When we think of a platform for turn-based military strategy games we usually don’t think of the handheld consoles. That purview was generally confined to the PC market. With Nintendo’s Advance Wars for the Game Boy Advance, that premise was blown out of the water. It was an incredibly addictive experience and placed you in the comfortable military boots of an anime-style military commander battling for survival.
Advance Wars had an unusual release history, it was originally intended as a Japanese exclusive as Nintendo didn’t believe that gamers in the west would be into Turn-Based Strategy. Eventually, after persuasion, Nintendo decided to test the market and promised to debut the game in the US on September 10th, 2001. After the tragedy of the following day, the European and Japanese releases were delayed. Advance Wars launched in Europe a few months later in January of ’02. This strange twist of fate meant that the game which was originally meant as Japanese only didn’t release in that region for another 3 years. Appearing in a compilation with its sequel – Advance Wars 2.
The title became a smash hit in Europe and the US and opens with a diverse 14-mission field training exercise which delves into all aspects of the game. Veterans of strategy titles will be familiar with the concepts of deployment, unit development, and fog-of-war but perhaps not the implementation-specific to this title. Until you complete this mode, only the versus mode and link mode options are available from the menu. In this way, developers Intelligent Systems ensured that you knew the basics of the game before embarking on the campaign.
After training, five additional menu choices become available: campaign, war room, stats, battle maps, and design maps. The single-player campaign offers a non-linear quest through all four nations of Alara. A continent ravaged by war. The entirety of the campaign features 30 potential missions to play and eight commanding officers to control. Once you complete a mission, you can replay it again in the War Room, or track statistics such as wins, losses, and rank in the stats area. Advancing through the campaign rewards you with coins, this currency allows you to purchase additional maps and Commanding Officers for the games versus, war room and muti-cartridge link modes.
If the game’s 150 multiplayer and single-player maps don’t satisfy, you can also create, save and trade your own maps using the design-maps option. The editor is packed with features such as terrain, units, and battle conditions. It gives the budding game designer an immense amount of free-reign over their creation. Unfortunately, the cartridge only has room to store three maps.
Graphics and Sound Design
One of Advance Wars’ unique traits is its overall look. Featuring iconic cartoonish graphics it promotes a feeling of accessibility. It is easily one of the most accessible games for Turn-based strategy newbies. It’s also family-friendly, it downplays the violence in the story through the use of the cutesy graphics, offering a game that kids could enjoy and that parents could but for them guilt-free. The primary colors of the warring nations are reflected in a bright, cheery palette which reinforces the idea that the game is all about fun.
The soundtrack adds to this effect, packed with upbeat music punctuated by drumbeats which urge the player on. It’s forgettable fare however and won’t be a major talking point when discussing this game with friends.
As mentioned before, Advance Wars features terrific gameplay elements. When it was first released it became apparent that Intelligent Systems put a robust and challenging game under that colorful hood. Although this title is accessible, don’t mistake it for being easy. Advance Wars opens with simple foundational mechanics and as the game progresses eases players into more complex systems. Introducing new vehicles and tactics through gameplay negates the need for players to pore over long complicated text in a game manual. This is something which we have come to expect from strategy titles today but in 2001, this was innovative.
As a Commanding Officer, you start with a number of units under your control. During your turn, you can move them to locations within their movement range, attack enemy units, merge two units together, command troops to capture cities or purchase new units from your bases. At the end of the turn, units resting in allied cities and bases are repaired, while money is accrued for each city under your control. In total there are 18 different units, separated into four distinct categories: troops, land vehicles, aircraft, and sea vessels.
Every unit comes with the standard 10 stamina points but has its own limitations on armor, movement, attack range and aight. For example, infantry and mechanized troops can move only short distances and must attack adjacent enemies, but they are also the only units that can capture cities or bases; APCs have thick armor and can transport troop units a great distance but have no attack capabilities of their own. My favorite unit, the bombers, have excellent range and devastating firepower but they have very little armor and are vulnerable to anti-aircraft guns and missiles.
Terrain also plays a part in turning the tide of battle. Mountains, forests, and reefs offer a defensive boost and an increased sight range but it takes longer to move through them. Highways offer a speed advantage to land vehicles but at a cost of higher vulnerability and narrowed sight. Morale is also a factor to consider, as it gives attacking units a slight strength advantage over enemies. This can help you gang up on tanks with cost-efficient anti-aircraft guns and jeeps.
Above all, this game is fun! taking bigger risks for potential gains and besting a difficult opponent with a successful strategy feels empowering. It also features that elusive ‘one more go’ factor when you lose.
Deep and easy to learn. Advance Wars contains a level of replay which was rarely witnessed for hand-held games. Commanding a myriad of units across countless maps and game modes make this excellent value. With Advance Wars, Nintendo and Intelligent Systems crafted the consummate handheld strategy simulation. It was the mark by which all others were measured.
A highly engaging and challenging strategy title featuring detailed, stylish graphics. There’s plenty of game modes and options to explore as well as a comprehensive map editor. This is the strategy title that all others which appeared subsequently on the handhelds were measured against.
Chris McAuley is a Northern Irish born author, comic book and gaming columnist who has now branched out from talking about comics to helping create them. An acclaimed colourist for 2000 AD and Marvel he has worked on flagship titles such as Judge Dredd, Roy of the Rovers and Hulkverines. Chris also has a commitment to the Indie scene being an inker and colourist for ‘The Lang Way Hame’ a Scottish comic which is tipped for an award later this year. With close ties to heroes of the industry such as the ‘Godfather of British comics’ Pat Mills and Spawn creator Todd McFarlene,