Review: Advance Wars (Game Boy Advance)

In this review, we go to war in the Game Boy Advance game Advance Wars. We find out how well this strategy game plays.

This game was released in 2001 and is one of many games in the series, but the first game in the series to be released in North America.

Players are given a choice of three different game modes: Training, Campaign, and War Room. Since most levels in War Room are locked off at the beginning, it makes Training and Campaign modes more viable. The logical choice is, of course, going to be training mode first.

When you start this mode, you, as a player, join the orange army as a new recruit. You are guided by Nell as you enter the theatre of war from a top down perspective. The common enemy is the blue army which is typically commanded by Olaf. You’ll be given a series of missions with information on various units and movement strategies. Once you complete training, you’ll have a pretty solid understanding of what to expect in the game and you’ll be promoted to the role of advisor.

From there, players can choose between campaign and war room, though the next logical choice is campaign as so much is still locked away in the War Room mode.

Campaign is the main storyline mode. You’ll not only work your way across the map, but face multiple different armies in the process.

Finally, War Room is a mode of play where you take on a particular Commanding Officer (CO) on a particular map. Battles tend to be more random, so a little luck may be needed as you work your way through the levels.

This game is turn based. So, each turn counts as a “day”. When you have a turn, you’ll be ably to select units and move them. A coloured area will appear, denoting where you can move your units to. Terrain can slow down units. This includes forest and mountain areas. Still, if you are trying to provide cover for your units, moving to a forest, town, mountain, or other more difficult terrain can give you an advantage should you be attacked.

If you move your unit next to an enemy (or within range in the case of ranged weapons), you’ll likely be given the option to attack. Attacking enemies quickly is huge because when you attack, you’ll have a bonus in attack power, forcing your opponent to take more damage even in evenly matched situations. So, striking early and often can allow you to pound enemies into submission.

If you take on damage, a health indicator will appear for a unit. Each unit has 10 health points. Anything less not only makes a number appear, but the units effectiveness in combat generally diminishes as well.

This is where buildings come into play. You can use one of two available foot units to take over various buildings. Once on top of either an enemy structure (coloured with their battle colours) or a neutral structure (grey), you’ll have a chance to take it over for yourself. Each city has twenty health points. With an exception to a particular CO, if your unit has 10 health points, then each turn will allow you to deal 10 points of “damage” to the city. Reduce the structure to nothing and you take it over.

Cities are critical for your success on most missions. For one, they allow you to heal up and resupply your units for every turn you stick around in it. For another, they provide war funds on battles that allow you to build units. So, unless you are in the training rooms or there is a very specific condition to winning, these structures can be key to your success.

On most battle’s, you’ll have a structure called your Head Quarters (HQ). Very often, taking over an enemy HQ means you win. However, if your HQ is taken over, you lose no matter how many units you have left over. So, making sure your HQ is safe is a very good thing.

Additionally, there are three kinds of unit producing buildings you can get your hands on: factories, air ports, and sea ports. Factories produce land units, air ports produce air units, and sea ports produce marine units. While you can “heal up” your land units at most buildings, air units can only refuel and heal up at air ports. Likewise, marine units can only re-supply and “heal up” at dock.

Different units have various advantages and disadvantages in combat. This is where some of that strategy comes into play.

Infantry are great at taking over buildings, but if you attack an MD tank, chances are, you’ll be lucky to survive the encounter, let alone be able to do any damage to that unit.

Likewise, an MD tank can be fantastic for mowing down infantry units, however, pit it against a bomber and you’ll probably see it blown to bits in short order. Bombers are great at taking out land units, but jet’s can wipe them out in a single turn.

Meanwhile, missile vehicles can take out jets pretty easily without even getting close, but you better hope that you don’t come in contact with land units.

What units you want and how many depends on the situation and strategy you intend on employing.

Of course, there is one other thing to contend with: CO special powers. Each CO, whether friend or foe, has a special power that they can utilize. As the battle goes along, power bars begin to fill. Once maxed out, you’ll be able to use it when it’s most advantageous to go for it. Just be warned that, once used, you have to wait for the bar to fill it.

Examples of CO special powers include Andy being able to perform repairs on units regardless of location. Max boosts the units melee attacks. Olaf can slow enemy units down while speeding his up. Each CO has a special ability. Which one is best to use really depends on the mission. Also, be aware of the enemy CO as well because you can get some information about the battle just based on who you are facing.

One last item of note is the victory rating. Sometimes, victory in a war isn’t enough. If you perform well enough in battle, you’ll be given grades for your effort. You’ll get some extra gold coins for performing well.

You are graded on three different metrics: speed, power, and strategy. Speed obviously revolves around how quickly you can execute a victory. Power represents how hard you hit your opponent. Finally, strategy has to do with how little damage you took in turn. Do well and you’ll get an “A” rating. The higher the rating, the more coins you earn for the battle.

One thing I do like about this game is the overall variety. The different conditions and challenges you face does vary quite a bit. This can force players to be a bit creative (or just rely on pure strength overall) in different situations. The different CO abilities does add a certain spice to the overall game.

Another positive is that the game is both complex, yet manageable. It is complex in that it forces players to handle a whole variety of enemies with the tools they have. Still, it is manageable because that complexity is spread out over the course of the game. So, players will be able to understand the strengths and weaknesses of various units and get a chance to know how to use them effectively. It’s a careful balance that is hard to get right, but this game does do so quite successfully.

Not only is the learning curve spot on, but the difficulty is well done as well. I personally hadn’t played a strategy game in quite some time and I was a bit worried going into this game that I would be rusty for a game of its genre. The beginning of the game is definitely welcoming to new players while later levels will definitely challenge the players skills. So, another thing this game gets right.

The only thing about this game is that, sometimes, battles are drawn out a lot. This is definitely a problem with a lot of strategy games. By about half way through the battle, you’ll probably have a very good idea of whether or not you are winning or losing. The problem is, you’ll spend the last half of each battle either trying to finish off your enemy or just buying yourself as much time as possible before the inevitable defeat. So, some redundancy can be found in the gameplay itself.

Another problem is that it can be difficult to ascertain which CO you need to use. Some maps and CO’s are more obvious than others. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to really tell if you visit an area for the first time on some maps which one would be ideal. Sometimes, objectives that enable victory aren’t given to you until long after you made a selection.

Still, outside of those two issues, I find it quite difficult to really find anything to complain about in this game. There is a lot of great gameplay to be had here. The game is inviting to newer players, but can be challenging to experienced players. It has a well thought out learning and difficulty curve. The variety and depth of strategy is well thought out. While end game can be a bit redundant at times and initial decisions can be annoying to make, it’s still a very worthwhile game to play.

Graphics are quite solid. The art is nicely done and the environments are pretty solid. It would have been nice to see some more variety in the environments, but it’s pretty well done all around if you ask me. Special effects in some cases almost have a Sega Genesis feel to them with the explosions and special CO ability effects. So, I’d say it’s great all around.

Audio is nicely done. Each CO has their own music whenever it’s their turn. So, while fighting against Olaf can eventually get a bit repetitive after a bit, that repetition does die out as you take on different opponents. Can’t say there is anything to complain about here, really. Sound effects are also pretty decent in my view. Again, nothing to really complain about here.

Overall, I’d say this is a great game. It has a well thought out learning curve. The difficulty curve is great too. Variety throughout the game is quite nice. There is some redundant gameplay and planning which CO you want to take with you can be annoying, though. Still, the flaws of this game are actually pretty few. Graphics are great and audio is nicely done. So, a great game all around.


Furthest point in game:
Completed all training levels.
Campaign: Defeated on Mission 16 (Enigma)
War Room: Beat: Spann Island, Duo Falls, Sole Harbor, and Lands End, but defeated in Point Stormy. All but one other level still locked.

General gameplay: 21/25
Replay value: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 82%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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