How does one improve upon perfection? In the terms of game design, this can be a double-edged sword. Change too much and you lose the ground that a solid game was built upon. Change too little, and terms like ?rehash? or ?selling out? are sprinkled in every game review. Without question, this must have been the biggest dilemma that Intelligence Systems faced when creating Advance Wars: Dual Strike. However, the designers managed to mix the best of both worlds by offering welcomed new game play elements while sticking with a ?if it ain?t broke, don?t fix it? motif.
The series started back in 2001 with the release of the original Advance Wars. The game was so incredibly addictive that it won an AIAS award, an award that is usually presented to a PC strategy game. A couple years later, Intelligent Systems created a follow up to their hit turn based strategy game, Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising. Adding a couple more units, COs, with an all new story and stages, the second game in the series was more like an expansion pak than an all-new game. However, fans were not complaining as the game, once again, caused many late night gaming sessions.
Advance Wars has to be one of the best strategy games ever made. The player controls an army from a CO?s (Commanding Officer) point of view within a grid-based environment. What makes the game so damn addicting is the rock-paper-scissors combat system. Each unit plays an important role within each battle and possesses a unique power. For example, regular foot soldiers are weak, but only they can capture cities. The more cities you occupy, the more funds you receive, which in turn gives the player more options when purchasing units. APC?s cannot attack but they can travel great distances and supply your vehicles with gas and ammo, or transport one ground unit. Tanks are powerful but cost a lot of money to produce. Knowing when to create each unit is one of the biggest parts of the game, hence all the strategy that is involved. Matching each unit against the enemy?s is only part of the battle. The environment also provides defensive qualities, counterattacks must be taken into consideration, and CO super powers all greatly affect the outcome of any battle. Each move must be carefully planned in order to see the Victory screen once the battle is over, but the game does not overcomplicate itself by introducing confusing rules. Very few games showcase the same amount of depth and complexity in a strategy game, let alone on a handheld system.
The previous two titles fit so well on the GBA. The 2D sprite based grid worked well for the GBA?s screen and button structure while the music set the mood of the game. This new DS version supports much of the same graphical and audio capabilities from the GBA versions, but the real strength and difference lies within the amount of content in the game. Nearly 30 COs, dual screen battles, five game types, dual CO tagging powers, and single or multi-card link mode set this above the previous versions by offer more than just content fillings.
Spicing things up from previous games, the CO Super Powers have been given a face-lift to accommodate the ?Dual Strike? feature. The player now will have the ability to take two COs into combat at the same time, increasing the amount of strategy. For example, it might be a good idea to start a day as Colin, a CO who creates weaker units but at a lower cost. While these new cheap units are deployed, switching over to the tank master Max or the powerhouse Kanbei in the follow day could prove quite advantageous. And just like in the first two games, each CO has two special powers that can be unleashed after enough damage has been given and taken. However, adding in a ?Dual Strike? feature, the player can now unload each COs super power at the same time, which can immediately turn the tide of any battle.
The game also makes convenient use of both screens. Since each battle is different, different things can appear on each screen. For most missions, the action takes place on the bottom touch screen while extra information about the terrain and enemy types are displayed on top. On occasion, the top screen can change to a context sensitive display. For example, in one of the early missions the player must defeat the enemy before a missile makes contact. The top screen then displays a radar showing the missile?s path. But the standard stat-showing screen can be switched to at any time with the missile path screen by hitting the ?Y? button.
The top screen can even extend the battle onto both screens. The bottom screen can display the usual ground troops while flying units control the top. However, these aerial battles are played out automatically. The player?s only input in these sky battles is where to initially place the units as flying units from the bottom screen can be ?Sent? to the top screen. It is a little unfortunate that the player is unable to control these top screen battles as the computer A.I. is on the dumber side. The computer will usually choose to place fighter jets directly in front of a cannon when they can easily move one space over to avoid fire. Also, once units are placed in the top screen, they cannot come back and fight on the bottom screen. This is unfortunate because fighting on the top screen is more about brawn than brains, which isn?t exactly an Advance Wars gameplay theme. The player can change the computer A.I. to take a more defensive or offensive stand, but nothing is the same as controlling the units yourself. On the other hand, it can be seen why Intelligent Systems choose to battle in the top screen this way. It adds a different type of strategy to the battle. While you do not have to win in the upper screen, it makes winning on the bottom main screen easier.
The most different game feature in ?Dual Strike? is the addition of Combat mode. Unlike the turn based strategy format that has been the norm, the developers added in this real time combat mode. However, this mode lacks the same quality as the turn-based type of play. The player manually controls one unit at a time but can move anywhere anytime on the map in an action game sort of way. The game almost becomes like a Tiger-Heli or Ikari Warriors. Most of the same Advance Wars rules apply to this mode. Things like, tanks cannot traverse over mountains but slow down when moving over trees. But mountains can now be blown up with enough firepower and sometimes they reveal a hidden power up, kind of like a game of Bomberman. Unlike the turn base mode, any unit can capture and occupy a city. Sit on a city for several seconds to have it under your control. Place your wounded unit on your city to regain some health. But it is just a little awkward that the player can only control one unit at a time while the enemy A.I. can have a dozen units moving about simultaneously. Plus, you cannot change your one playable unit mid-game. The only way the player can select a new unit is to finish the level or die. This is shady because there are times when you need to use an indirect combat unit and times when a heavier unit, like a tank would work best.
In a way, this Combat mode is almost like a reference or a tribute to the original Combat on Atari 2600. This mode shouldn?t be taken seriously, as players will only want to play the turn-based mode anyway. This Combat mode needs some work, but it is one of those ideas that can definitely grow in a sequel. And for some reason, when a battle is over, the player is asked to save the game. However, the default cursor position is set on ?No.? More than one occasion, I accidentally pressed ?No? instead of ?Yes? and lost everything I just did. Having the cursor default set on ?No? is inconsistent with the rest of the game. This is a minor flaw that can effect the player in a big way.
Beside the returning War Room, a new Survival mode has also been added to the final product. Here, players must withstand the threat of time, lack of units, or amount of money as each battle strings into the next. This mode will truly test the player?s skill level and will be most welcomed by hardcore fans.
The entire game can be played by using the stylus or the D-pad. However, returning fans of the previous games will want to use the D-pad. The stylus, although accurate, doesn?t provide the speed and ease of using the system?s buttons. Each player will probably stick with one type of control, but it is always comforting knowing there is another option available.
The stylus may not work for everyone when in game, but it will work wonders when using the Design option. Here, players can create maps of their own design. You can even send them to other Dual Strike owners. The stylus is great because of its mouse-like qualities.
The graphics and music are basically the same as they were in the previous GBA games. Alternatively, the game now supports a more isometric 3D type of view, which allows the viewer to see more of the screen at once. Plus, the camera performs a nice zooming in transition before each fight takes place. The game sprites carry a little more detail but closely resemble that of the GBA games.
The music, just like the other two GBA games, definitely fit the mood of the game. However, I couldn?t help but notice the intro tune on the menu select screen has a little static with crackeling pops. Why the music is not clear coming from the DS?s stereo speakers is a wonder, but this popping sound can be alleviated by using headphones.
Just like the previous two games, multiplayer is a big factor in Advance Wars. Luckily, Intelligent Systems realized this and provided gamers with a lot of multiplayer game. Up to eight players can play off of a single DS, pass the system style. Or eight players can play off one game card or multi game card. Just like the GBA?s single pak link mode, many of the game?s options are eliminated when playing with only one game card. However, there is still tons of fun to be had with even one copy of the game. But Dual Strike is such a great game, chances are your friends will own their own copy of the game. Playing wirelessly with friends is a lot more comfortable than huddling around each other with short link cables. This is especially useful considering some matches can last hours. And while a player is waiting for his opponent?s turn, preset display messages can be set to each button, just like in Mario Golf. This is a nice, cheap and easy way to anger your opponent by putting a small amount of pressure on.
Advance Wars: Dual Strike is a top-notch strategy game. Very few games contain the same level of entertainment quality. And the fact that it is on a handheld system makes it even better. Dual Strike is a big step in the right direction when compared to the two GBA games. The game play is so addicting, players will be sure to get their fix at least once a day. Go out and buy this game right now. Don?t have a DS? Go buy one for this game. It is that good. The addicting gameplay and wireless multiplayer mode will have DSs glued to gamer?s hands for quite some time. And the number of unlockables is overwhelming. It will take days upon days of gameplay time to unlock everything this game has to offer. Because this is such a great game, it is a wonder as to how Intelligent Systems will improve upon itself. Too bad this game wasn?t online. That is ok though. Intelligent Systems needs something new to do for their next Advance Wars.