Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp Review – Wholesome Carnage
Take Battle Isle, inject a cartoon personality into it and you get Advance Wars. Oh, and make it less complicated by using squares instead of hexes. Release it on GameBoy Advance in 2001, and conquer the world with ease. This oversimplification is both true and false, as it tries to explain this console strategy phenomenon without giving credit where credit is due. Proper historic context never killed anyone. Well, except maybe when it served as the justification for world wars, but let’s not be overly nitpicky.
Advance Wars was actually the seventh title in the Wars series, stretching back in time all the way to Famicom Wars in 1988. The roots of console wargames run much deeper than many people realize, going hand in hand with the late Amiga and early PC. Like its precursors, AW wasn’t meant to be released outside Japan. For some reason, Nintendo executives were convinced that Western audiences would be “perplexed” with its “complex mechanics”. Fortunately, young voices prevailed over gray senseis and the game got an international release. It wasn’t the new Tetris, but it certainly made a solid impression globally.
The Age of Remaster
Wars series continued on Game Cube, DS, and Wii. The last game in the series was published in 2008 – after that, the series went dark, save for AW sequels re-release on Wii-U virtual console in 2014. Since we live in the Age of Remaster, someone saw the potential of rekindling the flame with a Switch reboot. Awkwardly labeled, Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is the remastered duo of the original Advance Wars and its immediate sequel, Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising from 2003.
How does the Advance Wars fare after two decades? Quite good, considering all the nice things introduced in the turn-based strategy landscape. It helps that the Switch version is more on a side of reimagination than remastering, as both the presentation and visuals received a significant overhaul. The developers preserved a silly plot and even zanier characters, though. Advance Wars, both original and remastered, are genuinely different from most wargames in tone and execution. The cartoony COs (Commanding Officers) evoke early 2000 Anime concepts and characterizations, presenting you with beyond goofball personalities. The plot of both games will have you sprout loud WTFs if you expected anything remotely serious. Or even plausible. But it’s charming, or at least it will be for some people.
A bit more than meets the eye
Don’t let the goofiness put you at ease. Advance Wars 1 and 2 are serious wargames, especially if you play those remasters in classic mode. Both games gradually introduce you to the staples of their mechanics, unit types, terrain effects, victory conditions, etc, escalating rapidly after the few introductory missions. Expect serious tug-o-war from mid-campaign to the end, with some missions easily lasting for a few hours. Battle Isle comparison from the beginning is a good reference, as most Western strategy audiences probably played a BI game at some point.
Units expend fuel and ammunition, as in Panzer General, but the comparison with the most famous wargame must stop at that point. There are a dozen or so units, and they are practically the same for every faction, save the model and textures. The only difference is their commanders. Both games operate under a weird mix of realistic and silly tactical rulesets. For example, the artillery is the king of the battlefield, as it is in real life. You can safely cut any ground unit to pieces with a barrage, no matter its armor or defensive position. On the other hand, entrenchment doesn’t exist as a concept, and the cities defended by heavy infantry equipped with RPGs easily fall to frontal tank assault.
Goofball generals galore
The only real difference between factions is the commanding officers, more specifically, their unique abilities. There are a dozen or so COs, but for the campaign, you’ll (mostly) play with the initial trio – Andy, Max, and Sami. Andy is the best choice because his superpower repairs/heals all units under his command for 2 points. As a rule, your foes, if you can call them that, are more interesting. You can play as the enemy commanders in skirmish or multiplayer if you are OK with some significant disbalance. Eagle from the Green Earth faction, for instance, can make his mechanical units move and attack twice in a single turn. Compare that with Sami’s feeble “double time” which affects only infantry, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is a rich bundle, offering single-player, multiplayer, skirmish, and even map editor out of the box. Both games are accessible and easy to understand but can prove too much of a challenging hassle for an impatient player. Later missions, mostly the ones where both sides can churn out brand new units every turn, can drag for an unhealthy amount of time. The second point of friction is rigidity. There are rarely many opportunities for experimentation or straying from a singular path to victory. Units are expendable; they don’t advance in any way or carry over between missions. These games lack the wonder and joy of carefully nurturing your forces during the campaign.
Silly but definitely cool
As Switch exclusives go, Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is a no-brainer. It provides an updated look at one of the few wargames indigenous to consoles, serving both long-term fans and a modern audience. Grizzled veterans of the wargame scene on PC will find this bundle silly, but if they stick with it, they might be surprised by all the seriousness waiting to be unearthed.
- Superb presentation.
- Slick, easy-to-understand gameplay.
- Campaign, multiplayer, skirmish, and scenario editor – the complete package, well worth the price.
- Way too silly for a wargame (at times).
- A greater variety of units and factional differences wouldn’t hurt.
- Weird tactical ruleset that mixes serious and silly stuff.