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Advance Wars (GBA)

Welcome to Advance Wars, where you’re constantly fighting, and peace isn’t an option. Prepare to examine the enemy, find their weakness, and work your way in.

The main mode of play, the Campaign mode, sets you in charge, starting you with one Commanding Officer under you. Along the way, you’ll pick up a few more COs, and will be able to choose which one you want to use at the beginning of each battle. Each CO has different strengths and weaknesses, such as being stronger in head-on combat while being weaker at long-range attacks. After a number of turns, a meter will also fill up which will allow you to use the CO’s special ability, which would be something such as filling up a bit of health on all of your units or giving you a more powerful attack. You’ll want to pay special attention to the type of mission coming up, and choose your CO accordingly.

Each battle starts off giving you a set number of units, a base, and possibly other things, and an enemy with their units and base. On the map will be a number of cities and deployment bases which are either on your side, neutral or on the enemies side. After each turn, any city under your control will contribute funds toward your total. With your funds, you’ll be able to deploy more units depending on the area and type of deployment base (whether it’s air, normal, or water). Each unit starts out with a health of 10.

Each unit has their own strengths and weaknesses as well. A tank might not be too useful against a helicopter, but will wipe out a troop of ground soldiers. A plane might not work well against a submerged sub, but can drop bombs on a fleet of tanks. Each unit also has its own attack range. A missile launcher might not be able to hit anything closer than two spaces from it, while a soldier might only be able to attack the spaces directly next to it. You’ll have access to many statistics during the game, damage ratings and defense and such, which will aid you in your decision-making.

Once you’ve engaged an enemy unit in combat, you’ll start by firing on them, and often they’ll give a return fire as well. The person who initiates the engaging gets the first attack, defeating however many of the opponents they’re able to. After their attack, the remaining opponents will fire back. So, if your group of ten soldiers encounters another group of ten, you’d fire first and, for example, you might kill six of them. The remaining four would then fire at you, maybe killing two of you. In an even direct attack like that, both groups will usually sustain damage, but obviously the attacking group won’t take nearly as much. If you defeat all of them on your attack, of course, there won’t be any return fire. On the other hand, if your group of soldiers goes up and attacks a group of tanks, you’ll fire but you might not actually defeat any of them, and then they’ll fire back and wipe out the majority of your group. If a plane attacks a group of soldiers, they might not be able to fire back at it at all. Battle strategy is a very critical thing.

Your soldiers can spread out and invade cities and bases as well. Each city or base has a “life” of twenty. When a group of soldiers move onto a neutral or opposing city or base, they can select to capture it, and they’ll take down as much of the city’s life as there are soldiers in the group. So, a group of seven soldiers would have to select capture for three turns in order to capture the city. If the group that started the capturing is defeated or moves, the city returns to twenty life.

In most cases, you win each battle by either defeating all of your opponents troops or capturing their base. If they have a large group of fighters but leave their base unprotected, you could just fly a soldier over to their base, and capture it before they have a chance to do anything about it. Usually it’s not quite that easy though, you’ll usually have to do a good deal of fighting to get to the base, and it’s often easier to just defeat all of their troops than to worry about the base. If the enemy defeats all of your troops or captures your base, you lose and have to start the battle over. If you lose, you’ll be given a few hints to help you along. At the end of each battle, you’ll be graded in three categories: speed, technique and power. These ratings make up an overall grade, and you’ll then be awarded coins which can be spent in other modes. In the campaign mode, there is a set path of battles that you’ll face, although you do have a few choices along the way.

As well as the main campaign mode, you’ll have a number of other modes to play around with. There’s a tutorial mode, which will guide you in various tactics of battle. There’s a war room mode, where you’ll have to try to accomplish set goals on a map, similar to the campaign mode. You’ll be able to buy maps with the coins you’ve earned in battle. You’ll also be able to create your own maps with a map creation tool, which can then be used in the multiplayer option. You’ll be able to link up and battle against friends in maps you’ve made or other maps. While pretty much all of the modes play the same, there are a number of different ways for you to do battle, with different goals and enemies.

Map graphics in the game are fairly plain, just little characters and vehicles on a land. The land design is varied and interesting, but nothing too fancy. Once you engage an enemy in battle, you both switch to a screen which shows your troops on the land type you’re standing on, and the graphics here are actually very good, there’s different backgrounds for each land type, and they’re all very intricate. Music is fairly steady and plain, although it will change from time to time. You have your basic sound effects, firing and attacking and whatnot, but not much more than that.

My only real complaint with the game is more a personal complaint than anything else, and many other people might not see it as a problem at all. I would’ve liked to see some elements worked into the game where you could actually work to make yourself stronger from battle to battle. As it is, you could just barely squeeze by one battle or win it in a massacre, you enter the next battle looking exactly the same way. It would’ve been nice to see some sort of carry-over between battles. Being able to capture cities and work to build up your army in a battle is fun, but, it’s a bit disappointing to see it all lost for the next battle. Now, it really isn’t so much of a bad thing, obviously it causes the emphasis to fall on strategy for each individual battle, which is good, but nonetheless it might’ve been nice. So, that was a small problem for me, but it might not really matter at all to you.

The battles in campaign mode are very challenging, and will take a good deal of time and strategy to win. Once you’ve completed the campaign mode, you can still work on going back and getting more coins and buying maps, as well as completing all the tasks in the war room. If you have other people to play against, you can also have a great deal of fun with the map creation and battling against each other. It’s still a very fun game to play even once you’ve beaten everything there is to do, just going back and doing it again.

The game does take a large amount of strategy, planning and careful courses of action. In most cases, you can’t just barge your way in and blast away at the enemy. So, if this type of slow-paced process doesn’t appeal to you, you’re likely to be bored very quick, as there really isn’t any other way around it. As well, if you were hoping for a bit of stat-building from battle to battle, you will also have to work with the fact that you won’t have any of that. If you’re looking for a game that requires you to think, plan, and work things out, and provides a very good challenge, you’ll find it here. Not only in the main campaign mode, but in the other things to do in the game as well. Even once you’re done, you’ll keep coming back for more.

Gameplay: 9/10
Graphics/Sound: 7/10
Length/Replay: 10/10
Overall: 9/10