A great game stays with you forever, this is a great game!
Released in 2003 this was the sequel to one of the best early games for the Nintendo Gameboy Advance, a game that in all fairness didn’t get the respect it deserved, probably because these kind of games are a rarity in themselves, you just don’t expect this kind of depth in a handheld game. The original that sold quite well had struck a cord with people who wanted more than just yet another platformer or racing game so when those folk got their hands on it they fell in love, the sequel that this review is about however makes that version look completely and utterly pointless, it is in every single way a pure example of how you make a direct sequel.
The story here follows on from the first in that an evil country has decided that they will just go ahead and conquer the land thank you very much and even though a united allied nations defeat them in the previous instalment it’s not like that will stop them, hell no, this time they will attack another land but this time with some all new killer weapons and some new military commanders to boot.
Advance wars 2 is made up of several different modes, the standard of course being the campaign in which you take control of all of the allied commanders in turn and convert the bad guy’s invasion into your victory, it’s pretty large in all honesty and weighs in at just under 30 missions which trust me will take new people some time to get through. As you go through the story mode you will get to know each of the allied commanders who you are essentially taking control of better and using them teaches you their strengths and weaknesses which is essential for what turns out to be the major part of the game, the War Room.
Each of the previously mentioned story missions is ranked based on your time to complete which is measured in turns and your power and tactics, overall you will get a ranking based on a score out of 300 with anything above 290 earning you the fabled ’S’ Rank. Now unlike most games this score actually means something as it becomes the currency for you to unlock the real meat of the entire game, again the War Room. As you earn this said currency you can visit the shop where more maps and CO’s can be purchased i.e. unlocked for the War Room and also where the CO’s are concerned used in the actual story with alternative colours etc, that part is kinda pointless but still unlockables are the kinds of things that make people come back for more.
The main gameplay on offer here is turn based ion the strategy mould, by that I mean that you have a set number of units to start and each unit has it’s move range and specific power so an infantry soldier can move several spaces but a recon jeep can go more than double the distance and sometimes even further depending on what CO you use because that’s where the real genius of the game comes in, each of the playable characters has personal strengths and weaknesses that directly change how the mission will be played and the time to take to complete. When you move your selected troop or vehicle into range of the enemy a lovely cartoon battle sequence is displayed that shows the outcome of the attack however after serious amounts of play you can choose an option that skips this because as nice as it is after about the 400th time of seeing it, the anime effect has well and truly worn off. Movement animation is also another thing that can be selected to go away meaning once you have worked out the game and seen the presentation battles move so much quicker.
Each mission is finished once you have either destroyed every enemy on the grid based map, captured their HQ with either a trooper or rocket trooper or in the case of a few specific missions completed a set objective which usually involves destroying some massive cannon weapon, this may seem a bit dull however with so many ways the AI can react you never get caught up in the repetitiveness of the game at all, in fact it absolutely never ever feels old plus where the story mode is concerned there’s always static cut scenes to keep you entertained detailing the background story and the exploits of the characters themselves i.e. the CO’s.
The real genius of the game is split between these CO’s and their unique strengths and weaknesses and how you as a player will be best suited to your eventual favourite, for me a combination of the shopkeeper who takes ages to be able to purchase and Andy the main story good guy best suits my style of play, however that’s not to say some of you may prefer the characters with long range unit attacks such as Grit’s missiles, he may be rubbish up close but you have to get to the guy first. As I mentioned earlier in story mode you do get some choices of character but only between members of that specific allied country group which is usually made up of 3 characters.
My advice to anyone giving this game a proper go is to really get into the story mode as by being forced to play as every CO you will really benefit when playing my personal favourite part of the game which is the often mentioned WAR ROOM mode. This is simply a series of maps unlocked by playing the story mode or purchasing extra ones from the shopkeeper using those points earned with your ranking at the end of each of the said story episodes. It sounds really boring doesn’t it? Nope it’s amazing!!! This game was released in 2003 and I still play them now, that’s the real beauty of this game, for someone like me with OCD unlocking all the maps and items and CO’s and then mastering everything took me years, seriously years!
I shall give you an example…. In order to unlock say a battle map that works with 2 enemies which would be you plus 2 other CO’s controlled by the computer you will need a minimum of 500 points, that means you must play and do well in at least 2 story maps or other War Room battles so playing one thing leads to progress on another and this concept keeps going and going and going. Some maps can be against 1 opponent, some maps against 2 with the maximum being 3 but all of them need to be purchased using the ranking currency so expect a game here that really does give the very best value for money. Now add on to that the fact that some maps are nearly impossible to get a good rank on unless you have a specific CO to play as so that means you have to do their story part in the main mode of the game then purchase them and some of them can be as much as 1,500 points, you see how big this game is now?
Now once you have the maps and the CO’s that’s not the end of it, oh hell no because you will and I do mean WILL want an S ranking on every single one of these War Room maps, this means literally doing everything perfect and that can be a right pain if your not careful with your resources and troop movement etc, said resources in the game itself come from capturing buildings that translate into money you use to build things, so you could start a battle with only 3 buildings but there could easily be another 20 on the map you need to take over before the computer does and uses the cash to build bigger stronger tanks and planes etc etc to destroy you. The strategy levels in this game are immense as you may decide an in your face approach is best however if your not using the correct Co that won’t work, you could also decide on the making a ton of units approach and overwhelm the opponent and again it’s a great idea if you have a CO that gives you cheaper building options but what if his/her units are not strong because that’s their trade off in the powers department?
Speaking of powers, as you play the map and destroy units you will be charging your power meter which is effectively your special move, unlike the first game where CO’s have only 1 power in the sequel here you get a choice of 2 per CO so again you have to think what’s best, Andy the main character has 2 levels of unit repairs, level 1 repairs gives you a bit of a tune up but his super power version repairs up to 5 units of power on all troops and vehicles which is half of their stats, if you pull this off then do your moves for that turn it’s a total game changer.
I find that advance wars 2 is the kind of game that looks rubbish but when you play it you fall in love almost immediately, it has a level of simplistic depth that only games like Disgaea have and is as intense as you want it to be, you could do the story mode on easy difficulty if you want and walk away however your missing out on a complete and utter gem, one of the absolute best games the GBA ever produced and when you take a step back and look at the games this console has that statement suddenly looks very bold however trust me when I say it really is that damn good, the graphics are lovely and bright and each army stands out easily, vehicles are easy to tell apart and even when you turn the battle and movement animations off it all still looks great.
Sound on the game is also excellent, simple tunes are the order of the day here however some are gentle in tone and others quite dark especially where the bad guys are concerned, the nasty NAZI inspired enemy has real character throughout. Each Co has their own theme tune during battle and there’s tons of CO’s so that’s impressive in itself and the sound effects for the battles and explosions etc are perfect, there are also some lovely menu and game over screens with music that just sums up that era and the GBA perfectly all in all the sound is spot on.
Gameplay however is where this game shines, coupled with lastability means this scores huge and I do mean HUGE, it’s simply massive even if you don’t think it feels that way at the start, to see every map, max out every character, learn every technique and then unlock it all for use in the WAR ROOM and get maximum ranks is something I’m still doing 10 years on and loving it to bits, sure the DS version goes one step further however that console is not retro yet so I’m reviewing this one instead plus it’s also dead cheap to pick up if you want the original, it’s full of so much character it’s insane and is the perfect handheld game, you can play it for 5 minutes or 5 hours, battles can be saved at any point to allow you to try something new or to go play something else for a while before returning, and you will return, oh yes…You will.
Intelligent Systems who made this are always well thought of because of the Fire Emblem series which they also produced and I have no problem with that however I wont tow the party line in agreeing it’s their best work because it’s not Advance Wars is and it’s not even close, because of the perma death nature of the characters in Fire Emblem you never get to even remotely care about the people in it because your too worried about losing them forever, or at least that how I feel about it. Advance Wars has all the depth and strategy turn based elements with more reasons to go back and tons more things to unlock and master, this is a developer that got it right the first time then did it much better for this version, it’s pure retro gaming heaven, they don’t make them like this anymore and they should... They bloody well should.
Verdict:- A perfect example of a game that fit’s the system it’s on like a glove, this is a game filled with character and depth that will keep casual gamers happy and reward hard core players more than almost anything else ever. It’s charming, it’s addictive as hell, funny, sad, intriguing, tough and rewarding but most of all it’s fun.
Anyone making games today needs to study this to see how to make simple things complex and straight forward all at once, it’s one of these and both of these at the same time, it’s a flat out work of genius and if you ever listen to a damn word I say then you will get your butt onto your GBA as soon as is humanly possible and fall into a world of wonder. I love it…And love is a strong word!
Second Opinion:- This game makes my head hurt! It's absolutely awesome in every possible way and just when you think it's over, you find even more to unlock. Honestly it has to be one of the most value to gameplay perfect games ever made.
It makes my head hurt because it's always been a better franchise than Fire Emblem and yet after two DS games and a weird Gamecube spin-off it vanished, never to return. What's that about Nintendo? You keep pumping out the same old Fire Emblem so where's my next taste of Advance Wars? Idiots!
Transbot Scores:- 9 out of 10