Advance Wars: Dual Strike (or the Japanese version, Famicom Wars DS, in this case) may have pretty much the same presentation as the GBA versions in terms of graphics, sound, etc., but the real strength of the game comes in the form of the massive amount of content added and the Wireless multiplayer. 27 playable COs (commanders), 26 types of units, five play modes; the sheer size of the game is intimidating. It's a pretty big step up from Advance Wars 2, and the new dual-CO tagging system adds a new dimension to the strategy that actually works quite well.
Since Advance Wars 2, nine new COs have been added, and all of the old COs (except Sturm, it seems) have returned. Altogether, that makes 27 COs. The big deal, though, is that two COs are used together to command one army. Here's how CO tagging works; all units have the attributes of the CO that's currently commanding, even if they were built while the other CO was commanding. For example, Colin can manufacture a bunch of cheap units on day one, and then Kanbei can kick ass with them at full Kanbei power on day two. COs can only be switched at the end of a turn, though, so you always have to think a day ahead.
As for CO powers, they are used normally too, except if both COs have full meters, a tag CO power can be done (I'm guessing it's going to be called a Dual Strike in the US version). First, the CO that's out plays a turn with their super CO power, and then the other CO takes a turn consecutively with their own super CO power. Needless to say, properly planned, this can be quite devastating. Consider some strategic tomfoolery like Hachi building a bunch of units out of cities and Kanbei or Max or Grit surprise attacking with them. Or any CO combined with Sami could move a soldier unit absurd distances and then capture an HQ or important factory. It's pretty essential to utilize tag CO powers in the campaign, and the computer tends to build both meters fast and evenly by tagging COs every turn. The meter of the CO that's currently in use builds at normal speed, and the second CO’s meter builds at only about a third of the pace. Sometimes it's a tough strategic call on just when to switch COs...
All of the returning COs are apparently completely unchanged from Advance Wars 2, and the new guys are pretty interesting:
Although Advance Wars 2 barely added any new units, AW DS adds new units for land, sea, air, and, uh, rail:
There's one more kind of new unit that shows up in the Campaign that can't be bought. That surprise won't be spoiled here! There's also a new capture-able property, a radio tower; the more of these that are controlled, the stronger the attacks of the army.
The new campaign has no failings and introduces the player to the new aspects of AW: DS, including dual-screen battles and time and turn-limit battles. It's about on par with the AW 1 & 2 campaigns (with some cool storyline twists) and gets the player started on using CO pairs pretty quickly. One difference is that COs can also gain ranks and equip up to four bonus abilities, like an extra 5% direct offense or defense, extra power on certain terrains, extra sight range in fog of war, etc. These are entirely optional, of course. They're useful for 'tweaking' a CO for a certain campaign map, but probably aren't preferable for a balanced multiplayer game. They can be turned off or rearranged before any battle. As an extra bonus, ranking a CO all the way up to level ten will earn a new costume (not just new colors, but additional art). The prime reason for this is to make Grit look like Shaggy.
The hard campaign, however, exceeds all expectations in its awesomeness. Of course, it's tougher and has enemy units deployed in all sorts of uncomfortable places, but you can use any CO that's been unlocked, even from the Black Hole crew.
Aside from the campaign, there's a new Survival mode. It's really more like a ranking course; the player battles through about a dozen maps with a limit on turns, money, or time, and gets a final grade and a bunch of unlock points at the end. Harder versions can be unlocked too. The turn limit course seems pretty easy, but the time and money courses are rough, probably a bit tougher than the Hard Campaign, even.
Good ol' Trial mode (War Room in the US version) allows the player to select a map and duke it out with the CPU for a grade and unlock points. However, if the player only chooses a single CO and/or opts not to use rank upgrades, they can get up to 2.5 times the regular unlock/experience points. That's extra sweet, because rank upgrades are for wusses.
Along the lines of Trial mode, there's Free Mode where you can set up any kind of battle that you want or do single-DS turn-based multiplayer. It’s pretty considerate of the designers to still include that for people with friends who do not own their own DS systems because their dog ate it. Like I always say, better buy two or three, just in case.
The single-player version of Combat mode is a great way to earn thousands and thousands of unlock points fast. It's really just a simple action game. The player can choose 20,000g worth of units (from Mech, Recon, Small Tank, and Artillery) and start in on the eight missions. There are three difficulty levels, and the last one is really, really hard. It's terribly addictive, though. And in the multiplayer version, up to eight players can blow each other up. Controlling the unit with the pad and firing at any direction on the stylus works surprisingly well
That's only about half of the options on the menu. There's the good ol' Wars Shop where you buy stuff from Hachi. There's History to examine the statistics. There's Wireless multiplayer (with Normal, Dual Screen, Map Trade, Combat, Download, and Message macros to edit for in-game use). Also, there are the Sound Room (there are 67 songs in this game!), Gallery, and Edit mode. Editing maps is now much easier thanks to the stylus, and you can trade them with your friends, too.
Advance Wars: Dual Strike's tag-team system definitely adds an extra layer of strategy -- a prudent move for a strategy game, right? Along with entirely too many game modes and wireless multiplayer, well, that's enough gameplay to ruin a human brain. Force rank abilities probably weren't really necessary, but it hasn't really broken the game, either. AW: DS comes highly recommended for fans of the series, and hey, everyone else, too. Click here to order the U.S. version from Lik-Sang!