The last time I played an Advance Wars entry on the 1001 list, I played for hours. Something about it was addicting. I couldn't put it down. But the Game Boy Advance is already a memory. Technological progress marches onward, and the Nintendo DS needs an entry in the turn-based tactics genre. It's time for Advance Wars: Dual Strike.
Dual Strike. DS. Get it? There's more to the title than that, of course. COs teaming up to pummel dinky little tanks into dust. This should be good.
So here we are, new console, new lead characters. New to me at least. I've not gone through Advance Wars or Advance Wars 2 yet. We've got Rachel, striking quite the post for a commanding officer, and Jake, who similarly doesn't quite look like what you'd think a military leader would. But this is Advance Wars, where, for some reason, kids do indeed lead lengthy campaigns on the front lines.
What war are we fighting this time?
Ah, we're allies now? Hope I didn't spoil too much of the previous games with that knowledge. These games do contain a lot of chatter amongst the various characters, but the plots aren't exactly the reason why they get played.
The Allied Nations are preparing to counterattack the Black Hole, the villains from the previous game if its subtitle is any indication (Black Hole Rising, if you were wondering). The dialogue is nothing remarkable, a little cheesy, but it goes with the relaxed nature of the game. I mean, look at the graphic design and bright colours. This isn't a grimdark war game. There has to be a sense of fun to be had here.
That fun, for me, comes in the gameplay, which is identical to previous games, save for selecting units with a stylus, instead of a cursor. Units have their own strengths and weaknesses, the terrain provides advantages to defence, troops with rocket launchers and clearly more useful against vehicles... if you've played an Advance Wars title before, you'll be right at home. If you've not, these early missions are always tutorials to get you up to speed.
Ooh, I don't think that's meant to look like that. The joys of emulation. Capturing cities takes a few turns, but provides your army with supplies. Not that you'll need them in this mission, but do practice for the future, yeah?
The dual-screen set up of the DS allows Dual Strike to display key information about the select unit and terrain, information that was previously hidden in the menus to not clog up the GBA display. It makes sense, but in all honesty, I didn't look at the top screen a whole lot, and when I did, I didn't take any of its information in.
Was that because I knew the gist of the combat - attack with as strong a unit as you can, use a unit's strengths to your advantage and so on - or because you just don't need to know all this information this early on? I'm not too sure right now. Oh, and that's mission 1 complete.
Uhhh... ok, Jake. Thanks for that, I guess.
While broken screens like this are a little disappointing, I can still play Dual Strike. But there's something about Jake, our leader in training, that is already starting to grate on me. I don't like him. Not that I think he's evil or anything, but that he's trying to be cool and failing. I don't want to spend time with him. I certainly don't care about his 'phat beats'. Hopefully, the gameplay will take far more of my time than Jake's dialogue.
We're still firmly in tutorial territory, however, though the plot is still seeping through. These Black Hole robots don't have any reference data for Jake here. We have the element of surprise.
The muscle mountain Max returns to the fight. His one skill - which he is adamant to tell everyone, it seems - is to hit enemies directly. Smash them to bits. Utterly demolish them from the adjacent square. Anything further out, he's useless. Range? What's that? But he's got a point. We can't rush into battle, especially when we're fresh out of school. Hell, we might still be in school, I don't know how the Advance Wars universe does things.
Is this speech not working for me because times have changed? Fifteen years have gone by. Maybe my only problem is that the dialogue hasn't aged as well as the gameplay and graphics.
We get to play with attack helicopters in this mission, as well as learn about merging units as a way of healing, at the expense of losing a unit, effectively. We also get to read lots of back and forth about tactics and strategy, and that sometimes, the sneaky approach is the best. We're going to fly a soldier right over to the enemy HQ and just take it over. If you can get it done, you'll complete the mission without having to worry about dealing with every enemy unit.
Of course, we've got to tie up the enemy and keep them away from their base, even if it means losing a unit here and there. Draw routes, poke targets, watch the numbers drain. There's not much to say about the gameplay that hasn't been said for Advance Wars. The map is angled a little, but that doesn't impact anything.
Eventually, after some back and forth fighting, our transport helicopter has finally moved far enough across the map to drop our soldier onto the enemy base, where he can stomp it out of existence.
And that was that. That was when I got bored with Advance Wars: Dual Strike. For the time being, at least.
If you are a fan of the series or are interested in tactical strategy games, Advance Wars: Dual Strike is going to give you a good time. Personally, I don't think the addition of a second screen has done anything, and while I'm yet to see COs teaming up, I can't imagine that blowing my mind in any way either.
Dual Strike seems to be more of the same, with a lick of polish to justify itself. Now, I do say that without having played through a whole lot of it and actually seen all there is it offers, but the impression I get is that this isn't radically different. It looks the same, it plays the same... why is it a must-play if we've already played it, years ago?
I clearly wasn't as addicted to Advance Wars this time around. Have I got something else on my mind? Has the appeal worn off? Do I just think it works better on the GBA? I mean, it is called Advance Wars for a reason.
I'd recommend it, certainly. But as a must-play? I'm not so sure.
The second screen is sometimes used to show another battle unfolding, presumably to make sure you get X done before Y happens on top. FfffffuuuuiiiiII might get back to playing Dual Strike sooner than I thought.
Advance Wars: Dual Strike, developed by Intelligent Systems, first released in 2005.
Version played: Nintendo DS, 2005, via emulation.