Sami, Grit, Sonja, and the others are back to face the challenge of their lives, which now looks and sounds fantastic.
Advance Wars is the epitome of contradiction in video games. It looks extremely cute, its dialogues are almost childish, and it's presented in a colourful, friendly way as it holds your hand step-by-step in the first few missions. On the other hand, it's nonetheless a game about war, one that frivolously talks about invasions, killing people, and terrorism. What is more, it can be extremely hard at times, and may come across as incredibly stubborn with its systems.
But man, I'm just the same. There are things I hate about it, but it also completely conquered me once again and I ended up putting almost 60 hours into it for this review.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp for the Nintendo Switch is the compilation and remake by WayForward of the two first entries into Intelligent Systems' tactical combat series, which released in the early 2000s on the Game Boy Advance. This means a lot audio-visually speaking: new 3D graphics, new cartoon animations and sequences, remade music, voice acting, or the possibility, for the very first time, to play against other human Commanding Officers online.
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Regarded as one of the best in the genre historically, the meat of the game consists of dozens of maps you have to solve as strategic puzzles, be it as part of the two twenty-something mission campaigns, or as standalone unlockable challenges in the War Room. Then there's the Versus mode, and even the option to create and share your own custom maps in the Design Room.
Those unfamiliar with the series must know this is turn-based land, sea, and air strategy on a gridded map, including different types of units, terrains, conditions, and the occasional weapon of mass destruction operated by the invading enemy. It's in some ways similar to IntSys' very own Fire Emblem combat mechanics, although here you'll be relying on fire weapons instead of sword and sorcery, and with characters not being tied to every unit, but coming as the Commanding Officers from the different armies, which at the same time drives the narrative and spices things up with special abilities (the so-called CO Powers).
To get past the somewhat awkward tone of this war and how the cast of cartoon characters talk about it, you have to think this is like friends taking on a round of the Battleship board game, or playing war with a bunch of toy soldiers. In fact, in the remake you can see how the maps are actually built on a cardboard base or inside a wooden box. This way, the toy-like units and animations eventually do the trick.
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Speaking of those, I kind of missed the pixel-art originals at first, but WayForward's rework ended up growing on me, with its beautiful, sharp and distinguishable units. The new graphics manage to convey the same spirit while keeping the style, the simplicity, and the needed clarity of the originals. And of course the redrawn characters see their personality upgraded with both the anime-style sequences and the newly-recorded voice acting for many of their lines, both increasing the production values as a remake. Too bad, though, that the CO Power animations can't be skipped, as they can get really annoying after some time. (Pro tip: you can skip dialogue by pressing Plus).
The inherent experience is then pretty much the same, QoL improvements aside, even if there are some additional missions. The rookies in the genre should definitely choose the new Casual difficulty, as the Classic alternative will ramp up very quickly and could get on their nerves. The most difficult missions can be both exciting and legendary once completed, but also a pain in the ass when you don't get things right after a few hours. Yes: some of the most epic maps can last for several hours, which means you might actually complete them gradually over days.
Expert strategists will find that difficulty to be cheating or annoying, as some of the challenges depend on trial and error and don't offer much in terms of flexibility and different, improvised approaches. Perfectionists might want to Yield after a few turns (game days) to nail every single move after a restart, and that's fine, but when you feel like you've mastered the game and it destroys you because you have to follow a strictly rigid, very specific path it doesn't feel that good.
For better or worse, the remake also retains some of the nonsensical AI behaviour from the originals, which you can choose will need to exploit if you're to beat the most difficult missions, not to mention earning an S medal. If you don't realise Armoured Personnel Carriers are cannon fodder, how to block the enemy's Artillery, or what decisions their Infantry will make first, some of the challenges will just be impossible.
This happens mostly on the first Advance Wars' latter third, but the second game's campaign (Black Hole Rising) also has its very challenging moments with its grander scale and more focused map designs, some of them inventive and fantastic, requiring you to be at least good with many more tools and CO at your disposal.
And yet, it's an absolutely addictive proposal that allows for some epic comebacks and very, very satisfying turnarounds. When you're 15-20 days into a long mission and finally make it through say the enemy's bottleneck and eventually feel powerful enough to beat them, you'll shake your sweaty fist in celebration. This more than compensated for the slower or more annoying parts in my campaigns - as you can see, I just couldn't put the game down, which says a lot about something I had already played 20 years ago.
So, at the end of the day, the charm and uniqueness of Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp lies in that very contradiction. You just need this light-hearted finish to make both the message and the challenge more bearable, and WayForward have done great work in restoring a tactical cartoonish classic to make it incredibly fitting to the Nintendo Switch as a platform, both on TV and in handheld.
8 / 10
Good restoration work. Fantastic value. Online mode. Funky music. Addictive and charming.
Tone might feel awkward. Some missions are extremely squared. CO Powers' animations cannot be skipped. A few outdated AI behaviours.