War is hell. If that's true, why are online war games like this one so much fun?
I played enough of the original Battalion Wars on the GameCube to understand how the game worked, but not enough to appreciate how it differed from its cousin Advance Wars. After playing a lot of Battalion Wars 2 on the Wii, I now appreciate that difference. I also think that what I played at E For All was great.
The first thing that impressed me was how easy BWii was to pick up and play. The main cursor and camera is controlled with the Wii remote pointer. The D-Pad selects unit groups and individual units within a group, if desired. The A Button directs the currently-selected unit to perform a command (attack, wait, follow, capture, etc.). Locking on to an enemy unit with your troops is as easy as pointing the Wii remote's cursor at it and clicking the nunchuk's Z Trigger, and using the B Trigger to fire your weapon. Ground units are instructed to jump and roll to avoid fire by flicking the nunchuk in the appropriate direction.
My relative unfamiliarity with Battalion Wars didn't stop me from getting A-ranks on a lot of the game's early missions. I quickly understood that the best way to stay alive was to take out the enemy's tank-killing bazooka troops with my nimble grunts, protect my own tanks until I knew it was safe to charge in with them, and then clean up the remaining threats with a few well-placed tank blasts and an overwhelming surge of firepower.
Even with the D-Pad way up high on the Wii remote, I found it efficient to cycle through units and tell each group what to do. Grunts, attack that flame unit. Bazookas, take out that light tank. Assault vets and tanks, take out those mini-gun towers. The multitasking I was able to do felt very natural, and the Wii remote made it a little easier to quickly point out what I wanted to annihilate. I could even manually lob tank shots over great distances with a steady hand and some trial and error. Though the camera turning is a bit clunky (the lighting on the show floor also made life a little hard on the Wii remote's infrared pointer), in general the controls are very tight.
The early campaign missions I tried had some nice variety. One mission had me entering and capturing an enemy base, then subsequently defending it from a reinforcement counterattack. The base had mini-gun nests nearby, which were easy enough to load with grunts that automatically shot on sight. Another interesting mission involved storming an enemy encampment with a recon buggy within a certain time limit. I had to budget between defending myself from enemy fire, speeding through the jungles, and jumping over cliffs to rescue an engineer and blow up radar installments. The last mission I played was on the seas in a battleship, taking out radar stations and their defending bombers and then supporting ground troops landing on a beach.
I could have gone on from there, but Nintendo was also showing off Battalion Wars 2's Wi-fi multiplayer mode. Based on what I played at the show, I have the feeling that the game's online modes will make BWii one of the hidden hardcore gems of the Wii library.
The first game I played was an assault mode, with one player attacking a base and the other defending. The level was broken up into different sections. First up was a sea battle that forced the attacker to destroy seaborne radar installations. Next was a beach landing, where the attacker had to advance to a certain point on the beach. Finally, the city section contained the capture point of the defending team, which needed to be surrounded by a sufficient force of the attacking team long enough to claim victory. The game was limited to 10 minutes, making things speedy.
When an attacker breaks through one section, everything resets for the next section. I like how this is setup because it gives the defender three chances to make a good stand. One may be enough to delay the attacking forces enough so that time expires and the defending team wins. In the game I played, I managed to hold the beach for five minutes, leaving little time for my opponent to grab the flag.
Skirmish mode is a more straight-up battle. You earn points for killing enemy units and capturing vital points like supply depots and enemy bases. You don't build new forces, but instead get resupplied at a steady rate. If you can capture a new factory you can double your output, but you're generally going to be more concerned with blowing the crap out of your opponent. He'll be doing you the same courtesy.
The couple of games I played in this online mode were extremely competitive; so much so that I actually lost a few times! There was no lag or slowdown apparent, though the two Wiis were right next to each other and connected with high-speed convention center Internet. Real-world 'net performance may vary. But, while playing the game, I wasn't really thinking about the control, the interface, or the fact that I was online. All I was thinking about was what I needed to do with my units while at the same time trying to dodge the incoming fire of a wave of enemies. Nothing I saw got in the way of that, except for maybe the guy who was trying to take me out.
It was good times back then, and it's good times now with Battalion Wars 2. The version at the event was the final retail build (the game is out next week), so everything I saw will be in the game that will be on shelves.