REVIEWS -- Advance Wars: Dual Strike -- DS
‘Advance Wars’ is handheld bliss
by Pramath Parijat
Fun factor: Fun
Worth to: Buy
Represents the apogee of handheld gaming, and every self-respecting gamer should have this in his library. If you don’t already own this game, get it pronto.
Advance Wars made quite a name for itself when it first launched on the GBA many years ago. Reviewers cited its thorough design, players cited its deep gameplay and unbelievable addictiveness, and the game became a smash hit, quite unexpectedly. Series developer Intelligent Systems followed this through pretty fast with a sequel, that somehow never got quite the same amount of acclaim that the first title had garnered. In its own right, though, the title was bigger and better than anything the first one could claim to be.
It’s quite funny, but I never got around to getting any of the two Advance Wars games for my GBA. The library of the system was already chock full of great titles, and somehow, I never could extract myself from the tons of RPG’s available to actually dabble in what many claimed was the best title on the system. Advance Wars: Dual Strike therefore was an all new experience for me, and as such, many of the accusations of recycling old content that are often levelled at it hold no relevance for me.
However, I do believe that in spite of all adverse circumstances, Advance Wars: Dual Strike would have always seemed as incredible and fresh title to me as it does now -- for after playing the old titles once I had mastered this one, I can confidently claim that the GBA games were positively watered down barebones demos in comparison to the sheer amount of depth of content that Dual Strike has to offer.
For the uninitiated, the Advance Wars games are turn-based strategy titles. Battles take place on a grid garnished with various terrains and relief features (more on that later). Our troops are (naturally) placed on this grid, where each unit takes up one square on the grid, though several units of the same type can be clubbed together, and made to occupy the same square.
Each unit type has its own strengths and weaknesses. For instance, infantry and mech units can move short distances, and can only attack enemy units occupying adjacent squares. And yet they compensate for these shortcomings by being the only units who can capture enemy bases and cities. APC’s can move large distances, and have impressive defence capabilities. However, they lack any sort of firepower whatsoever, making them redundant to attack. And bombers have great range, and killer firepower, but they have next to no armor, making them easy to take down in battle.
There are hundreds of units in Advance Wars, and each of them has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, that can, and should, be exploited. Altogether, the battles in Advance Wars play out like a bizarre rendition of rock paper scissors.
Adding another layer of depth and strategy to the mix is the terrain -- you see, each map can be host to different kinds of terrains, and they can either impede or aid your cause. For instance, mountains and forests provide you with added defence, and yet, it’s harder to traverse them, so you’ll be in trouble if your enemy somehow manages to take most of your units down, and you want to retreat in the face of fire. Highways and paved paths offer you with greater range and increased movement, but they reduce your visibility, and make you more vulnerable to enemy fire. Then there’s water, which only water units can navigate. If ever confronted by a water body, then your units have to look for a way around it, or over it, and this leads to wastage of time, which is a precious commodity in Advance Wars.
Unbelievable gameplay depth
As if all of that wasn’t enough, Advance Wars goes the extra step ahead by throwing in even more randomising factors into the mix: in battles, we are essentially the CO, short for Commanding Officer, and each CO has his or her own personal strong and weak points. For instance, one CO might specialize in close combat, whereas another would be helpful for ranged warfare. Still another one might specialize in infiltration.
Your troops essentially reflect your CO’s strengths and weaknesses on the whole, with some stats being boosted and others reduced. Therefore, as a player, you not only have to consider the type of unit you command, and the surrounding terrain, but you also have to keep in mind the CO’s own personal strengths and weaknesses. Adding to this insanity is the fact that Advance Wars allows you to switch CO’s in a pinch in a mode called tagged battle, so you can essentially plan in the long term, and co-ordinate your CO’s moves so that in junction they’ll be able to overpower the enemy.
But Advance Wars doesn’t stop there! Oh no, it goes the extra mile by giving you still more to consider -- each CO has a special power that can essentially turn the tide of the game. Use it too early, however, and you might find yourself in a difficult position later on from which you are unable to wriggle out simply because you used your power beforehand. Wait for too long, however, and you might end up in such a tight spot that even using the power might not help. Then there’s the added consideration of your troops’ morale -- if their morale is high, it gives them an edge in battle. Low morale, conversely, impedes attacking skills.
As you can see, the sheer depth in Advance Wars is insane. The game throws so much at you that it might almost be intimidating or overwhelming, especially to the uninitiated. But the game takes care of that with a brilliantly crafted story-based tutorial campaign, that gently guides you through the nuances of the game. By the time you’re through with the tutorial, you’ll have enough knowledge to partake in some serious battles, and you won’t even have realised how you were gradually eased into the complexity of the underlying structure of the game.
But that’s not all
However, just having a knowledge of the game’s infinite factors is not enough to ensure victory -- you see, what really helps in Advance Wars is experience, and that you can only get only by fighting in as many battles as you can. Due to the sheer number of randomising factors involved, no two battles in Advance Wars ever play the same, and because of the different specifics involved each time, you’ll learn something added every time you battle.
To ensure that you don’t get bored, the game offers almost as many options for battling as it does in game. There’s the single player tutorial, single player battle, single player skirmish mode, and then, as an added bonus, the game offers all these options in local multiplayer, with a single-cart and multi-cart variant thrown in for good measure. In single player battles, the game mixes things up nicely by offering battles either with fog of war activated, or with all of the map visible at once, adding yet another (God help me!) level of strategy. You’re going to be playing Advance Wars for a long, long time before you come anywhere close to getting bored.
So that’s the gameplay for you, in a nutshell. Just the sheer length of the summary should give you an idea of what you’re getting into. But that barely scratches the surface of all that Advance Wars: Dual Strike has to offer, and you’d really best be off trying to discover all the game has to offer yourself.
Likeable story and characters
Apart from the gameplay, which is, as should be pretty obvious at this point, incredibly fun and satisfying, we also have the game’s visuals. The game uses a bright and colorful palette, and an almost anime like look that wouldn’t look too out of place in a Gameboy Advance title. And yet, each unit, each character, each terrain, each map and the game overall reeks of a lot of personality.
The game backs its bright and cheery visuals with an equally cheery soundtrack, that does, frankly speaking, begin to get grating and annoying after a while. You can’t actually blame the game for that -- it has its fair share of different background music. It’s only that you’ll be playing the game so much that even the varied selection of soundtracks gets repetitive after some time.
In spite of overflowing to the brim with so much content, Advance Wars manages to pack in a decent storyline too. The story in general reflects the game’s cheery tone, and somehow manages to make the complex and violent matters of warfare digestible for children. At the same time, mature players can’t help but overlook that the game also grapples with complex themes that are involved, and actually tackles them in a sensitive manner.
The story is complemented by the characters, each of which has his or her own distinctly memorable personality, and all of whom are essentially likeable. Though some of them are a tad annoying (the main CO, Jake comes to mind), they mostly comprise a varied cast.
But, like everything else, the story and the characters must take a backseat to what is undeniably the game’s USP -- it’s gameplay, which leads to near infinite replay value, You’ll find yourself playing Advance Wars years from now, and no two battles, whether against the superbly programmed AI or real human opponents, will ever play the same. Frankly speaking, Advance Wars alone should be enough of a game to tide you over the next few years.
Armed then, with endless lasting appeal, incredibly deep gameplay, great visuals and sound and a memorable cast of characters, and so much content that it puts most console games to shame, Advance Wars: Dual Strike takes its rightful place as the best handheld game ever created. It represents the peak of a design that reached its zenith with this title, and only went downhill in subsequent instalments. Whether or not you’re a fan of Nintendo, or handhelds, or turn-based strategy games, you simply have to own Advance Wars. It is a title that represents the apogee of handheld gaming, and every self-respecting gamer should have this in his library. If you don’t already own this game, then get it pronto. Advance Wars: Dual Strike is a game you cannot afford to overlook.
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Release Date: August 22, 2005
Review Date: 11-10-2009
Numbers of Players: 1-8
Players Online: 2-8
Notes: Single-card multiplayer
Uses a bright, colorful and cheery pallet, that looks pleasing to the eye. However, the graphics aren’t that big a leap from the GBA titles, and as such, the game has been accordingly marked down.
With infinite layers of strategy and incredibly smart AI, no game in history has played as well as Advance Wars: Dual Strike.
While it plays well, sounds good, and has no glitch that I ever encountered, there is simply no denying that the game looks a bit like a GBA title. That is more than compensated for by the sheer amount of content packed into the game’s tiny cart.
The game sounds lovely, with catchy upbeat tunes, and each weapon sounding distinctly different.
A satisfyingly long campaign, dozens of maps, a number of customizing and randomizing options available at your disposal and a robust multiplayer mode, Dual Strike should be enough to last you several years, all by itself.