Although Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising has been out for a while now, we’ve finally gotten around to reviewing it. Is it a worthy sequel to its sleeper hit predecessor or just a rehash? Read on to find out.
Advance Wars has proven to be the darling sleeper hit among Nintendo’s GBA titles. Essentially a war simulation/strategy game, a typical Advance Wars scenario pits various military units such as infantry, battle copters, and cruisers, spanning foot, ground, air, and sea, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, against each other. Each unit has its own stats, the most important being its health, which is always a number between 1 and 10. This is merely a simplified percentage system (10 being 100%) but despite appearing simple, actually makes for deep and involving strategy.
The Wars series has been around for a long time and has spanned multiple Nintendo consoles and developers (Nintendo’s R&D1, Hudson, and now Intelligent Systems have done work on the series). For most of the early incarnations, the formula was essentially the same. You’ve got your units, and the enemy has its units, and you start out with some money and a few bases but you must deploy your initial troops. This basic formula, while interesting at first, gets old really fast, and the only redeeming value of later Wars games (such as the satellaview and Nintendo Power-only Super Famicom Wars) was multiplayer modes.
Advance Wars fixed that by adding a storyline campaign to the game, and giving you unique personalities to play with (in Super Famicom Wars, choosing a general was only for looks and multiplayer). Now Advance Wars 2 improves upon its predecessor in this regard in many ways. First, there are more command officers (COs). Now each country has 3 COs (which means one more than in the first game), plus the Black Hole army has its own set of COs. Having more COs gives the game enhanced personality and beefs up its storyline and character development. Of course, having some detailed storyline is not necessary in a war simulation game, but it certainly makes the game a bit more interesting.
In addition to added COs, the campaign mode is more diverse, giving you more freedom to play scenarios out of order. Rather than playing as Andy (the hero from the first game) for the majority of the time, you get to play many scenarios from the perspectives of the various allied COs that you meet through the game.
Story dialogues have been enhanced as well, making Advance Wars 2 more story-centric than the previous game. You see a dialogue before entering a scenario, at the beginning of a scenario, and at the end of it. The new-found emphasis on storyline is not unexpected, as the latest Fire Emblem game from the same developer has this focus as well.
When you load Advance Wars 2, you are presented with several game modes and options.
The main game is the Campaign, which is a series of story based scenarios where you take control of each individual command officer and try to defend the world from Black Hole’s invasion. Black Hole is a rival army from another land set out to conquer all four continents. With each map you complete, you earn coins that will allow you to purchase extra battle maps and command officers in the war room.
Versus mode allows you to play against the CPU and up to 3 other players. You are able to set specific conditions for the battle, such as turning off the Fog of War or setting weather conditions. Advance Wars 2 comes with a large set of default maps, and you can also get additional ones in the war room.
In the War Room, you can play maps specifically bought from Battle Maps (using the coins that you collect from beating scenarios or playing the Versus mode). You play against specific computer command officers and the game saves the first four rankings (in terms of Days and Points) for each map. You also gain coins from beating these maps that can go towards purchasing new maps and Command Officers.
Lastly, there is a Design mode, intended for players who want to create their own map. This map can be played in Versus mode and exchanged via the Link mode. You can only have one such map.
So how does the actual strategy gameplay stack up? Diehard Advance Wars fans may have some mixed feelings on this. On one hand, there are some major improvements, such as more diverse scenarios. Many maps have some sort of objective, such as conquering certain bases, or destroying a large missile silo. There are some new units, some cool non-playable units (missile silos), and other things that help contribute to making each scenario feel different, which was a minor problem with Advance Wars (and a major problem with earlier Wars games).
But on the flip side, some maps are downright impossible to conquer in decent time, even for a veteran. The original Advance Wars’ scenarios were shaped in a way that you could beat them in a few turns if you were skilled enough, and earning S ranks were a challenge (you get these grades based on your performance in each map, and you earn coins based on your grades). Advance Wars 2’s maps, unfortunately, do not share the same finesse of its predecessor, and some people might feel frustration in having to spend thirty minutes to an hour to beat a single map. It’s not that they are hard, it’s just that these maps are not constructed in a manner that even the most skilled players could beat quickly. And, not surprisingly, Advance Wars 2 takes this imbalance into consideration. It’s almost too easy to get A or S grades.
Despite the map design issues, the gameplay is solid and is definitely not a rehash of the original Advance Wars. The additional characters, new story emphasis, and diversity of the scenarios make Advance Wars 2 feel like a brand new game. The only complaints that some gamers might have may lie in that the game uses the exact same graphics as the previous title, but I would chalk up the limitations of the Game Boy Advance hardware to that. Besides, does it really matter as long as the gameplay is still good?