My journey to review all the Advance Wars games has now brought me here, to Advance Wars 2:Black Hole Rising. If you haven't read my review of the first, I'd suggest doing that before reading this. The core gameplay mechanics are the same, and since going as in depth as I did then would result in me saying the exact same thing, this description of the core gameplay mechanics will be more brief. Now, onto the review.

In Advance Wars 1, Sturm, the leader of Black Hole, attempted to manipulate the four countries of the world to fight each other, growing weak before he would invade and conquer all of them. However, after discovering that he was behind it all they united and defeated him. The introduction of AW2:BHR explains all this quickly and effectively.

Since that plan failed, he recruited four new COs - Adder, Flak, Lash, and Hawke - and invaded all four countries at the same time. How could this brilliant plan possibly fail?

The structure of Advance Wars 2's campaign differs from the first. There is four parts, one for each country, followed by attacking the Black Hole HQ. Each of the four parts has potentially eight missions, but only five need to be done to progress (with the exception of Orange Star, where all missions must be completed). You start off being able to do three in any order, and after doing two you unlock another three. After doing two more, you can attack the level containing Black Hole's factory in that country. 

The Hard Campaign version.

Factory missions are very difficult, because the factory can deploy any three units at the start of a day, and those units can move immediately. You can stop the flow by placing units in the spaces, but thankfully that isn't your goal. The factories are indestructible, but somewhere along a pipe connecting it to the Black Hole HQ there is a seam; if you destroy it, you win the mission and that campaign.

What, you ask, is the eighth mission? It's a hidden lab, that if beaten, allows the country to use the new unit introduced in AW2: The Neotank. It's very expensive, but it's fire power is unmatched among ground units and speed is equal to a light tank. If you have enough money, it makes the Md Tank completely irrelevant though. To gain access to the mission, you need to capture a specific city on a specific mission that contains a map to the lab. specifically.

It all adds up to thirty four missions, although the first few are more or less a tutorial. The Hard Campaign changes level design to some degree most of the time, and although they're usually reminiscent of the original levels some are entirely replaced with completely different levels. There's also a greater emphasis on building your own army in AW2 than AW1; In the first game both sides usually had finite forces, but in AW2 most missions give you little-no troops to start with and a few bases.

This army is prepared for anything.

You use bases, ports, and airports to deploy units. They deploy ground units, naval units, and air units in that order. There are 11 ground units, four naval units, and four air units. You build them with money that you get from properties, which are captured with infantry units, and win most missions by annihilating the enemy or capturing their HQ. After beating a campaign or War Room mission, you are graded from 1-100 in Speed, Power, and Technique. 

Speed is how quickly the mission was accomplished, Power is what percentage of the total enemy forces were destroyed in a single day, and Technique is based on how little casualties you took, for a total of up to 300. Based on your score you're awarded an S, A, B, or C, and your total is added to your credits. You can use them to buy new CO's and missions to use and play in in War Room and VS. Mode.

Well, that's certainly a... colorful, cast.

You also have a number of COs to play with and against. Which CO you use effects the strengths and weaknesses of your army, and the roster is increased by eight from AW1, bringing it up to 19 unique COs. There are severe balance problems though. Sturm was needlessly buffed to have 120/120 attack and defense in addition to no terrain effects, Grit is just as OP as ever, and one of the new arrivals, Hachi, is outright broken because of his insane Super CO Power that allows him to deploy units ridiculously cheap from cities - which are much more common than bases. 

Of course, if I remember correctly you have to beat Hard Mode to unlock him, and since GBA games are local only multiplayer you can just punch your friend in the face if they use him. Regardless, balance problems are still balance problems.

One thing that I never explained in the first review was exactly how CO Powers charged. When a unit is damaged, its monetary value is converted into the CO Power bar. The owner gains 100% of its value, while the attacker gains 50%. That makes it so the person losing actually has their CO Power fill faster than the winner. AW2 adds to the system laid down in AW with Super CO Powers.

I hated this mission so much.

In the original all CO Powers took the same amount of time to charge, and it was represented by a bar around the portrait of the CO. Now, there are two sets of stars; small stars, and large stars. When the small stars fill, you can use a COP, but if you wait for the large stars to fill you can use a more powerful SCOP. It also works as a way to balance the more powerful CO Powers like Hawke's Black Storm or Sami's Victory March, as opposed to standard ones like Max's Max Force.

The level designer sets you on a 30x20 grid and lets your imagination run wild. You have access to almost all types of terrain, and can make any kind of map imaginable. It has the same strengths and the same weaknesses as the AW1 level designer with the weakness being that you can only save three maps.

Vs. Mode lets you play against humans, the AI, or even a combination of both on its 3 player or 4 player maps, with a huge number of possible rule sets. It has many maps both new and old, and while I couldn't count exactly how many there were because my DS died, I'm certain there was more than AW1. That would put it at approximately 100, in addition to 68 campaign missions if you count the hard mode levels as unique missions.

*This review was not edited to address the CO mechanics

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