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PC players have enjoyed military strategy games for decades, but we consoles gamers have had few occasions to embrace the genre. Some of those PC titles did eventually come to consoles (Command & Conquer and Kantai Collection for instance), but Advance Wars is a rare representative of console-centric military strategy. Minor Nintendo games in terms of popularity at the time of their original releases, and with a complicated history in Japan, Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp looks like a last chance for the series to shine.
As you can infer from its title, Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp contains both of the Advance Wars games that were released for the Game Boy Advance in 2001 and 2003 respectively. Both feature a world war between various factions, inspired by World War II belligerents but represented in a cartoonish way. That latter point is why the long delay imposed by Nintendo following the breakout of war in Ukraine left me dubious; Advance Wars may contain tanks and some Soviet-looking generals, but it clearly can’t be mistaken with real war. The mood is light and funny, and the graphics ultra-colorful, which makes it quite unique compared to its PC genre counterparts. Advance Wars‘ story focusses on the Orange Star Faction, while the sequel includes a much wider campaign, with more factions and richer gameplay.
The campaigns are composed of several missions (each with an original map) that are unlocked progressively. Missions either provide you with a limited number of units in order to defeat the enemy, or factories for you to build your own army. The latter is the harder of the two, since you have to capture and hold cities to gain funds, and also seize more factories, ports, and airports in key locations on the map. The trickiest part is finding the right balance between the numerous types of units. Foot soldiers are the only ones that can take properties, but they’re weak to any vehicle. Tanks are the best land units, but can be countered by artillery. In later stages there are also air and sea units, with multiple strengths and weaknesses between them, and they’re real game changers on the ground front. For example, cruisers can take out most planes but sink fast if attacked first, while destroyers and helicopters provide powerful support for land units.
Advance Wars could be viewed as a more complex Fire Emblem. As in the latter, the map has a grid, and units can move a set number of squares. Fire Emblem has its famous weapon triangle, but Advance Wars has added variables, more unit types, and deeper tactics. Missions are very long – one to three hours for the biggest maps. It also involves a lot of analyzing and decision-making to choose and place units in the optimal way. Any careless move can make you lose precious ground, even more so when you’re in the fog of war. Each major region also has a final mission where the opposing force has far greater industrial output than the player. These are quite a challenge, because you must withstand a superior army while progressing swiftly towards the objective.
Given its challenging structure, Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp often provides this peculiar joy of turning around hopeless situations into dazzling victories. There are many types of maps, each with their own characteristics and objectives. Sometimes you have to hold your HQ, reach a specific place, destroy a factory, capture cities, and so on. This makes each mission unique and provides a new “flavour” of challenge, but there’s always the same level of tension on the frontline. In a way I feel writing my previous Fire Emblem review all over again, and that’s no coincidence, as both Fire Emblem and Advance Wars come from the same talented developer: Intelligent Systems.
Characters are a major part of Advance Wars‘ charm. In Advance Wars 2, each nation has three commanding officers, for twelve generals in total, plus a couple more to unlock. As previously mentioned, the designs are cartoon-inspired while representing World War II countries in a parody. Colin is the model of the fresh Soviet officer, for instance, while Sonja is an intel expert and her father Kanbei looks like a Japanese feudal lord. Albeit limited, the small talk between them and their rivals is quite amusing.
The character variety has an impact on the gameplay too. Most playable generals have a specialization, in the form of advantages and drawbacks. Grit, for example, benefits from superior reach and firepower for all artillery-type units, but struggles in direct combat. Eagle boasts the best air units in both games, but his ships are weak, and so on. They have superpowers too, which can be used after taking a certain amount of damage. Naval specialist Drake can, for example, call in rain that hampers enemy movement and depletes their fuel reserves. His ships also gain an attack and defense bonus for one turn. Sonja can see through the fog of war for one turn, including forests. Most of the time, the playable character is set for each mission, but other times you can choose a character and then tackle the map with your own playstyle.
Although very similar to the original, Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is a remake that introduces basic 3D graphics while also tweaking the character designs. That has stirred a bit of controversy, but honestly the characters haven’t changed that much; Sonja actually looks much better here than in Dual Strike, and the remake adds some new cut scenes and character animations I found to be very pleasant. This remake package also includes discreet remixes of the original music (which has aged pretty well). Advance Wars veterans will be delighted to hear the nostalgic tunes, all of which fit the various characters’ personalities, so Grit gets a fun western film-like theme, while the older Sensei has fun retro music.
The map overview remains broadly the same, with modest 2D visuals, and the shift to 3D for battles isn’t convincing: the units have unappealing models, terrible shading, and the same painfully stiff animations as before. Although Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp hasn’t been released in Japan (the Advance Wars series has been hit by many cancellations and delays there), I really would have appreciated Japanese voice acting; the English voice acting is dull, and Nintendo should know by now that many of its Western fans appreciate Japanese voice acting.
The remake could also have made the battle scenes more spectacular, a bit like Advance Wars: Dark Conflict did with its design revamp. And speaking of unit designs, I regret that the look of some of the vehicles hasn’t been changed to aim for modernity and coherence. Gold Comet still has Zero planes as its Fighter unit. I know Advance Wars is parodic, but the Zero has never fired missiles. Japan’s current Mitsubishi F2 seemed a better option, and much more coherent with the rest of the game. Similarly, Green Earth could have used the Tornado or Eurofighter instead of the American A-10. The development team didn’t fully “remake” Advance Wars by a long shot.
Advance Wars 2 takes about 40 hours to be cleared, Advance Wars maybe slightly less. There’s also a fairly hefty arcade mode with plenty of original maps that can played with any character. Lots of the maps can be used in local or online multiplayer battles, plus you can create your own using the map making tools. It’s a rather robust amount of content, although the €60 price tag did surprise me given it’s essentially a retro remake.
Advance Wars 1+2 are timeless classics, and when I started this remake I immediately felt the same joy as I did playing these games 20 years ago. It’s true that this release doesn’t remake as much as it could and perhaps should have, but it does add pretty visual elements here and there without hurting the original experience. The vast tactical system, well-designed maps, and great characters alone make Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp a must-have for any Switch owner.
After graduating from a French business school, Thomas felt an irresistible force drawing him to study Japanese, which eventually led him to Japanese Profeciency Test level 1 in 2012. During the day, Thomas is a normal account manager. But at night he becomes Ryuzaki57, an extreme otaku gamer hungry for Japanese games (preferably with pretty girls in the main role). His knowledge now allows him to import games at Japanese release for unthinkable prices, and then tell everyone about them. You may also find him on French video games media. Feel free to contact on twitter at @Ryuz4ki57
This review is based on a retail copy of Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp for the NS