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Nintendo and WayForward took a risk in bringing Advance Wars back from the scrap heap with Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp, releasing a set of tactics-heavy games in a genre now defined by character relationships. The remakes change little from the original releases and don’t deepen the story or cast, but they don’t have to change anything. Advance Wars’ unique features are as apparent as ever. If anything, they’re made even stronger by the series’ extended absence.
Advance Wars is light on story compared to other tactical RPGs. The nations of Wars World are on the cusp of conflict as a sinister figure manipulates them from the shadows. Your job is preventing war from breaking out by… going to war. The setup doesn’t warrant too much thought and has big Saturday morning cartoon vibes, a feeling these new updates help heighten. Re-Boot Camp features new toybox-style graphics, a remastered soundtrack, sporadic voice acting, and a slightly tweaked script that brings out the most of every character’s personality.
That new cartoon style also helps offset what’s otherwise a grim setup, where officers send scores of troops to die in battle without a thought for their welfare. Technically, that’s still what happens, but the new look makes each map like a game of toy soldiers, with maps even resembling a tabletop board when you zoom out.
What hasn’t changed is the series’ take on the genre, which, more than 20 years after the first game was released, still feels fresh and innovative. Both Advance Wars games blend traditional tactics elements, such as a rock-paper-scissors system of unit strengths and weaknesses, with features typically found in real-time strategy games. Resource and fuel management are critical in Advance Wars, for example, and controlling specific parts of a map is often essential for victory. The attention to detail is so acute that you even have to think about how tires and treads interact with terrain.
Every battle is a tense mixture of smart planning and wild improvisation, where victory feels well-earned – even if you barely manage to clear the objective. Each map has an optimal approach, but the strategic depth and variation mean you can experiment with unorthodox ideas and still earn a high ranking.
The remakes also include a feature that lets you reset your current turn as often as you want. It’s a helpful but clunky approach to making both games more approachable. If a choice you made three turns back turns out badly, your only option is to leave the mission and start over. You can increase movement speed and remove animations to save time, but a Fire Emblem-style rewind feature would have been a more elegant solution.
The range of choices may seem overwhelming, but Advance Wars does a superb job of teaching you the basics and even some advanced strategies at a steady pace – although it does this perhaps almost too well. Most of the first game plays like an extended tutorial, where you don’t get the full range of tools at your disposal until over halfway through the campaign.
Advance Wars 2 is a stronger and more confident game, however. This time, you control different COs from every nation, so each mission requires a thoughtful new approach with their strengths and foibles in mind. It’s a brilliant exercise in iteration, with a well-designed set of new officers, clever new CO powers, and complex, sometimes uncompromising, maps that make the most of the series’ unique mechanics.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp might not include much new material, but it presents a strong case that classic games don’t always have to change to be relevant again. Sometimes, they just need a second chance.