Version tested: Wii
Remember the self-referential, idiosyncratic humour and gentle racial stereotyping that used to characterise British games? Kuju has done us proud with BWii. None of Battalion Wars 2's feuding nations is free from its pokey stick of satire, not even our own. 'The Anglo Isles: "This green and pleasant island nation once commanded a mighty empire, but is now relegated to the backwaters of global diplomacy." Battalion Wars 2 begins as Colonel Windsor launches an Anglican attack on Japa - sorry, the Solar Empire, having heard rumours from some mysterious source that their army has been developing a weapon of mass destruction. Sorry, superweapon. Still, it does at least turn out that they do have a pretty powerful satellite weapon hidden away, but they didn't know about it - someone threw it off a cliff several years previously.
The Solar Empire's General A'Quira is voiced by a loud, high-pitched man who mixes up his 'l's and 'r's, the Western Frontier's Sarge Herman by a chap who manages to sound as thick-necked as his buzz-cut-sporting on-screen representation looks. The evil empires have an accent that's a strange mix of Russian and German. BWii definitely has a sense of humour, and though it's mostly light-hearted it does tinge proceedings with a touch of satire on occasion.
Like its GameCube predecessor, BWii is very loosely based on Advance Wars - its mission structure, grading system and unit types closely mimic those of Intelligent Systems' handheld cartoon war-game, but it plays completely differently. It's a third-person blaster that lets you jump into the shoes of any of your units at the press of a button, leading the platoon with an assault veteran before switching to an anti-air unit to personally take care of an incoming bomber. It's all about finding the balance on the battlefield between commanding your units and taking control of them directly.
Mercifully, the Wii controls work perfectly, which contributes significantly to BWii's improvements over the original. You move with the Nunchuk and aim with the remote, with a lock-on button to ease the process, and commanding units one at a time or in groups is all done with the d-pad. It's easy to get used to, and the game gives you two or three gentle missions as the start to ease you into things. It's fun right from the outset, and gives you well enough time to learn the ropes and various strengths of the unit types before dropping you into bigger, more complicated battles.
The missions are shorter and more action-packed than before, breaking a campaign up into six or so fifteen-minute missions. It's here that Battalion Wars has improved itself most significantly - objectives are always clearly marked out and missions are well-structured, giving you the chance to build up your squad with reinforcements and smaller skirmishes before a bigger ruckus at the end.
It's varied, too, scattering naval missions, reconnaissance and a good bit of driving amongst the more conventional assault and defence missions. The unit types are well-balanced - running and gunning with one Rambo grunt is as much fun as blowing things up with a battleship or bomber, thanks to the lightgun physicality of the controls. Once again, Kuju has managed to combine action and tactics with astonishing success, although this is hardly a strategic masterpiece - although units can be commanded individually, most of the time you're just leading a massive group of them across the battlefield. You can't send them off across the map on their own, so the battle is always going on right around you; you're always directly engaged with the fight, but the trade-off is slightly limited strategic potential. The cleverest decisions you'll make in Battalion Wars are which units to bring into which fight, and which to leave a few metres behind, out of harm's way. Unfortunately they're not all that good at figuring out which enemies to target on their own.
But Battalion Wars is much more of an action game than a strategy one, and in that respect it succeeds universally. The controls are fun and engaging, the missions perfectly bite-sized and paced, and always just simple enough - it never feels like a slog, and the game's never difficult enough to get frustrating. Once the campaign's over with, there's online multiplayer too in the form of skirmish (kill each other's dudes), assault (take turns attacking and defending from each other) and a few mildly inspired co-operative missions, in which you and your ally command different units in the fight. Communication's a bit of a challenge without voice chat, but it's good fun nonetheless, and at least spares you from Xbox Live's continuous idiot-chatter when playing strangers. It's a shame there's no split-screen mode, though. There's no way to play skirmish or co-op with somebody sitting beside you, which is a strange omission.
Battalion Wars 2 is good fun, then, with a great visual style and Wii online play that actually works, in our experience so far. But it's a little hard to understand exactly who Battalion Wars is for - its cheery violence is kid-friendlier than Advanced Warfighter, but it's still war, and most grown-up gamers who enjoy tactical shooting have a plethora of more serious and complex options. It's best to think of this as a humourous, cartoony blaster with strategic elements, rather than a home-console Advance Wars - anyone expecting the latter would definitely come away from this disappointed.
Anyway, BWii is a substantial improvement on the original: better-paced, a bit funnier and with the much-needed addition of online multiplayer. Serious warmongers should stick to games with realistic explosions and greater tactical depth, but if you're in the mood for a varied, good-hearted third-person blaster with a few strategic elements rather than a gritty combat simulator, you'll have a few greatly entertaining evenings with this.
7 / 10