Personal Favorite: ADVANCE WARS
When I was a kid my brother and I would come up to visit family in Indiana every month or so. When we did our favorite people to see were our three cousins who were all boys and all our same age. On these visits we would battle our Pokémon, have Goldeneye multiplayer sessions, or whatever the current game was at the time. One of those games we frequently competed on was Advance Wars. Nintendo made handheld multiplayer a promoted feature on the Game Boy Advance. Everyone had a link cable to battle and trade their Pokémon or to race on Mario Kart Super Circuit. My cousins and I loved to play Advance Wars against each other.
Advance Wars was developed by Intelligent Systems, who have also developed Fire Emblem games and Paper Mario games, that’s quite an impressive portfolio of work. It was 0a turn based tactics game that came to the GBA (and only to the GBA) in 2001 with great sales but even better review scores. Most consider it the best game on the Game Boy Advance (along with Metroid Fusion which we will also be reviewing). The success of the game led to a second Advance Wars game on the GBA and then two more later on the Nintendo DS.
The thing about Advance Wars is that it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Little to none of the mechanics in this game were new to the turn based tactics genre. Where Advance Wars succeeded was in execution and presentation. Advance Wars is an incredibly deep and impressive tactics design wrapped up in colorful and attractive characters and animations and is well taught and explained to players who may be unfamiliar with them. At the time this game came out there were very few turn based games in the Western world. The creators of Advance Wars made it a point to present the game in an easier to learn format, in hopes that the Western world would catch on and get hooked quick and they were successful in those endeavors. Advance Wars does this by having what might be the best tutorial mode I have ever seen in a video game, even still to this day. Every unit or strategy is given its own dedicated tutorial, which are essentially little miniature battles. The game will educate you and instruct you on how this next mechanic works but it won’t hold your hand and force you through. Once its taught you the basics of the mechanics it lets you finish out the battle and use said mechanic to your advantage to win. Once you’ve won that stage of the tutorial it teaches you the next logical progression, another tasty layer to the strategy cake. After a few layers I remembered just how incredibly deep Advance War‘s combat could be. There are a plethora of different land military, land vehicle, air and water units. Not only that but the game also has multiple forms of terrain which influence battle and ways a team can win. On top of that each team’s captain has their own ability that is unique to them, that you can only activate a couple times per battle. For example Andy allows you to repair all units in one turn, Olaf turns the field to snow terrain for a few turns which his troops aren’t hindered by.
This all sounds like a lot to keep up with, and admittedly it is. But the presentation is so inviting that it doesn’t feel daunting or intimidating. The characters and vehicles are drawn in somewhat of a cartoony fashion instead of a realistic one. The captains are a tad over the top in their personalities. There is a bit of humor sprinkled in here or there in the dialogue. All of that coupled with the amazing tutorial helped me relearn the mechanics super quick and remember why I loved this game so much.
Advance Wars isn’t as much fun when you’re just playing the computer, which I was for this review. While the one player mode is great in its own right and still worth playing, I wanted so badly to be able to play this against my friends. Unfortunately no one else close to me still has a GBA and Advance Wars, so I didn’t get to relive those days. Still, I had fun with this game and this time around was able to appreciate more how great of a job the developers did with it. If you’ve never given Advance Wars a try you should definitely do so. Time does not show on this game, its still just as enjoyable as it was when I was a middle schooler.