Advance Wars: Dual Strike Reader Review
In the future, all wars will be fought like this. Infantry will move one or two squares a day (terrain and weather conditions permitting), Tanks will cost $7000 and be available in four models, ‘Tank’ ‘Medium Tank’, ‘Neo Tank’ and an enormous, bank-busting ‘Mammoth’. Capturing an enemy HQ will be enough to win an entire war in a matter of a few days. Generals will command from an omnipotent outpost high above the battlefield, and command their armies using a small plastic stick.
Advance Wars DS does not signal a revolution for the series – it doesn’t pretend to be. Indeed, it’s only the very subtlest of evolutions, in fact. But by retaining the series’ classic charm and super-refined mechanics of the GBA precursors, Intelligent Systems have an innately brilliant core to tinker with. The most obvious and immediately apparent DS-specific addition is of course the dual screen (Dual Screen? Dual Strike? DS? Do you See?) is used to display an overview of the current battlefield stats and occasionally switching to a second playing field for you to control airborne units hosting a mission-specific event (one mission uses the top-screen to display a missile impact countdown), or an entirely separate theatre of war.
You’re also given the option of touch-screen control, but this can be fiddly and it’s hard to stem your frustration when you move a critical unit to the wrong space or inadvertently tap ‘End’ rather than capture. The traditional grid-based nature of the game lends itself perfectly to movement and menu controls, and so the concession to stylus control does unfortunately feel unnecessarily tacked-on, as if justification was sought to bring the series to DS. 100's of hours in, you'll wonder why any justification was necessary.
The most significant addition to the series’ bag of tricks is the game-changing introduction of Tag Powers. Series veterans will be all-too-aware of CO Powers previous games featured, and either love the last-ditch counterattacking power it grants or despair as another twenty-turn-in-the-making plan is crushed. Dual Strike takes this further, and on certain single-player missions a second Commanding Officer will be deployed to fight alongside you, and, after you’ve filled your power bar you’ll gain the ability to either take a second turn-within-a-turn, or unleash a hugely upgraded special attack.
Wrestling with this power is a bit like flinging an annoyed cat at your friend/sibling/grandparent. While it's on your side it's your best friend, but when it's coming back at you in a whirlwind of claws and more claws, you'll be sorely tempted to stick in a carrier bag and drop it in the river. That is to say, seeing an expensively assembled force wiped out in one turn can be sickening, but you'll find it hard not to grin when using the devastating effect to your own advantage.
It's an advantage you'll need to take, too. The AI itself has taken a devious step-up from the GBA pairing, and frequently pulls off incisive and vindictive strikes. It revels in kicking you when you’re down, and does well to repel any ill-planned strategy or over-confident rush. That said, it can occasionally fall-foul of illogical targeting, and when it’s genuinely out-manoeuvred has little to fall back on.
The missions themselves can be wonderfully cunning, and occasionally take the form of old-fashioned puzzles rather than military strikes. You’ll be tasked with capturing a certain number of cities in a certain time-limit, shooting floating bases from the sky or simply surviving a set number of turns. Newcomers to the series are guided through a just-long-enough tutorial period, where all of your required skills are introduced and honed in a well-paced hour-or-so of play.
The best introduction to everything the game has to offer, though, comes from the multiplayer mode. As addictive as ever, hours can be lost to it, particularly if the combatants are evenly-skilled. The finely-poised balance of the games units really comes to the fore when two or more human foes make full use of them, and the range of options (including an essential toggle of CO-Powers). The standard mode is pretty much perfect as far as turn-based strategy goes, on handheld or any other platform.
Alliances are formed and broken, allegiances switched and clandestine occupations of ‘friendly’ territories are commonplace when the full compliment of 4 humans are playing. The great pleasure of ganging-up on the strongest/weakest player for mutual benefit, only to betray your allies for your own gain is a classically exhilarating feeling, and the innate ease of play, being a portable, save-at-any-time turn-based war, means games needn’t drag – just take your turn, save and close the DS. It’s a genuine pleasure to spend time with, even now, years after release.
So yes, in the future, all wars will be fought like this. Though, they'll probably use the D-Pad.