This is the game that no one expected. The opportunity was there but games like this are supposed to live on that big grey box on your desk. It's an unspoken, unwritten rule that everyone knows. So we were just as surprised as you to find out that the simplest game in the world and one that has never really succeeded on consoles before happens to be the best on its format. Bring on GBA's Advance Wars.
So what has this game done to deny every rule in the book, and make one of the oldest gaming concepts in the world - fun? How can a turn-base yes TURN-BASED strategy game be so good? Well one of the first things that strikes you is the appearance. The graphics aren't what people really call 'good', (of course those people have no taste). The whole game has a very 'cute' look, which fits in perfectly with the system and the game. Before we get into the main game, lets take a look at the various modes shall we? Campaign, this is the main part of the game, more on this later. Field Training, this allows you to test yourself on various options from the game. V.S mode, this is very fun, more on this later too. Link Mode, this is the linked - up version of V.S mode, so in turn even MORE fun. Design Maps, this allows you to use a simple map building system to create you own maps for use in V.S mode. Battle Maps is where you can spend coins from the Campaign (more later) on maps for use in either multiplayer or the War room, this consist of various missions, all have there own strategies to win. In this way it is similar Campaign.
The Campaign is the main focus of the single player part of the game. You are the Orange star army, and you rivals Blue Moon have finally attacked. You take the position of special advisor for the army. You supposedly do not control the units on the map, your CO does that, and there are 10 different Commanding Officers in the campaign mode. Each of whom have there own strengths and weaknesses, that can turn tide of battle at any moment. The first one you take control of is Andy. His mechanical skills are second to none. Each CO has a CO power, for example Andy's power is called Hyper Repair. When activated will recover two HP to every friendly unit on the map. This adds an extra dose of strategy to the game, because you have to decide when the best time to use them is. For examples Andy's power is good once you have finished your turn because it will increase defence for your enemies next attack wave, or maybe it's better at the beginning to increase attack power. There are two other CO's you can take control of throughout the main campaign these are Max and Sami, who again both have their own unique powers and abilities.
The main game is played like one big chess game. When you start a mission you have a bird-eye-view of the whole map, and all the units, (unless there is fog of war, more on this later). For example, each squad of 5 tanks is represented by one sprite of a tank on the map. The different armies on each map are differentiated by there colour, which is quite obviously the one in their name. So orange Star units are Orange, Blue Moon are blue and so on. Your goal in most, almost all missions is to simply recover the land the enemy has taken. This can be achieved either by capturing there HQ or by wiping out all there units, (more on both later). You use a cursor to select units, and do everything basically; you move it with +, press A on a unit to give orders. The basic order is movement, once a unit is selected some of the spaces around it change colour, that's the unit's movement range. When you've finished moving the command menu appears again, you can tell the unit to wait where it is, or depending on where you are you could attack an enemy unit. There are different units available to you, some are already there at the beginning of the mission, others must be bought (again we'll get there later). Foot soldiers are the cheapest units, but are in a way the most useful. Only infantry or mech soldiers can capture properties. This is done by moving the unit onto an enemy or neutral property and selecting Capture form the command menu. It takes full-HP units two full turns to capture something. Another useful unit is the APC; these have no attack capabilities, but are very useful. They can load and transport infantry units, as well as supply units that are running low on fuel or ammunition. Infantry can only move 3 spaces but APC's can move 6, making capturing faraway buildings a breeze. There are plenty more units, some have long range attacks, some are transport and so on. The skill knows when to buy new units, whether to wait another turn to receive more funds or to build say two less powerful units now?
Okay that's the basics of units covered, now how about these properties we've been talking about? Well there a wide variety of properties, unlike other games similar to Advance Wars you can't build your own properties, they must be captured. When you start a map there are usually some propertied belonging to your own army, some to the enemy and then a handful of neutral ones that do nothing until captured. The most important property is the HQ, if this is captured you automatically loos. Each army has one on each map. The most common property is the City, once captured these provide funds at the beginning of every turn which can be used either in the Bases, Airports or Ports. These allow you to build ground units, air units and sea units respectively. Those are the basic propertied, that you will need to harness to win the battle. Intel is very important to win battles, so Advance Wars does not disappoint on the Stat front. Hover the cursor over a unit or property and press R; this will bring up a menu of all the stats you could dream of. For units there is Vision, Fuel, Movement, Ammunition, HP and a brief description of what they can do. Properties tell you; what they do, (build or whatever), how much funds they supply each turn, and how much defence they provide units when they shelter there. So first impressions of this being a simple, cute little game for babies should now have been dismissed from your minds. Of course things are not always this simple with little extras like Fog of War which blacks out the entire screen except the stuff that is in range of your units, some missions with this can be EXTREMELY tough. Also don't forget those all important CO powers, they can really help change an impossible situation into winning one in no time at all.
Alright, let's move away from the Campaign mode now and have a look at some of the other modes. Starting off with Field Training, consisting of 14 separate missions that are aimed to teach you everything you could ever want to know about Advance Wars, from basics like troop orders up to advanced topics like special Intel. This is perhaps the best place to start if you are an extreme beginner. Next up the War Room, this is also made up of a series of missions. There are about 20 altogether, however not all of them are available at first; you must earn coins from the campaign mode to buy them off Hachi with. You are graded from A to E, with S being exceptional, depending on how you played. Now we get to the REALLY good stuff, V.S mode. You choose between varieties of maps from all - throughout the game; pre-deployed, 3p/4p maps, War Room maps, Special maps - the list go's on. Then you get to choose which CO you want to play as, you can also choose whether to play against the computer or another player, and choose there CO. Then there are a series of settings that you can control like; the weather, funds and length of the game etc. From there on in it plays just like any other Advance Wars match. The possibilities of this mode are endless. Which is why the game has remained a favourite with us right up to, well up when we got our hands on the sequel!
The greatest game on the GBA, until the sequel. This game has the basis of the most tried and tested gaming formula ever. Making it very easy to get into, then adds plenty to keep you interested.
Lovely 'Cute' graphics that loll you into a state of thinking that is then turned on its head once you actually start playing.
Some great tunes and battle effects, but the tunes can become slightly tedious at times when used a lot.
The campaign mode won't last forever, (although the last battle might!), but that is really quite irrelevant, multiplayer rules the earth and...so...many...things...to uncover. Will easily last a lifetime, if not two.
We say once again and for the last time, the best game on the GBA until its sequel. Need we say more?