Sometimes the oldies are the good ones. This is definitely the case for Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp, a repackaged remaster of Advance Wars and sequel Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising that adds little, but polishes the already stellar subject matter into a high shine.
Advance Wars has been away for a long time – the two games in this collection were released in 2001 and 2003, and there hasn’t been a game in the Advance Wars franchise since 2008 – but the shiny graphics and fairly timeless mechanics make it feel like a modern release, despite the fact the core Nintendo Wars series itself is some 30 years old.
After all of that time away, it’s forgivable if you’ve not played it. Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is a very simple strategy game, hiding its depth beneath brightly coloured death machines and an easy to understand core concept. You tool around a grid with abstracted military forces, capturing towns and fulfilling victory conditions. Most commonly this involves seizing an enemy’s headquarters, but it might also challenge you with surviving for a set amount of time or capturing towns. Each unit can move and fire, except your artillery units which can only fire on turns when they have not moved.
If the opponents push you with tanks, you counter with helicopters. If they bring bombers, you use fighter jets to take them down. The simple rock-paper-scissors of the whole thing might seem overly simplistic but actually, there is an almost perfect balance which means no strategy ever feels like the best, and instead, you’re just trying to take the best course of action with the information you currently have. The game happily flips between a fog of war that obscures areas of the map you can’t currently see and giving you full vision of the battlefield, depending on the challenge at hand. The lack of vision might lead to you getting ambushed by invisible artillery more often, but often seeing what’s coming towards you doesn’t actually make it that much easier to deal with.
During the game’s campaign, the difficulty is smooth and there are many quick and easy victories available for people that can pair out-of-the-box thinking was a solid understanding of Advance Wars’ fundamentals. The campaign slowly layers in new air, land and sea units until you hit a point where you’re fighting a full combined-arms campaign that will often feel insurmountable until you pull off the perfect manoeuvre to get you the win.
Still, if victory can be snagged with a solid strategy though, you can pull a defeat out of the bag easily, whether that’s by poor decision making, arrogance, accidentally sending your troops to the one square and in my particular case, folly. Repeated folly.
You’ll often realise you’ve made a critical error in Advance Wars long before a victory is declared for each side. Perhaps you failed to block a bridge, or a key unit was left undefended, taken off the board in such a way as to leave the rest of your lines flimsy. Regardless, such is the winning formula at the heart of this strategy game that many players will persevere regardless, trying to turn things around even as the abyss looms ever larger.
It’s crucial to remember that these are actually two different games. Advance Wars 2 adds a few different tweaks to the formula, mostly in the form of uncrossable pipes that criss-cross the terrain and a new Heavy Tank, a third tier tank that is absolutely monstrous in the same way that Advance Wars Medium Tank will cause most units in the game to flee.
“War never changes,” grumbles Ron Perlman in one of his infamous Fallout monologues, and true to form the act of actually playing Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is very similar to my memories of playing both of these games. The biggest change is to the game’s aesthetics: gone are the blocky pixel stylings of the earlier Game Boy Advance titles, replaced with a bright colourful cheeriness that at first I loathed, but grew on me with repeated play.
More immediately exceptional is the anime style cinematic when you use your chosen Commanders special move. Max, a blunt commander that’s good at tanks and direct combat but less good at indirect fire, has a special ability that further boosts the ability of his direct combat troops. He bellows as he forces his way onto the screen from the right-hand side, while the words MAX FORCE come up on the screen. It’s memorable, striking and more importantly it doesn’t wear out its welcome when you start using the power once or twice every single battle.
Despite the santised combat of this Nintendo-sanctioned conflict, most of the time Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp feels more like a puzzle game than a hardened strategy title. Often victory involves taking in the situation around you and then using the pieces at your command to try and get a victory. The turn-based strategy slows things down and gives you time to think, while the abstracted forces and easy-to-learn mechanics
Sadly, this means that when you do inevitably snatch a loss from the jaws of victory, it’s on you. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is out on April 21 for the Nintendo Switch. There’s an online multiplayer that we were unable to test before launch.
Sharp strategy with a fresh coat of paint, Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is a loving rendition of a beloved strategy series that has barely aged a day. These tiny battles will fit into your day without a problem but nonetheless feel epic.
- Tight Balance
- Tons of missions and maps
- Excellent soundtrack
- New graphical look is less appealing
- Advance Wars 2 campaign is locked behind completing Advance Wars 1