Whether by land, sea or air, Advance Wars made a striking impression when it released on Game Boy Advance almost 13 years ago. The handiwork of turn-based strategist geniuses Intelligent Systems, it is a franchise steeped in Nintendo’s history despite its apparent international debut.
It was the Japan-only release Famicom Wars that initially pitted the warring Red Star and Blue Moon nations against one another, the White Moon, Green Earth and Yellow Comet joining the fray in the successive Game Boy Wars and Super Famicom Wars.
With Advance Wars, Intelligent Systems moved to adapt their creation for western audiences, although much of the core formula was unaffected. The game’s relative success can be attributed to helping Nintendo realise that there was an unsatisfied demand for the genre outside of their homeland, with the developer suggesting that even Fire Emblem may not have ever seen localisation if they hadn’t first tested the waters with it.
Players assume the duty of tactical adviser to the Orange Star Army, and, whether a franchise rookie or veteran, must at least complete the final mission of the game’s tutorial-led Field Training before being able to tackle the central Campaign. Combat takes place over a predetermined battlefield, victory or defeats hinging on whichever player either capture their opponent’s headquarters or neutralises all opposing units first.
Foot soldiers can capture cities, from which units can be repaired or refuelled, whereas the total number occupied relates to the funds that are granted to the player each turn. These can be spent at any factories, airfields and harbours currently under control of the player, to build new units to strengthen your forces.
As can be expected, individual units have strengths and weaknesses made known to the player through an information panel that appears whenever they are selected. This is where the broadened tactical nature of the game soon becomes apparent, multiple strategies soon opening themselves up when players become familiar with those placed at their disposal. Skirmishes between attacking and defending troops feeling somewhat like a comic strip, taking opposing sides of the screen as they pick off their opponents as best they can.
Do you blockade enemies with your stronger armoured tanks, to then barrage them with long-range attacks from a distance? Or do you use airborne units to strike and fly away to maintain your distance? It is largely your play style that determines your own enjoyment from Advance Wars, especially when the Campaign eventually allows you to leverage more free reign over the units under your command, and that’s a marvellous thing.
Whilst there are no difficulty settings, the complexity of strategies employed by your AI opponents can cause your emotions to shift in response to elated success and crippling failure. Suffer defeat, and you can approach the mission from the start with renewed vigour, differentiating your approach to see if you can squeeze a victory in.
Three commanding officers support you in your cartoon-infused conquest, each with abilities that assist your war efforts once a meter is filled: Andy, who can repair all units; Max, who strengthens attacks for a turn; and Sami, who allows your units to capture buildings more quickly. Sadly these often fail to drastically turn the tide of battle, but you’ll soon find, and stick to, the one that matches your play style.
Vs. Mode lets up to four players to outwit each other in single battles, which, whilst requiring you to pass the Wii U GamePad between one another, will be welcomed by those who regularly have friends over to play locally. New Battle Maps can be purchased from Hachi for you to fight across, requiring Advance Wars coins that you receive by playing through the Campaign. It’s a sly way to push you through the solo portion, but a tactic that will result in you unlocking a greater variety of locales to play standalone.
If those don’t prove enough, players can also venture into the Design Maps mode where you can, rather expectedly, create your own. Naturally, this is a fairly time-consuming process, but you can let the game auto-generate the initial landscape to save yourself some effort. It’s rewarding at least for those who can invest the time.
It’s only the game’s Link Mode that isn’t carried across, although remains on the main menu. It doesn’t prove too much of a loss however, players have been able to trade maps and battle across multiple Game Boy Advances, although the thought alone provides flickers of potential for either Wii U or 3DS in future.
Advance Wars continues to be deserving of the critical praise that was heaped upon it, this faithful conversion to the Wii U Virtual Console remaining steadfast in quality, and levying a challenge that eager gaming strategists won’t want to miss.