Read all about the new real-time Combat mode.
Of all the upcoming DS games Nintendo has announced, Advance Wars DS may be my pick for the best. Not only is it built upon an extremely solid gameplay foundation, it also features tons of modes with single-card wireless multiplayer across the board. Perhaps the biggest new addition is Combat mode, which was the focus of my time playing the game.
Combat is reminiscent of Atari's classic game of the same name, but the Advance Wars version packs in a lot more strategy. This mode is completely real-time, and you directly control one unit at a time, so it feels like an action game. But there is an important planning stage before the battle starts, in which you use your limited funds to the buy familiar AW units you'll be controlling later. Loading up with infantry or mech units will force you to play very differently than if you buy tanks or artillery.
The gameplay is fast and more action-oriented than what you're used to in the AW series and it's definitely a lot of fun. You can press A to fire in the direction your unit is facing, but using the touch screen is the more useful option. By touching the screen to fire from your current position, you can move in one direction and shoot in another, although it takes a bit more coordination.
The goal in Combat is the same as in a normal AW game: take over the enemy's headquarters by moving a unit over it until the seize countdown is complete. On the way, you'll have to deal with the fog of war, terrain obstructions, and enemy units. The games I played still went quickly though, partly because it's hard to play both offense and defense with just one unit. I'm hoping the final game will include friendly bots that can be told to patrol or stake out targets, or perhaps different victory conditions that don't leave you so open to random HQ takeovers. On the plus side, you can use CO powers and do pretty much anything else that can be done in the normal, turn-based game. The variety of units is welcome too; the more the merrier.
The best part of Combat may be that it can be played with up to seven other people with only one copy of Advance Wars DS. Downloading the game takes about thirty seconds, and then everyone groups into up to four teams. Lopsided teams are penalized to make it fair for anyone going solo, but you can bet that having two players working together opens up a lot more strategic opportunities.
Hardcore AW fans may balk at the idea of real-time strategy being mixed into their beloved series, but trust me, Combat mode is much different than the GameCube game (which is now no longer even named Advance Wars), and it's a great way to introduce the AW gameplay to friends who might be intimidated by all the rules and menus. Plus, Combat is completely separate from the turn-based modes, which still make up the vast majority of AW DS. But from what I've played, it may turn out to be my favorite part of this upcoming game, which has plenty to love any way you look at it.