Despite growing up a self-anointed “Nintendo Fanboy,” I never played a game from the Advance Wars franchise during its heyday. Strategy games weren’t exactly my cup of tea at the time, and as a young child I didn’t stray too far from the confines of Mario, Pokémon, and mediocre licensed games (I’m looking at you, Ice Age) on my beloved Game Boy Advance.
Although I never personally played Advance Wars, those who did seemed to have nothing bad to say about it. What is more, they had been clamouring for a remake or remaster for years, until Nintendo finally announced Advance Wars 1 + 2: Re-Boot Camp in June 2021, a game comprising remakes of both Advance Wars and Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising. After a lengthy indefinite delay, it’s finally here, bringing with it a welcome modern-day makeover, plenty of content, and some insanely addictive turn-based strategy gameplay.
The story of the first game occurs on a continent in Wars World called Cosmo Land, where protagonists Andy, Sami, and Max from the Orange Star Army are under attack by the neighbouring Blue Moon nation. Although the conflict is initially between only the Orange and Blue nations, both Yellow Comet and Green Earth quickly get involved, picking a fight with Orange Star and sparking various conflicts throughout the continent. Along the way we are introduced to the full cast of characters from Advance Wars, who will also feature in the sequel.
Much like the overarching narrative, the characters in Advance Wars aren’t fleshed out much at all, a trend that also typifies their brief interactions both during and between campaign missions. You do get a basic gauge on their personalities, but there isn’t really much conflict (ironic, given that the game is about war) to imbue the story and dialogue with any real interest. That said, however, the story does ramp up the intrigue in its latter stages, providing some welcome momentum that thankfully follows through into the sequel.
Set after the events of the first game, Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising sees the four aforementioned nations fighting back against the titular Black Hole army, who plan to invade the continent of Macro Land. Unlike in the original game, where missions are to be completed in order, Black Hole Rising is non-linear, allowing you to hop between its various missions across nations as you please.
Although a lack of linearity can often negatively impact storytelling, I don’t feel that’s an issue here, as the personalities of the new Black Hole commanding officers (COs) and the more engaging character dialogue and development make for a more enjoyable experience. Having the Black Hole army as a common enemy while playing as each of the other four nations during each stage of the main campaign is another nice touch, and heightens the desire to eliminate the pesky Black Hole COs all the more. There is also some powerful storytelling, such as a mission where one CO returns to his hometown, only for it to be invaded by Black Hole troops.
Voice acting is unfortunately limited to certain lines, which feels like something of a missed opportunity, but it’s not a huge blemish as the dialogue itself is also fairly limited.
The storytelling in both games isn’t going to blow you away. However, I do feel that the characters and their dialogue have a certain charm, and both do a reasonable job of explaining the conflict at hand.
How does the game fare graphically? Well, rather than focusing on high-fidelity visuals, Advance Wars 1 + 2: Re-Boot Camp opts instead for a colourful yet streamlined look that sees its warzones depicted as a tabletop board game, replacing the original GBA pixel art with 3D visuals. Combat units such as infantrymen, tanks and planes are represented as figurines on the board, coloured to match the nation they represent, and are shifted across the grid-based map as battles occur. When firefights ensue, the tabletop view is momentarily replaced with a close-up combat animation, before returning to the standard top-down view of the battlefield.
It’s a simple visual look, and unfortunately some of the detail and character of the original sprite work is lost in the new 3D style. But it still looks great, and for the most part still feels reminiscent of the games’ original look.
The soundtrack is also quite enjoyable, though it does eventually become tiresome, as you’ll be hearing the same theme on a loop throughout battles. That said, there are some definite bangers throughout (Max’s theme is one of my favourites). Each CO’s theme is rather catchy, and their energetic nature does add a level of hype to each battle, but I wouldn’t be surprised after a few hours if you end up muting it and listening to something else instead.
On the gameplay front, Advance Wars is a turn-based strategy game that takes place on a gridded map. Using your Commanding Officer and the array of units at their disposal –Infantry, Tanks, or the Air and Sea units that appear later in the game – your goal in most cases is to either wipe out all of the opposing team’s units, or to capture their base with your foot soldiers. Although the objective is relatively simple, achieving victory does require some strategic thinking.
Unit types have different movement patterns and attack ranges, and some terrain tiles on the map provide greater defence from enemy attack than others. Terrains such as mountains provide far greater defence than roads and plains, for example, but can’t be accessed using land units such as tanks, so they are best suited to use by foot soldiers.
Some units (such as the various transport units) can’t attack at all, and instead assist by storing and transferring other units to different locations on the battlefield, whether by land, sea, or in the air, depending on the transport vehicle in question. The key to success in missions is to make efficient use of your units, taking advantage of the various types of terrain to outmanoeuvre the enemy.
While some will rush in all-guns-blazing in an attempt to claim victory, it quickly becomes apparent that patience is often a crucial strategic element. For example: force enemies to come to you by blocking off bridges with more powerful units (like a medium tank), while surrounding the area with ranged units such as Artillery or Missile launchers, who can pick off foes from a distance.
Fog of War, which cloaks everything outside your units’ field of view in a veil of darkness, does force a higher degree of recklessness, and adds a welcome element of surprise to the missions that feature it.
In addition to fighting the opponent’s soldiers, another responsibility of the Infantry and Mech soldiers is often to capture properties on the map. These not only serve as a base for units to heal if necessary, but also as a location where you can purchase and spawn in extra battlefield units in missions that allow it.
As you progress through the battles, you will fill up a meter that allows you to use your Commanding Officer’s unique CO Power, which provides benefits such as regenerating health on damaged units, or buffs to firepower and defence stats for a turn.
The gameplay really is where Advance Wars shines, especially as the game progresses and the battles increase significantly in scale involving units on the land, air and sea. Difficulty settings are available: Classic Mode provides a robust challenge to those keen on putting their strategic acumen to the test, and becomes particularly brutal in the latter missions, where a few poor turns can quickly snuff out all hope of victory. Casual Mode, as its name suggests, provides a slightly less gruelling gameplay experience, but it can still be rather challenging.
While the difficulty of some missions in both titles will likely frustrate you at times, handy hints provided at the start of missions and upon mission failure do a decent job of steering the player in the right strategic direction. You’re also free to experiment within a single turn, thanks to the handy “Reset Turn” feature. it’s also a godsend in moments where you make a silly error, or simply misclick during your turn.
Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising plays almost exactly like its predecessor, with a few welcome additions to add some variety to the experience. There’s a new unit, the Neotank, which replaces the Medium Tank as the most powerful tank unit in the game, and Super CO Powers are now available for those who wish to store up their special ability in exchange for a more powerful one.
Some of the mission objectives are new also, such as destroying the pipe in the enemy’s factory building, which when in commission will spawn various units to the battlefield each turn.
Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising does just what a sequel should, providing more of the same quality gameplay with just a sprinkle of new content. Both campaigns together provide many hours of addictive turn-based strategy combat, amounting to over 50-60 hours of content alone.
Currency earned by completing missions across the two campaigns can be spent at Hachi’s Shop, where goodies such as artwork, theme music, and Battle Maps are just some of the items available for purchase. You can also buy COs to play as in the War Room, Versus, and Online modes, which is a neat addition.
The War Room is a mode in which you pick a CO of your choosing, and attempt a mission similar to those seen in the campaign. They don’t really differ substantially from the main story mode missions, but offer a welcome opportunity to try out new COs and aim for an impressive score and rank. The final rank at the completion of a mission is determined in the same manner as during the campaigns, taking into account speed, power and overall technique.
Online Multiplayer exists for those keen to see how they stack up against others, but unfortunately these battles are limited to your friends on Nintendo Switch Online.
While better than nothing, the decision to forego proper matchmaking is baffling, and is yet another instance of Nintendo’s poor handling of an online Switch mode. And while I did play a match with a friend and had a brilliant time, that experience only made the lack of proper matchmaking even more disappointing. Versus mode has the same format as Online Multiplayer, but on a local scale, allowing you to play couch co-op with a friend or simply fight against a CPU, while also leaving you free to customise the battle conditions as you wish. Versus mode can be played on a single console, or as many as four, which sounds like an epic way to play if you have friends who are willing to partake.
All these modes come together to make Advance Wars 1 + 2 Re-Boot Camp a game of overwhelming proportions that is bursting at the seams with content.
In summary, Advance Wars 1 + 2: Re-Boot Camp is a great experience, and offers a welcome remake of some underrated and underappreciated classics. Its turn-based strategy gameplay is thrilling and addictive, there is plenty of content across its two story-mode campaigns and additional modes, and its visuals and narratives are simple yet effective. Whether or not you’re a fan of strategy games, Advance Wars: 1 + 2: Re-Boot Camp is definitely well worth your time.
Written by: @GrumpyGoron