Advance Wars: Dual Strike Reader Review
Advance Wars: Dual Strike was the reason I decided to purchase a Nintendo DS. It's as simple as that. Having played the older iterations, found on the Gameboy Advance, it was with a great deal of anticipation that I awaited the next instalment which promised to make full use of the stylus as a control mechanism and include the obligatory graphics and sound upgrades with a new story thrown into boot.
Advance Wars is a turn-based strategy game and certainly one of the better ones at that. It's a well-planned and executed game that benefits greatly from its portable format, however, it's safe to say that if you didn't enjoy the first two games then it would be in your best interest to stay away from this newer DS edition. While various aspects of the game have been altered, the basic mechanics remain the same. You play as a team of commanding officers (COs) whose goal is to defeat the evil adversaries who are slowly syphoning off the planet's energy for their own evil gain. It's all very Disney, something I'll touch upon later.
The story is divided into missions, of which the victory goals vary, requiring you to play as one or more of your COs and take control of an army comprised of land, sea or air units, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, the recon unit, while highly mobile and lightly armoured is lethal against infantry, but if engaged by a slower, heavy tank will soon succumb. Therefore, success lies in out positioning your opponent and ensuring you have the money - which is earned by capturing the cities found around maps - to provide yourself with units capable of defeating whatever your adversary throws at you.
Like the units, the COs too have individual strengths and weaknesses. While some may have powerful indirect attacks, from weapons such as missiles or cannons, their direct attacks will suffer in accordance. Perhaps the biggest departure from the earlier games and greatest success of this latest version is the ability to now bring more than one CO to the battlefield allowing you to change between them as the situation dictates and utilise powerful 'Tag Team' manoeuvres. Therefore it's important that when playing as multiple COs not only do you choose characters whose abilities will off-set each others, but that you also take the map type into consideration.
The battlefields are comprised of different types of terrain ranging from roads and mountains to seas and forests and thusly not only does movement suffer depending on what the unit is traversing, but defence bonuses also. Subsequently, utilising the terrain to your advantage can make or break a mission. Thanks to the dual screen set-up of the Nintendo DS, the player is no longer limited to one battlefield per mission now either, as in earlier games. While in most cases the battles are fought on the bottom screen and the top is used for information and statistics, for some missions the upper screen is used as a second battlefront. In these situations one of your two COs is fielded in the bottom while the other takes the top and overall victory often hinges on a carefully balanced strategy between the two. You do have the choice to control both fronts by yourself or you can assign the AI to handle the top screen leaving you to concentrate on the bottom. The game AI is certainly up-to-scratch, providing a worthy challenge without being infuriatingly difficult. A nice touch is that even if you do fail a mission the characters provide helpful hints about how to tackle it next time around. This was very welcome instead of the option to change to an easier mode.
The skill sets, clever map construction and inventive computer opponents ensure that all missions can be completed in a number of ways and this really makes a quick and efficient victory very satisfying indeed. That's the wonderful thing about Advance Wars: Dual Strike, you can play for ten minutes on the bus and still feel that you've accomplished something which will help you on your way to victory when you find more time to play later. Even once you've finished the campaign mode there are numerous other game types to play though, including a map creator and even a real-time action game. This really gives the game excellent replay value for both completionists and gamers wanting a bit more conflict for their cash.
At its heart the game is fairly simple but deep and this is reflected in the well-drawn, vibrant artwork. The characters have a real anime feel to them, which works well and the sprites are clean and simple, there's no chance of confusing your anti-aircraft gun with your personnel carrier for example. The music compliments these crisp colourful graphics well. Each character has their own varied background music, which is well composed, catchy and suits the overall feel of the game.
Unfortunately however there are a few negatives, which need to be voiced in order to achieve a balanced perspective. Firstly, while this may not bother everyone, I found the storyline and characters very twee. The plot is clichéd and the 'bad' guys tend not to be very bad at all. While this lack of nastiness does suit the aforementioned graphics and sound I can't help but think that this war game may well have benefited from being a shade darker. Also, the last few missions of the game seemed to drag a touch. This could be pinned on the direction the storyline takes and I'm certainly not complaining about the extra content this provides, but a few of the later battles had that 'added at the last minute' feel to them.
However, my biggest gripe is how similar the game looks to the original GBA versions. I understand that the simplistic graphics are well suited to the game type and that age-old adage of how 'graphics maketh not the game' but on a system that runs Metroid Prime: Hunters, I can't help but feel more could have been done with the technology at hand. Granted, the game was released early in the consoles life but I have to say I was expecting something a touch more revolutionary than the ability to use multiple COs instead of one. Alongside this, after using the stylus for the first few missions - and finding it a touch inaccurate for the smaller boxes I must say - I soon slipped back into using the D-pad and buttons which not only felt more comfortable after a long-time playing, but also made all the options accessible, faster.
Granted, Intelligent Systems has made all the Advance War series cracking games, but I can't help feel that a few more risks could have been taken with this most recent iteration. Despite these minor complaints, Advance Wars: Dual Strike was an excellent game that was a fantastic purchase, an enjoyable play and most importantly, with all those extras, something I'll be coming back to for a long time.
8 / 10