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Review: Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp

The cast of Advance Wars: Reboot Camp

The return of the Wars series after a 15 year absence comes as something of a surprise. Whilst no strangers to adult content, Nintendo have been careful to cultivate somewhat of a family-friendly image over the last decade, and have typically shied away from depicting modern warfare in any fashion as a result. Intelligent Systems, well known for their developmental work on other Nintendo franchises such as Fire Emblem and Paper Mario, have worked on the Wars series since its inception on the Famicom in 1988, and have taken the reins once again to bring the Gameboy Advance duology to the Switch, fully remastered and with plenty of quality-of-life improvements to bring the games up to a more modern standard. But has this resulted in an overwhelming victory, or a crushing defeat?

If you’re looking for an engaging story to go alongside your turn-based tactics, you won’t find it in the plot of Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp, which is minimalistic at best. The first game acts mostly as a setup, as you are introduced to the various Commanding Officers (COs) of the four nations (Orange Star, Blue Eagle, Yellow Comet, and Green Earth) that you will be able to play as in the second game, where the true antagonists, the Black Hole Army, are revealed. The roster is quite impressive, with every character being uniquely designed and partially voiced. They also each have their own music that will play during their turn in combat, and a CO Power that gives them a functional difference so that your decision on who to use won’t be based purely on aesthetics. Unfortunately, they have very little in the way of personality or backstory, or even an opportunity to develop them during either campaign. For better or worse, these titles  are focused almost entirely on gameplay, and the one-dimensional cast and limited narrative are more decoration for the package than defining factors. 

Advance Wars is beginning to show its age, with the fresh coat of paint for the remaster doing little to hide its flaws. For most of the campaign, your only mission objective will be to eliminate the opposing forces, with your CO and own forces predetermined. There are a few missions scattered throughout where your goal is to survive or to win within a set number of turns, and it will occasionally branch into multiple missions, allowing you to select which CO you’d like to play as. However, you’re unable to go back to clear the missions you don’t select until you’ve finished the entire campaign, and with its uneven level of difficulty and repetitive design, it doesn’t hold up very well by today’s standards. The desire to preserve the original experience is understandable, but many of the quality-of-life improvements and changes to gameplay made in the second game could have been incorporated into the first to make it a more palatable and varied experience. 

While the high difficulty of Advance Wars will be a selling point for many, it also has the potential to ruin the experience for others, especially if you’re accustomed to being able to power-level your way through challenges, or exploit a single weakness of an enemy. Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp has no such shortcuts to victory. Despite its light-hearted tone and cartoonish visual style, these are not beginner-friendly titles. At times, they can be extremely unforgiving, and often walk a very thin line between fair and frustrating. There are two difficulty modes available, Casual and Classic, and the game describes Casual as for “players just starting out” but makes no significant adjustments to reflect this. When compared to many other titles of the same genre, which usually offer various settings to make games easier for newer players, the negligible adjustment to the enemy AI in Casual mode might be a little jarring, and is something to bear in mind for those who are unfamiliar with the franchise.

Campaign missions can become a race against time to defeat your opponent’s forces before they can overwhelm you, or your time runs out, with a limited number of units that are often weak against what you’re facing. Enemy CO Powers will always charge faster than your own, making this feel like a distinctly unfair advantage at times. In missions where you’re able to build up your forces, these can become a long, tedious war of attrition instead, as you continually create new units to chip away at the enemy forces, with little regard for strategy. It’s a notable flaw in an otherwise excellent package. More could have been done to make Casual mode more accessible to newer players without compromising the greater challenge presented in Classic mode.

Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising is initially locked on the menu screen, and whilst the game will advise you to play through the first game before proceeding, you can choose to ignore the message and dive right in if you would prefer. The sequel dramatically improves upon the original, and feels like a more balanced experience overall. It broadens its scope by devoting an equal amount of time to the four factions, allowing you to play with the COs of each one in turn before bringing them all together at the end, rather than restricting you to the Orange Star Army. It takes a more non-linear approach to progression by initially offering you a number of missions to choose from, with new ones being unlocked once you have cleared one. Thanks to this, you can skip the missions that you find too difficult, or that force you to use a CO that doesn’t fit your personal gameplay style. Unlike the branching pathways in Advance Wars, all missions will remain on the map even after you’ve cleared that faction’s portion of the story, so you also have the option to return to them at any point. 

Black Hole Rising also has a greater variety of mission objectives, keeping the gameplay feeling fresh. For example, you may be required to come to the aid of a CO from another faction before the Black Hole Army wipes out their forces, capture the enemy base within a set number of turns, or defend your own base from enemy incursion. You will often take command of multiple COs from different armies, meaning you will need to balance resources between two or three different armies, and take into account their individual CO Powers and how these will interact. The game also introduces new buildings unique to the Black Hole Army in the form of cannons and lasers, which cannot be captured and will often need to be destroyed. 

CO Powers have also been modified in Black Hole Rising, being split into segments. Where in Advance Wars you would need to fully charge the gauge to activate it, in Black Hole Rising you can opt to activate a weaker version of your CO’s Power when the gauge is half-full. This gives you another tactical decision to consider during gameplay, and also serves a nice balance to the frustration that often accompanies the enemy CO constantly getting access to their Power multiple times over the course of battle in the first game.

Not needing to do every mission to progress may tempt you to rush your way through the campaign, or avoid certain missions entirely. However, the game provides incentive for clearing missions by introducing a new type of unit, the Neotank. To get this unit, you will need to find the plans for it by capturing a specific city, located in one of the missions on each continent. You’ll then unlock an additional mission to capture the Black Hole laboratory, and will then be able to build Neotanks with that army. The game gives you no indicator which city or which mission the Neotank plans are in, making this a nice bonus for completion.

Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp has an appealing cartoon visual style that boasts dynamic character animations when CO Powers are activated. The battlefields are simply designed and easy to interpret at a glance, but are slightly let down by battle animations, where the close-up unit models lack detail and appear rough around the edges at times. A nice touch is that many units now have different appearances for each army, giving them a more unique aesthetic that lends a little more personality to that nation. For example, Green Earth’s Fighter units have a modern, jet-like appearance, to complement Eagle, the CO of that nation who has an affinity for air-based units. The fact that the smaller units on the overworld map look better than the close-ups in battle is still disappointing however, and the simplistic nature of the visuals, combined with the excellent character portraits, make this feel more like an oversight than a hardware limitation.

Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp stands out amongst the crowd, despite the two decades that have passed since the original games were released on the Gameboy Advance. If you’re tired of swords, sorcery, and reading through small novellas filled with fantasy jargon and melodrama, this will be a wonderful breath of fresh air. Underneath the deceptively cheerful Saturday morning cartoon vibe lies two games that will test your understanding of the gameplay mechanics, your ability to plan ahead, and, quite often, your patience. Whilst it’s unfortunate that the games could not have been made more accessible to newcomers, those looking for a challenge will certainly find it here. Multiplayer functionality and custom map features also have the potential to keep you playing long after you’re finished with the campaigns. As long as you don’t mind the occasional difficulty spike, Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is a worthy addition to your game library.


A copy of Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp for review purposes was provided by Nintendo UK.

3 thoughts on “Review: Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp”

  1. News flash: old games might be old but no one minds when Final Fantasy 7 gets ported or a remaster. Im sure the fanbase will enjoy ports over and over like The Legend of Dragoon and Wild Arms. The fanbase doesn’t want a port of Advance Wars, but they have no problem buying Final Fantasy 7 or the Pixel Remasters.

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