Advance Wars: Dark Conflict (Nintendo DS) Review

By John Boyle 30.01.2008

Of all the handheld games Nintendo puts out Advance Wars certainly stands on its own. A curious game, with a bright and boldly coloured style made all the more childish by the Saturday morning cartoon script and lightweight good vs bad plot. This was contrasted by it's gameplay, which was challenging a challenging turn based grid strategy game making younger gamers cry in frustration and battle-hardened gamers...erm... cry in frustration. It's certainly a popular series, spawning eight games across five consoles and a spin off series now straddling two consoles of it's own and garnering a large cult following. So what do Nintendo do...remove the kiddy style and beef up the strategy gameplay. Enter the ninth game in the series and the second on the DS: it's Advance Wars: Dark Conflict.

Fundamental gameplay is the same; it's you vs an enemy and you capture buildings, make troops and attack the enemy in the ultimate turn-based time-waster. Little has changed in that respect; in Dark Conflict the beauty is in the detail and this game is loaded with subtle changes that brings the series back on track. First up the plethora of game modes that were in Dual Strike are gone. Say goodbye to the store, survival mode and combat mode. You have the single player campaign and free battle (100 maps and fully customisable option) along with multi cart play, map maker and Wifi play (more on that later on). The shedding of the extraneous continues once into the game with your vehicles and troops getting a minor overhaul. The neo tank and the mega tank are now the war tank and the piperunner, while the black boat, stealth bomber and black bomb all find themselves on the cutting room floor this year. The additions and changes are frankly are staggering and listing them isn't really what a review is for, a quick jaunt to Wikipedia will help out with anyone needing a list. Instead analysis of the changes, and they are all liked. There are a few pricing changes from Dual Strike and a few stats seem tweaked, which combined with a few of the new units removes any huge overpowered vehicle fears (even the new war tank finds it's match in the new anti-tank vehicle) and the Dual Strike tactic of rushing the strongest vehicle just doesn't work any more. This opens up the tactics once more and lets you truly attack missions and online play with your own style again as you can do so without fear of being hit with something you simply cannot defend against. Use your head and everything has a counter.

Screenshot for Advance Wars: Dark Conflict on Nintendo DS

These changes change gameplay dramatically, but only when combined with the CO powers do we see how different Dark Conflict is to it's predecessor. CO powers have been dramatically downplayed, with them only appearing in single player after a few hours play, and even then their game changing ability is all but gone. For starters, the CO is now no longer the anonymous overseer, now they are on the map as part of one of the units on there. For example, you have an infantry unit and as part of that they will have a CO. Once part of a unit that CO will have a CO zone within which units will get an attack/defence boost. Also, anyone within that zone when damaging enemies contributes to the CO powers, which are much weaker in comparison. This, allied with the removal of the tag CO powers, puts the powers back to where they were back in the GBA days, providing a vital edge but only if you use it well. You'll need to position well to get people within your CO zone but also you'll want to protect your CO unit. Also interesting is the way the powers are downplayed in Dark Conflict. You don't encounter them for an hour or so in the story mode and it's rare when you feel they are needed. It marries well with the unit changes to make for a much more tactical hardcore game than before, with a definite advantage to the gamer who can maximise the potential of their units. Previous titles have been guilty of it being a rush to make strongest vehicles or to defend your ass off until you get a CO power then romp to victory. Now the lack of game-breaking CO powers means you have to use your units well and actually use tactics. Now that we've overused the abbreviation ‘CO’, time to move onto atmosphere.

Screenshot for Advance Wars: Dark Conflict on Nintendo DS

The change in atmosphere has been the big talking point and it's certainly a major change for the series. Plot-wise, meteors hit Earth and 90% of the population found themselves at the pearly gates looking down at a world where people were coming to terms with what life was now. So you have bandits taking advantage of the situation, good guys saving people, bad guys manipulating people and so on. As a result the game isn't as perky as the rest of the series, but don't expect the dramatic change most sites seem to be reporting. The plot is undoubtedly darker and gets darker as it goes on but the dialogue is still delivered in a VERY cheesy fashion and one or two plot points could only be found in gaming or in the worst B-movie. Viruses that make plants grow out of peoples skins? Mysterious girl with amnesia? It just seems like such a half-assed change in atmosphere as this plot could've been done in the old style, it'd have been more dramatic at the end but nothing is too out of the ordinary. The same goes for the music which is the most generic stuff around. It seems the developers thought that a post-apocalyptic world would love generic gaming rock. Surely the change in style gave them the chance to do a real plot, a real military intrigue plot that dealt with real themes with a great soundtrack, but it just doesn't happen. Just be glad that the start button skips the dialogue because despite the cheesy plot they do love talking about it in-game! We get it, you save people, don't go on about it! Story mode is pretty extensive with a shed load of rock hard extra missions being unlocked as you go through the usual missions. Aside from that you will be putting a good few hours into Wifi mode and it works just the way you think it would. It's lag free, it plays brilliantly and the people online will destroy you (cue the stream of people in the comments saying how they've not lost a game...skilful gits). Also worth a mention is the superb voice chat which works brilliantly and sounds great.

Screenshot for Advance Wars: Dark Conflict on Nintendo DS

This year marks the twentieth anniversary since Famicom Wars was released in Japan and Dark Conflict is a fitting way of marking that landmark. It's difficult to get across how much the tactical aspect of the game has improved over Dual Strike because unless you know Advance Wars inside out you won't get why being able to do an indirect strike after moving is vital or why a temporary airfield revolutionises attack the enemy. That is the feel of the entire game though, if you aren't a hardcore Advance Wars fan then in your eyes the series just got less accessible and lost game modes and in turn became a game not really recommended. Dual Strike is still the most accessible if most flawed entry in the series and if you are a new fan pick that up. If you are one of the Advance War fans though then this cannot be more highly recommended, it feels like a return to form and if they use the more tactical approach as a foundation then the series from here has a freakishly bright future. It's just a shame that the longevity through the shed load of game modes found in Dual Strike has been lost for no real reason. It isn't as if the changes in gameplay rendered the modes unplayable, so why remove them? It's certainly a black mark on an otherwise great game and it sets the series up well from here on in. You could argue that there is a lack of innovation but after the poor dual screen elements of Dual Strike you couldn't really innovate on top of that, the game had to be scaled back first. Kudos to the developers for taking a step back to take two forward, just tighten up the story and give us some extra modes along with innovating next time and it'll be just fine.

N.B. Just a quick note to let you guys know some basics if you are confused. In the States this game is called Days of Ruin and a few of the units have different names, these names are the ones used in the reviewers copy and may differ from your game.

Screenshot for Advance Wars: Dark Conflict on Nintendo DS

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Make no bones about it, this is an extremely addictive and playable game that fans of the series will lap up. The inherent problem is that by making it more of a hardcore strategy game it immediately makes it less accessible to new comers and the removal of the extra modes just exacerbates the fact that this is a game for Advance Wars fans. Pretty simple split at the end of the day, if your world is made of grids and if cities offer better protection than a forest then this is the game you loved on the GBA with online play and more depth. If you are new then walk on, this is a fantastic game that really isn't for you.

Developer

Intelligent Systems

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

Strategy

Players

4

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10 (5 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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