Deserving of its stripes
I’ve always felt that you can measure the successful eras of Nintendo’s consoles in two different ways. During the Wii U and GameCube era, Nintendo seemed at times to be more interested in experimentation, whether it was through rhythm games using bongos, or developing a game where the player had to commit to a daily exercise routine using the Balance Board peripheral. However, the enormous success of the Switch hasn’t seen as many of Nintendo’s quirks as we are used to. Instead they’ve been snooping around in their back catalog, looking for older franchises to revive after a long hiatus. This is similar to how during the Wii days we saw sequels to Excitebike and Punch-Out!!. After Mario Strikers and Famicom Detective Club, the GBA classics of Advance Wars and its sequel have been fully remade by the team at WayForward for the Switch. The end result is a satisfying return to a strategic classic that has never felt better to play and offers plenty of missions for new recruits and veterans alike.
Advance Wars is a turn-based strategy game that focuses on the player commanding an army of several units to complete objectives. In a sense you can consider the franchise to be a bit of a counterpart to the Fire Emblem series. Where (modern) Fire Emblem places a lot of focus on individual characters that you control in battle, Advance Wars is a much more straightforward wargame. There is no consistent weapon triangle to consider, but each unit has specific advantages and disadvantages in and out of combat. Tanks, for example, are durable and fast units, but can’t deal with battle copters or battleships very well. Infantry and mechs can be used to capture cities and gain resources but are quickly defeated and usually require transport to help them get to specific locations. Each mission has a carefully designed map that has either a set number of units or allows you to allocate funds towards new units over time. Therefore, there is a lot of emphasis on tactical strategy and making a battle plan instead of simply adapting on the fly. Advance Wars is incredibly rewarding in that aspect; not just by making each encounter feel like a little puzzle in its own right, but by making you the player feel smart and strategic for acting upon a plan you’ve made at the beginning of the map.
That’s not to say that there is no character to the game. Each mission is led by a commanding officer (CO) that has a particular power that helps their units and is also at the heart of Advance Wars’ story. While definitely not winning any writing awards, the characterization of Andy, Sami, Max and their opponents never failed to charm me. The biggest new features are both a map designer that allows you to create your own unique objectives and maps that can be shared online with others. The online multiplayer is also something that will entice strategy fanatics, where you not only pick your preferred CO–each with their own special ability–but also need to think carefully about placing and moving around units. The package offers quite a bit of content for those who like to continue experimenting with the mechanics after the main campaign. Don’t expect any twists to the original source material or gameplay, however. Re-Boot Camp is a very true remake that doesn’t bring any major changes, but mostly nails its presentation and the strategic angle that made the original games cult classics in their own right.
That new visual approach is very fitting, making the experience feel much more like a commanding officer overseeing a battlefield on a map. I’ve seen people compare the aesthetic to that of toy-like war figures, but I think it just adds to the idea that you’re pursuing different battles instead of directly controlling your soldiers and vehicles. As well, the characters themselves have never looked better. While the game doesn’t feature full voice acting, mostly using its extensive voice-cast for opening lines or key phrases, it does help with giving the different COs a lot of personality, especially when activating their unique abilities that come paired with a nice animated cutscene. The UI and interface is very clean, though it did feel a bit too simple at first glance. Many of the ways you can navigate the different battlefield views aren’t really explained; for instance, holding down the B-button on an enemy unit shows their range, which is something that is super helpful and beats navigating through menus to find. At these times, it feels like the games are holding on a bit too tight to their original GBA counterparts, especially releasing so shortly after Fire Emblem: Engage, which felt much more slick in its UI options and navigation tools. Of course, both games have different objectives, with Advance Wars being a bit more traditional and much less focused on the individuality of units being controlled. This felt like a bit of a letdown, since there were many other small improvements that could’ve been made here to add more personality and depth.
The worst offender in my opinion is the frankly dull soundtrack. The same music gets reused quite a bit during missions and when an objective can take upwards of half an hour or more to complete, the audio aspect ends up being super tedious. AW therefore quickly turned into a “podcast-game” for me, where I always wanted something on in the background while playing the game. There’s some fun mixups with the soundtrack when using special abilities, but the main themes all blend together quickly, leaving them with very little impact. What compounds this is that you will be repeating a lot of mission objectives again and again. Some see you simply routing the enemies or capturing the HQ, but there are a few that are more specific ones like defending a particular unit, or being the first army that controls a set number of structures. I think that strategy games are likely to fall into these traps, especially when playing them for prolonged periods of time. Ultimately, taking on one or two missions per day is probably the best way to experience AW. The game is pretty substantial and while I had fun with it, I did turn off the battle animations rather quickly to make the game progress at a faster pace.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is exactly what it promises. A polished and fine tuned remake of the original two Advance Wars games. In this package you’ll get two great strategic experiences that come with plenty of missions, objectives, multiplayer modes and even a map creator to keep you entertained for a good long while. Though the music may get a tad repetitive and the game feels best suited for short play sessions, these two games are a great return to form for the Advance Wars series. It does leave me hopeful that the next iteration will put less emphasis on the visual “Re-Boot” and more on the gameplay “Advancement” of this franchise.
I also wrote about how I felt uncomfortable playing Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp in the face of the actual Ukraine war happening in Europe. If you're curious about that, you can read that article here.