I decided to review the games in one of my favorite franchises, Advance Wars, a turn based strategy series for the Gameboy Advance, DS, and hopefully 3DS eventually. It's made by Intelligent Systems, also known for Fire Emblem and Paper Mario games.

The story casts you as a faceless, silent adviser for the Orange Star Army(In their country, "adviser" must mean "the person who does all the work"), which has been invaded by neighboring nation Blue Moon. All the countries are based off of some real life country; Orange Star is the United States, Blue Moon is Russia, Green Earth is western Europe, and Yellow Comet is Japan. Advance Wars has a very lighthearted approach to war. When infantry units die, they just go flying off the screen, none of the characters are too serious, and the second commander you meet, Andy, is a stupid kid (being stupid is seriously a part of his personality. To quote Andy, "What's a continent?" This is who they have leading part of their army? Seriously? No wonder they got invaded).

When you first start playing Advance Wars, you go through an in depth 14 mission tutorial that does an excellent job of explaining all the mechanics. After doing that, you have access to six gameplay modes; Campaign, War Room, Battle Maps, Design Mode, Link Mode and Vs. Mode.

Advance Wars has 14 well balanced units, almost all of which are useful. You have four air units, four naval units, and about ten ground units. It follows a rock paper scissors system, where, for instance, Battle Copters beat Tanks, Tanks beat Anti Air units, and Anti Air units beat Battle Copters. 

There's no best unit, and most units have some sort of cheap counter that may be overall inferior, but is a cost effective way of dealing with that type. It means that the winner isn't whoever can get the most end all, be all units fastest, and beginning to lose doesn't always mean defeat.

There are three types of units; indirect attack units, direct attack units, and transport units. Indirect attack units have long range and powerful cannons, but have low defense and can't hit enemies immediately near them or move and attack. Direct attack units can move and attack in the same turn, but can only attack enemies right next to them. Some units can't attack other types at all; or instance, artillery can't hit planes for obvious reasons, fighters can't attack ground or sea units, and bombers can't attack other air units, both for equally obvious reasons.

You get money by capturing bases, and you get 1000 daily from each. You can capture them with infantry or mechanized infantry (they are effective against tanks, but more expensive than infantry and have a shorter movement range). To do so, you move either of the aforementioned units onto a base and select capture as their command. For every one health point they have, it's a number will go down. When it reaches 0, that building has been captured. It starts at 20 and units have a max health of 10, so it requires a minimum of two turns to capture a base, and that time will be increased if the unit is attacked.

No, that is not an actual screenshot.

That might not sound very important, but it actually is. The fact that it takes time makes first turn advantage/second turn advantage much less of a big deal, and forces you to defend the unit doing the capturing. There are three bases where you can build new units; airports, ports, and bases. Aside from that, there are two other types of bases, cities and HQ (headquarters). Cities provide a considerable defensive boost to any units on them, as well as resupplying and healing friendly units by 2 health every turn. Capturing an armies HQ takes them out of the game, and an HQ supplies the strongest defensive boost of any terrain.

Campaign is obviously enough the campaign, story mode, whatever you wish to call it. You go through about twenty missions at a minimum, with four others being played if you meet the necessary conditions. There are a couple branching paths, where choosing a different CO will cause you to do a few different missions before eventually reaching one you would have gotten to either way. There are also occasions where choosing a different CO results in an entirely different mission without effecting the next few, and altogether that makes it about 30 possible missions. The last mission has you commanding three armies, and several choices and criteria effect which two CO's you use for the second and third army.


On most missions, you can choose between one of three COs (Commanding Officers), Andy, Max, and Sami. Which CO you use effects your troops, and therefore your strategy. Andy is all around an average CO, with no strengths or weaknesses. Max has very powerful non infantry direct attack units, but all of his indirect attack units have sub par attack power and have a reduced range of 1 square, which is a bigger disadvantage than it might sound. Sami is an infantry specialist. Her infantry and mech units have increased fire power and capture bases 50% faster (very big advantage), but all of her non-infantry direct combat units have 10% less attack power. 

They also have a 'CO Power'; when a bar surrounding their portrait at the top of the screen fills, they can use their unique CO Power. Andy repairs each of his units by 2 health, Max's direct combat units become even more powerful and gain a square of movement, etc. Each CO is completely unique, and are well balanced - with two exceptions. Grit, the indirect combat specialist, and Sturm, the 'boss' character. 

The former has indirect combat units gain a square of range and a lot of damage, but has weak non-infantry direct combat units. His strengths far outweigh his weaknesses, and in maps with small spaces he's unstoppable. Sturm actually isn't that bad as far as being imbalanced; his units have increased attack and decreased defense, and he doesn't suffer from terrain movement costs, allowing him to move units with great speed through wooded areas. 

Unless a map is made that heavily caters to his advantages, he's no really severely overpowered. But then you have his CO Power, that calls down a ****ing meteor from space (said meteor was voted the 7th best meteor in video games by some random guy at The Wired Fish Network, whatever that is. The last paragraph in that was pretty funny) to cripple your units in a diamond space of 13 squares (two squares in every direction from the center). It hits wherever your most expensive troops are concentrated though, so it can at least be countered. He's also banned from War Room play and is nerfed in multiplayer, there he has weak attack and low defense.

The AI is unimpressive, to say the least. They will occasionally not use a unit at all even when an enemy is in range and there is no reason not to, have poor prioritization for what to destroy, and it's not uncommon for it to just move a unit into the range of something capable of destroying it in one hit for no apparent reason. They also have the strangest obsession with destroying your transport units above all else, and cheat in Fog of War. 

In Fog of War, you have a limited range of vision. You can only see a certain distance from each of your unit, depending on which unit that is. Some have a long range of vision, others have a short range. You can also hide units in Woods and Reefs, which can only be seen if you have a unit right next to it. The AI can always see everywhere except for Woods and Reefs, which puts you at a disadvantage. Against a human player the mode can be quite fun, albeit slower-paced.

Of course, the AI doesn't make the game easy, just beatable. It's challenging on the default difficulty, but on the Advance Campaign it's downright brutal. Level design is unchanged, but the unit allocation and rarely the conditions (like Fog of War) are changed.

War Room is essentially Challenge Mode, where you can play a number of varyingly difficult missions with any CO's that you've bought. You try to get the best score possible, and just like in the campaign you get credits based on how well you did.

You can spend those credits in Battle Maps. It's a store where you can buy new CO's who've been unlocked and new maps to play on in VS/War Room, which it adds a lot of replay-ability.

Speaking of having something to keep you playing, Design Mode is the level designer. You have almost every asset that the developers had when they made the game, every terrain, unit type, base, etc. You can place units as well, and can even have up to four armies on the one map. The largest drawback? You can only save three maps, which is very disappointing but not a deal breaker.

Link Mode is multiplayer with two GBAs and a link cable. There is play with both two cartridges or only one, but the latter is watered down due to memory constraints. If you want to play a full game, you'll have to play with multiple copies or with one GBA (or DS Lite) in VS. Mode.

If the War Room is the challenge mode, then Versus is do whatever you want mode. You are free to play any of the existing maps or your own with friends or AI, and can adjust a number of rules including the amount of money you get for a base, the number of days until the game ends, how many cities captured to win, to have Fog of War or to not have Fog of War, etc. There are about 90 maps playable in Versus, including all of the War Room maps. Combined with the campaign and tutorial, that makes more or less 150 levels, most of which can be played with and against any of 11 CO's, with dozens of possible rule sets, and a level designer on top of it all. The quantity of content is exceeded only by the quality.


*Note. This review was not edited to address the Fog of War mechanics

*Serious note. I bought the last thing in Battle Maps years ago, so my memory of exactly what you could buy isn't that good. Also, don't forget to rate and comment. 

Next up, Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising.