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Advance Wars: Dual Strike

Developer: Intelligent Systems | Publisher: Nintendo
Players: 1 to 2 Player Game | Release Date: 08/22/05 | Genre: Strategy

Advance Wars: Dual Strike is actually the ninth game in a long running series with a seventeen year history in Japan. Of course, you probably know that the series only first brought war to American soil with the release of Advance Wars on the Game Boy Advance in 2001. The series has proved to be popular with American and European gamers too, as Advance Wars: DS marks the third game to see global release in just four years, and that's not even counting the spin-off GameCube game just released.

If you're not yet familiar with Advance Wars, then now's the time to get acquainted. It's one of, if not the best game in the Nintendo DS library today. Advance Wars is a turn-based strategy game that has a common trait with many Nintendo games; it's easy to learn and control, but offers an impressive amount of depth as players learn the nuances of all of the game's elements. Anyone already familiar with either of the GBA games could jump right into Advance Wars: DS without reading the manual. There are several new features to the series, but they're introduced into the game's story mode one by one. In fact, Advance Wars: DS is gentle to brand new players as well. The early missions explain how everything works as each element of the game comes into play.

The basic objective of Advance Wars: DS is to wage war against the enemy using a variety of military units such as soldiers, tanks, copters, planes, battleships, and much more. A healthy selection of vehicles allows you to battle the enemy on the land, in the sea, and in the air. Advance Wars: DS is all about strategy and planning. Even if you don't like strategy or turn-based games, you should give Advance Wars a try. I never liked turn-based strategy games before playing Advance Wars, and I still don't really enjoy other turn-based strategy games outside of the series.

Advance Wars plays out like a very elaborate board game. Every mission consists of a map divided into square tiles. A variety of terrain features can give you an advantage or hinder your efforts. For instance, your land vehicles can travel farther in one turn if they use a road rather than maneuver through a forest. However, forests will provide better defensive cover. On each turn you can instruct your units to move across the map and attack enemy units if they are in position. When you are finished moving, then your opponent (whether computer or human) will be allowed to move all of their units and then it will be your turn again. Each mission carries on in this manner until one army is defeated or other special objectives are met. Players do not have direct control of a battle. If they are within range, the player instructs units to attack the enemy. Depending on the strength of the attacker and the enemy being attacked, one or both of the units may be damaged or destroyed during the automated battle. So a lot of the strategy is about moving your units to attack the enemy while avoiding unnecessary attacks against yourself.

The units are well balanced. In general, you can expect more powerful units to cost more to produce. The differences go beyond that though. Indirect units, such as artillery vehicles, can attack enemies from a distance, but they cannot defend themselves against a direct attacker. Tanks, on the other hand, must move directly next to an enemy unit it in order to attack it. Infantry soldiers, while generally weak against vehicles, are the only units that can capture cities and buildings. This is a crucial part of the strategy because cities provide money with which you can produce new units. You need to capture bases, seaports, and airports to create units. There are 25 units in all, and each one has its own purpose. Their strengths and weaknesses are very well balanced.

Advance Wars: DS can be controlled the same way as the two GBA games, making it easy for a veteran player to jump right in. The standard way to control the game is by moving a cursor with the D-pad. When a friendly unit is highlighted, players can issue commands such as Fire or Wait via a pop-up menu. Several units have other special commands, such as Dive for the submarine, or Load/Unload for the transport copter. It's a simple interface that's quick and easy to use. So despite being turn-based, the game can move along quickly. The Touch Screen offers a new method of control. It's basically the same, but instead of moving a cursor with the D-pad, you can simply touch a unit and then touch the command you'd like to issue. It's doesn't make playing the game better or worse, it's just another option if that suits your preference.

The dual screens offer something new as well. In the previous Advance Wars games, players had to push a button to access detailed information about a unit or terrain. This information page would cover up the map. Now with a second screen available, the detailed information about a unit or a piece of terrain appears on the top screen at all times, allowing you to view the battlefield and read important intel at the same time. It's not a crucial feature, but it does make the game much faster and more convenient. There is the occasional Dual Screen Battle however, and during these, the top screen will be used to show a second front, where a battle is taking place at the same time. In these cases, you will have to press the X Button in order to swap views between the intel screen and the second front.

Dual Screen Battles don't actually enhance the Advance Wars formula that much. It's basically like playing two different missions simultaneously. After you spend your turn commanding your units on the main front, you'll then be able to command your units on the secondary front. The two battlefields do not interact directly. However, winning the battle on the secondary front usually provides some advantage on the main front.

An important part of Advance Wars is the Commanding Officer execution of the current mission. CO's are the main characters of the game's story. Sometime you'll get to choose which CO you'll be using during a mission, and sometimes the CO will be selected for you as it ties into the plot. Each CO has certain characteristics that affect how their units perform. Each unit has certain "base" characteristics. They have certain attack power, defensive protection, and movement ranges. These attributes could be altered depending on the CO commanding the mission. For instance, when Kanbei commands a mission, all of his units have increased attack power, but each one costs more money to produce. Max's indirect attackers suffer decreased attack range, but his direct attackers have stronger firepower than normal. There are many CO's in the game, and each one requires different strategies if you want to use them affectively. Each CO also has two CO Powers that can be activated after a certain amount of time. CO Powers are basically magical powers that can be used to strengthen your effort or turn the tide of a battle. A CO Power might repair damage to all of your units, or cause damage to all of the enemy's units all at once. Other CO Powers give increased movement range or increased offense and defense. The effects of a CO power only last one turn, so it's important to use them wisely.

The Dual Strike title refers to the fact that many missions allow you to choose two CO's to command the battle. This way, you can choose CO's that can cover each other's weaknesses. You use only one CO at a time, but you may swap your CO's at the end of every turn. For instance, Drake has superior naval power, but weak air power. Eagle is just the opposite. So you could first use Drake to defeat some battles at sea, and then when the fight starts to involve air power, you could switch to Eagle to finish of the enemy in the skies. If you build up enough power, you can unleash both CO Powers in one turn. This is called a Dual Strike. This effectively allows you to take two turns in a row, and can be very devastating to your opponent. You won't have this opportunity more than once or twice per mission though, so it's important to activate it at the proper time.

Most players seem to like the new dual CO feature of Advance Wars: DS, but I feel that it makes things a little unbalanced. The combinations can be a little too powerful in my opinion, especially when Dual Strike is unleashed. Everything else about Advance Wars is carefully balanced between the weaknesses and strengths of individual units and the CO's. Using two CO's in one mission ruins some of that. It's not that great of a concern though. You'll have to adapt to some new tactics because of it, but it doesn't break the game, and as I said, most players seem to like it anyway.

Where Advance Wars: 2 introduced important new terrain features, Advance Wars: DS introduces a few new units to the series, and they're great additions. Unlike the one new unit found in Advance Wars 2, the new units introduced this time actually have new capabilities that significantly add to the depth and strategy of the game mechanics. Intelligent Systems also did a great job with the mission variety. Many of them have more interesting objectives than just destroying every enemy unit. The maps and starting circumstances for the new missions provide much more variety than previously seen.

Advance Wars: DS looks a lot like its GBA predecessors, which isn't a bad thing at all. The artwork and animations are as enjoyable as they were before. There's now a new sprite scaling effect to give the battle animations a semi-3D look. The music has also been upgraded for the Nintendo DS. Each CO has their own track that matches their personality. You'll notice that better quality sound samples were used for these songs when compared to the GBA version.

The only bad part about the presentation is the dialogue. Usually, NOA does a great job localizing games from Nintendo's Japanese developers. However, this time they've written a bunch of horrible Saturday morning cartoon dialogue. Dialogue occurs before and after every mission, and sometimes it is way too long. You can skip it, but then you would often be missing an important tip about the impending mission. One of the main characters, Jake, has this horrible habit of using "street" language. Have you ever seen the television cartoon American Dragon? It's that bad. You'll constantly be reading about smackdowns, getting served, and being whack, courtesy of Jake. I can only be thankful that it's only text dialogue and not voice acting. Still, even that can't detract from the game's great mission designs and game mechanics.

Advance Wars: DS is one of the best values on the DS. Aside from the lengthy Campaign mode, there are dozens more bonus missions to unlock and complete. You can try the Campaign on a harder mode after you've cleared it once. There is also a robust multiplayer mode. You can engage in 4-way battles in a variety of specially designed maps. You can even make your own maps and trade them with other players. Thanks to the Touch Screen, the map maker is even faster and easier to use than before.

There is a funny little mini-game included called Combat Mode. It basically turns Advance Wars into an action game. You can move your vehicle around and shoot enemies in real time. It's a good thing that Combat Mode is really more of a bonus rather than a main portion of the game because while it's a fun diversion, it's pretty forgettable. I can actually see room for an expanded version of Combat Mode with the ability to command multiple units and such, but maybe that's what Battalion Wars on GameCube is for. Combat Mode can actually be played with up to seven other players who don't even own a copy of Advance Wars: DS via a wireless download.

Advance Wars: DS is the best game in the series so far. It adds several new, significant features, more so than Advance Wars 2 did. If you're a combat veteran of either of the previous two games, then you may notice that Advance Wars: DS starts to feel pretty similar after you get ten hours or so into it. That's true. Advance Wars: DS introduces several enhancements to the Advance Wars formula, but it still plays largely the same. That's not a bad thing at all however. If you liked either Advance Wars or Advance Wars 2, then you're sure to love Advance Wars: DS. If you're a new comer, I strongly recommend that you pick it up. I consider it a 'must own' for the Nintendo DS. It has incredibly slick strategy game mechanics that are very easy to get into and there's enough content to keep you playing for dozens of hours.

By Andrew Thivyanathan - 09/22/05
ESRB Details: Cartoon Violence
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Screenshots for Advance Wars: Dual Strike

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