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August 09, 2005

Review: Advance Wars: Dual Strike (DS) - In War, nobody wins, unless you're a gamer

VGP Score


Advance Wars Dual Strike is probably the best name I could think of to describe Nintendo DS' newest strategy game. Where Advance Wars 2 was essentially the same game as Advance Wars 1, save for few minor changes, Advance Wars DS plays as a true expansive sequel to Advance Wars. Advance Wars: Dual Strike takes the idea of strategy, and raises it to the n'th power. It's a game that'll make you think. Planning ahead is par for the course in this highly anticipated title. Where most tactics games boil down to point and click attacking, Advance Wars: DS requires so much more. I should warn the gamer that AW:DS is a time investment. The game is long, and missions can sometimes require up to an hours worth of free time just to complete. That said, you'll have a hell of a time in the process. On a chess-like battlefield, the best strategy game to ever hit the market will rock you into the ground.

Mise en scene, you begin the assailment with a set number of units and buildings, and so does the opposing army. It's your job to recruit new soldiers and vehicles by securing resources to supply them. This alone is part of the strategy. Capturing buildings increases the bi-turnly wage of the CO (Commanding Officer for those who don't know), and being frugle with it means picking and chosing which units you need and don't need, and which units will actually be beneficial, and not just something to waste your resources on (something that plagued the first two AW titles). While it seems basic, consider that you're only given enough resources each time to purchase one or two new units, so you need to make it count. New units like the Megatanks (which might as well be dubbed "Asskickinators") add to the strategy, and the enemies' uncanny technique for securing buildings and crucial waypoints only make things harder. When you do get a potshot off at the enemy units, the display switches to the classic "War" screen where the opposing squads attack each other and the last man standing wins.

This is a good time bring up the first successful use of a two screened handheld: The "Dual Strike" aspect of AW. This time around you'll lead a rogue squadron of aerial stealth bombers and their kin into battle. Not only that, but this aerial based team can attack ground units, and vice versa. It's a two-fronted battle that takes place both in the air, and on the ground simultaneously with the top and bottom screens. I don't think I have to mention that this alone increases the strategy and difficulty by a few notches. You're playing twice the game on twice the screens with twice the strategy, and it only continues to get better.

Once again consider this: that while you're fighting a two fronted battle, you'll be making choices as to which units pose a greater threat, and thusly chosing which units would best vanquish them, but you're also trying to run scounts and infantry all across the board capturing buldings and cities. Therein lies the great strategy. You could capture a city, and increase revenues; capture a factory to pump out more units per capita; or capture control towers which increase the attack stats of your units by a marginal amount, that when added in series can nearly double the attack strength of your units. Where do you even begin? That is entirely up to you. No strategy is the right strategy. There are at any given time, 3 or 4 ways to go about any given situation, and that's the beauty of Advance Wars: Dual Strike. The series has evolved from an amateur tactics game to a full-on war combat simulator. The expansive single player campaign dwarfs the previous titles and that ain't even beginning with the head-on multiplayer modes. When you're dealing with a friend who operates on the same stregic paradigm as you, you begin to see just how complex and difficult the game becomes. You aren't second-guessing CPU AI now, you're heading off against another person, decked out with the same bling-bling and artillery as you, and the same motive: capture your HQ or destroy you in the process.

And while I want to say the game's perfected combat and strategy cross the t's and dot the i's of that metaphorical chapter, the game has it's fair share of flaws. Though none are too bad, just random things that really take you out of the experience. You can now control two CO's per battle, which is great, as both CO's can use their abilities separately or together in Tag Team formation, which is great. Combinging regenerative and attack enhancing CO powers - like Rachels Lucky Lass ability - might be what you need to take on a vicious formation of tanks, but then again, money making powers - like Colin's Gold Rush - in conjuction with anything else may not be quite as effective. Herein lies one of the problems with Advance Wars: Dual Strike, in that there are rather obvious lopsided balancing issues with COs and CO powers. Not something that will break the game for you, but some abilities may never help you in the short and long of it all, and in some cases the opposing CO's will have abilities that make some assaults one-sided - though it can also be the other way around too. The last thing, but probably the most disturbing is the dialogue. Quite the irony for such a grown-up gameplay. "Total ownage! OMG! We got you sooo owned! You got served!", and I can't bring myself to think about it anymore. It does more to usurp than enhance the game is all that can be said.

Aside from that, sound effects remain in tact from their GBA counter parts, and to some that may be a put off but considering they were satisfactory to begin with, it isn't too much of a bad thing. There is really no overhaul done to the game from previous installments, both aurally and visually. The main difference is that the AW sprites get a resolution boost from the DS back-lit screens, and there is no real practical use for the touch screen. The game can be played without it. Not that it matters, but seeing that things like this really were never touched upon make me want an AW game that truly makes it a DS title, and not just a great extension of a GBA series. For being the true sequel to Advance Wars, I'm giving the game so leeway. It deserves so much respect, and Intelligent Systems have created a gameplay here that pretty much makes it the best tactics style game to date. The strategy has been perfected, and that should count for the lion's share of credit. I'd hope the next game in the series, if on the DS, will take full advantage of it's features and give us an upgraded graphics engine (and please ammend the balancing issues).

Overall, Advance Wars: Dual Strike is a great addition to anyone's DS collection. Mission length is long, the game will run around 25 hours (if you're a rush player), and you'll be cognitively challenged and made to think during every minute of it. If deep gameplay is what you're looking for, this is it; multiplayer is a blast too. Just don't expect much from the rest of the game.


Blogger Alexander said...

Taken from the review:

New units like the Neotank (which might as well be dubbed "Asskickinators") add to the strategy

Don't you mean Megatanks? Neotanks were already in AW2 If I remenber corretly. An honest mistake though.

October 12, 2005 7:31 PM

Blogger Adam said...

Maybe you're right. Maybe it was the Megatank. Now that you mention it I do vaguely recall Neotanks on the GBA. Maybe I'm just crossing my own wires. Oh well, will edit.

October 12, 2005 11:38 PM


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