU in local multiplayer battles, whether that be four players on one Nintendo Switch console or with their own console and copy to play wirelessly. I haven’t been able to extensively explore these as part of the review process, but I didn’t encounter any issues for those looking to dabble in them aside from lamenting Nintendo Switch’s somewhat basic invite system.
You also have the chance to create and edit custom maps in the Design Room, which can then be shared with others online or using a local wireless connection. Again, checking this out pre-launch has been difficult, but as someone that would have enjoyed charging headlong into monstrously devious creations by others more talented at this than me, it’s strange that, unless I’ve missed something, this is seemingly only limited to sharing maps with friends. It’s a shame as the mapmaker tool – which throws in extra pieces like explosive volcanoes – is fantastic, even if the map size can’t be changed for more elaborate ideas.
Where the updated Commanding Officer artwork and CO Power animations impress with the Saturday morning cartoon vibe that they now playfully exuberate, I often felt like these were at odds with the toy-like shine and soulless look of the units under your command. The early Advance Wars games were always bright and colourful, and, while there has been a clear decision to change it so that the game appears like it is played on a tabletop thanks to an isometric camera angle, I still wasn’t wholly convinced by the time the credits rolled. Maybe it’s just me, though.
WayForward’s efforts should be commended though, and there’s much to celebrate here – not least the fact that Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp exists in the first place. I have really missed this series, and to see it back in such an emboldened way is heartening. It’s as addictive and tense an experience as it ever was, packed with punchy strategic brilliance and reimagined for a whole new generation to conquer. Now, I just hope that there’s enough interest out there that Nintendo considers greenlighting Advance Wars: Dual Strike and Advance Wars: Days of Ruin to receive the same treatment… but, let’s be grateful for what we do have for now.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo