Review by midwinter

"Digital Crack Made Portable"

In a perfect world, Advance Wars: Dual Strike comes with a health warning: game likely to cause isolation, recommended dose no more than 2-3 hours / day. If gaming persists, find a friend.

I wasn't given that luxury.

Instead, the last few weeks have been something of a blur. I can definitely recall a number of long, drawn out skirmishes, the occasional crushing defeat, and there was an unfortunate argument with the Mrs that went straight over my head. The rest of it though... I have no idea what happened. What I do know however is this, Advance Wars: Dual Strike is turn based strategy raised to the nth degree. We're talking digital crack in a shot glass, wrapped in bacon and drip fed through a slice of smoked, raw cheese. You'll come for the new units and stay for the terrain specific obstacles, anything else is a bonus...

For instance, Dual Strike's expanded single player campaign and increased challenge have come as a nice surprise. Each mission is now longer, tougher, and more memorable than the last, and just because the basic gameplay remains the same, that's not to say you'll be disappointed. Infantry is needed to keep the scouts in check, rocket launchers for artillery, and helicopters for tanks. Then just as you get a handle on things, the aforementioned challenge will kick you in the pants.

But maybe you don't believe me...

OK then, so how about those Control Towers?

Consider the way these mysterious structures litter each map, then wonder what would happen if they increased your attack strength by an additional 10%. Chaos? Anarchy? All of the above? Maybe, but this in turn raises the question, what should you capture first? You could secure a few cities and thusly the income they generate, or perhaps the factories needed to pump out a few extra troops. Whatever you do though, understand that the balance of power often hinges on a single decision, and if you're not prepared to occupy a tower or three, your opponent sure as hell might.

It's interesting to note then how Intelligent Systems have compensated for every conceivable strategy with an equal and opposite counter. A train of thought that goes far beyond the simple, rock/scissors/paper ethos usually associated with combat. Take for example the Tag Team campaigns where players are expected to work with not one, but two Commanding Officers at a time. Double the COs, double the number of special powers at your disposal. You might combine Rachel's Red Storm attack with Max's Brute Force for a little "Shock and Awe" style fun. Alternatively, Andy's regenerative abilities may be all that's needed to break a possible stalemate...

And once more, the expanded scope for strategy remains impressive.

For all its improvements however, its the new units you'll love the most. Stealth bombers, aircraft carriers, giant tanks with three turrets, and a gelatinous blob. The list goes on. A varied range of map based obstacles further serve variety, instilling in players a strong desire to push on through both thick and thin to see what's next. Computer controlled defensive satellites, incoming nuclear warheads, and volcanoes amongst others, each of which could decimate your forces before a single shot is even fired.

Nasty.

All this though, could have been achieved on any other handheld, so what is it about the Dual Strike that pushes the DS to its limits? Graphically, the terrain of War's World has seen only the most minor of improvements, a top down, 3/4 perspective spices things up, though fails to add anything in the process. Rather then, it's the touch screen and wireless support that's made the biggest impact, delivering an experience that's virtually unbeatable. With up to 8 combatants at a time, and a smooth as silk interface to boot, you'll wonder what you ever saw in the GBA originals.

As far as sequels go then, Advance Wars: Dual Strike is an unmitigated success. Intelligent Systems have raised the bar with this release, and in doing so may have just painted themselves into a corner. I mean seriously now people, where do we go from here? More units? Three screens? More of the same? Wow, that last one doesn't sound so bad! Had the occasional difficulty spike been ironed out, I would think this game flawless... instead I'll stick with awesome. Advance Wars: Dual Strike is an utterly addictive slice of crack, ingeniously designed to drive a wedge between you and your friends... that is, unless they're packing a copy as well... ahhh, good times indeed...

Pros
----

* Dual Strike is the true sequel the GBA's original Advance Wars deserved
* New balance ensures the cheap tactics of old don't work
* The increased difficulty and expanded single player campaign are a treat
* Terrain based obstacles add both challenge and variety
* There's been some great additions to the line-up of units
* The touch screen interface is flawless
* Wi-Fi support for up to 8 players at a time
* Multiplayer is awesomely smooth... as expected
* A number of bonus game modes will keep you coming back
* Of course, there's a ton of multiplayer stuff to unlock as well

Cons
----

* The occasional difficulty spike manages to irritate
* Where will Intelligent Systems go from here?


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/27/05, Updated 07/29/05


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