Review by King_Lueshi

"Intelligent Systems serves up a plate of ownage for the DS"

If there's one company that believes in being liberal with their gaming franchises, it's Nintendo. So, when the DS was announced, it was practically assured that before long, a new Advance Wars game would show up. Lo and behold, almost a year after the DS's launch, that game has arrived. Thank god.

If you haven't played an Advance Wars game yet and you own a GBA, then you have a problem that needs to be remedied. Advance Wars 1 received the highest score they've given any game in recent memory (9.9). Advance Wars 2, while being less praised by the gaming media (it's a little hard to live up to a game that was nearly perfect), was still one of the best games on the GBA platform. So, with Advance Wars: Dual Strike, it's not exactly unexpected that the game kicks ass.

[note: if you don't want to read my drawl for three hours and you just want me to get to the point, scroll down to the bottom for a summary]

Features
Advance Wars: Dual Strike is a turn-based military strategy game that takes place in the troubled world of Omega Land. There's a 28-mission campaign with two difficulties (Hard Mode is unlocked after beating the regular campaign), the War Room, 3 different Survival Modes, Vs Mode, and Combat Mode. The game also allows you to change the colors and outfits of all of the playable characters (COs), make your own maps, and choose the background image. On top of that, there is a robust (albeit somewhat pointless) stat-tracking mode. Finally, there is an incredibly awesome multiplayer mode.

Gameplay
AWDS (note the clever acronym) basically goes like this:
-select unit on map
-move unit
-attack other unit
Now, there are variations from this formula with some units, such as indirect units (units that attack other units from far away) or Landers (boats that transport land units across water), but that's the basic idea. This may seem simple now, but a few minutes of playing AWDS will show you just how complicated things can get. After enough playing, though, things will start to get easier. That's when you realize how awesome AWDS truly is. See, while it might seem complicated at times, it really is kinda basic. You have to give Intelligent Systems credit for making a (fairly) simple game so deep.

Also, to incorporate the whole "dual-screen-ness" of the DS, Intelligent Systems has made two-front battles. Basically, you play two different maps at once. If you're losing one front, you can send units from the other front to help yourself out. Two-front battles are kind of cool, but I personally think that the good old-fashioned one-front battle is more fun.

COs
When you play Advance Wars, you play as a CO. In AWDS, you may pick from a plethora of different COs, each with their own unique abilities and personalities. Some COs develop units at a lower cost, and others are strong with some units and weak with others. A new addition to AWDS is tag-teaming, which allows you to switch between COs in the middle of a battle. COs have different levels of compatibility (for instance, two sibling COs are more powerful when paired together, but other COs will see a drop in firepower when paired with their enemies). This all means that you must do a lot of thinking about what CO(s) to use in battle. Oh, and with one or two exceptions, every CO is cheap. It's been very difficult to make CO rankings for everyone because so many COs are good in their own way and very few are too powerful or too sucky.

Power! Unlimited Power!
Some things that can be complicated at first is CO Powers, Super CO Powers, and the brand-new Tag Powers. After your units have done/taken a certain amount of damage, you can unleash special abilities, like a boost to your units' firepower or an added movement range. Tag Powers basically give you two turns in one - when you activate your tag power, you essentially activate the Super CO Power of your first CO. Then, you move and attack like you would in a normal turn, only instead of ending that turn, you switch to your other CO. All of your units are then allowed to move and attack again, with the aid of your second CO's Super CO Power. CO Powers have always been a staple in Advance Wars, but many (myself somewhat included) feel that Tag Powers are taking things too far - some tag teams are almost broken due to the absolute cheapness of them.

Units
There are three kinds of units in Advance Wars: Dual Strike: land, sea, and air units. Within each are direct- and indirect-combat units, as well as transport units. Direct-combat units are units that attack the enemy head-on. A direct attack means that the enemy gets to counterattack right there, so attacking a Mega Tank with an Infantry isn't such a great idea, since it means no damage is done to that beast of a tank, but you instantly lose your infantry. Indirect combat units don't have to worry about counterattacks, as they can only attack units more than one space away (of course, on your opponent's turn, they can always just attack your indirects, so be sure to guard them). Transport units are used for (take a guess) transporting other units. Some units can only transport (and not attack), but some are hybrids.

The units are really a lions, tigers, and bears kind of deal: there are many, and they are varied. You've got footsoldiers, rocket launchers, a couple different tanks, anti-aircraft missiles, bombers, fighters, copters, subs, lander boats, aircraft carriers, and everything in between.

Now, probably the coolest thing about Advance Wars DS is the fact that there isn't really a broken unit anywhere. Each unit has its advantages and disadvantages - for example, the Bomber can take out most land units effortlessly, but when an Anti-Air rolls up, the Bomber will get shredded. It's stuff like this that makes the game fun. This whole "rock-paper-scissors" system is a large part of the strategy in this game, as you constantly have to be using your opponents' weaknesses to your advantage and guarding your own weaknesses carefully.

Skills
Skills are another new addition to the DS's Advance Wars game. Skills are basically minor abilities that you can give to your COs to boost them in some way. Some make your attacks stronger, some boost your defense, and some boost your luck. Really, though, there are two problems with skills:
1. Most of them are pointless. Seriously, some just suck so bad that it's a waste to ever even think of using them.
2. They make the game easy. You can use them to nullify your COs' weaknesses, and to many veterans of Advance Wars, this is a big annoyance. However, they're totally optional, so you can run through the game without them if you want to.

The AI
The AI in this game is much improved from previous installments. It will no longer religiously pursue any APCs that you produce, whether there's something in them or not. Also, it no longer "cheats" in Fog of War - it will know where your units are, but it won't be able to attack them unless they're within your range (basically, it has to follow the same rules as you now). One thing's for sure, though: it will be a challenge to beat. Also, they can destroy pipe seams this time around. Woohoo! Oh, and in Vs/Multiplayer, you can actually pick from one of four presets on what you want the AI behavior to be like.

Campaign
The evil forces of the Black Hole army are doing their thing (wreaking havoc), and someone needs to stop them. The game centers around two COs from the country of Orange Star, Jake and Rachael. Basically, Black Hole is somehow leeching the life from the land, turning everything into desert, and the Allied Nations of Orange Star, Blue Moon, Green Earth, and Yellow Comet must stop them. Now, in campaign, you can use most of the COs from those countries, but sadly, some of the coolest are never available to you for use. However, the campaign is long, although ridiculously easy to someone who's got a little experience with past Advance Wars games, even without the use of Skills.

Now, in Hard Campaign, things get a little harder, but not by much. Basically, I struggled to get through 5-ish missions in the AW2 Hard Campaign before giving up, but I got through this game's Hard Campaign with no trouble. The cool thing about Hard Campaign, though, is that you can use whatever COs you may have unlocked outside of Campaign Mode (yes, even Black Hole COs). Overall, both campaigns will be pretty damn easy for veterans, although they do provide a challenge for new players, especially with the new AI.

Oh, one more thing: some of the characters (Jake) are just flat-out annoying. Seriously, you will be glad when you learn that you can press Start to skip conversations. As for the plot, it's not exactly an Oscar-winner... But this game isn't really one that needs a fantastic plot anyway.

War Room
The War Room is where the challenge is for many people. Basically, the idea is that you play through maps where things are severely titled in your disadvantage. Also, you play across four difficulty settings (which don't affect the AI's difficulty, just whether or not you can use things like Skills). The problem is that many of the maps are really kind of easy. However, there are a bunch that still provide a challenge. Also, there are a freaking ton of maps, so you won't be clearing all of War Room for a looooong time.

The War Room maps vary from standard 1v1 battles. Sure, there are a lot like that, but there are also 1v2 and 1v3 maps, as well as dual-screen (two-front) battles. Oh, and trust me, the 1v3 maps may seem quite intimidating at first, but they are beatable.

Survival
Survival mode basically places a limit on you in one of three different ways, and then forces you to play through a series of maps to see how long you last. The limits are in time, turns, and money. With each one, you start out with a certain amount and "spend" that amount as you go along, with no way to get any time, turn, or money back. Survival is cool, but for me, I didn't spend very much time in it before going back to the other modes.

Vs Mode
Vs mode kicks ass. Basically, you can play a round on any of the War Room or multiplayer maps (or one of your designed maps), and you can customize the battle in a ton of different ways. You can play against computers and/or a friend (by passing the DS around). That's right, full-fledged multiplayer with only one system and only one game! It's awesome. You can pick your and your computer opponents' COs, how much money each city provides, the weather, even objectives... The list goes on. Overall, this is probably the best freaking mode in the whole game, due to the cheap multiplayer and flood of options.

Multiplayer
Multiplayer basically is Vs Mode, only with multiple games and systems. Yeah, in order to play the standard Advance Wars game with multiple systems, you'll need a copy of the game for everyone. Ummm, not much else to mention, but it's basically lag-free.

Combat mode
Ugh. Combat mode is what was originally billed as "real-time Advance Wars", but ended up being an action-minigame that was poorly executed and hardly any fun at all. In Combat, you control one unit (you can pick a few from Mech, Artillery, Tank, and Recon units) and take on an entire army. I guess it might work somehow, but in its final form, it's nothing more than a lame minigame. Oh, if you want to do single-card multiple-system multiplay, your only option is Combat mode. Yikes.

Designing Maps
Yes, a very awesome feature of AWDS is the ability to make your own custom maps. You have very few restrictions (those being the size of the map and how many units or cities you can place on the map), although some types of... thingies can't be put on the map (those being special types of buildings built by Black Hole that shoot you). Other than that, you're free to create. Sadly, you only get three save slots, which, at least for me, is nowhere near enough. Seriously, though, the Map Editor allows you to make multiplayer maps FAAAAR better than the ones the game gives you, so it's awesome.

Graphics
At first glance, the game doesn't look much better than its GBA counterparts. On closer inspection, however, the camera is made bigger, so you can see a fair amount more than you could on the GBA, due to the DS's higher screen resolution. Apart from that, the graphics really are in the vein of the many "GBA+" games appearing on the DS, in that it doesn't exactly look like a technological masterpiece. However, the graphics really aren't bad... I would call them "practical".

Sound
Okay, the sound can be annoying at times. Most of the tunes are just remixes/alterations of older Advance Wars music. There's no voice acting, although I almost think that's a good thing. The gun sounds and explosions aren't exactly modern marvels, but again, I would consider it practical, since this game isn't about immersion at all.

Length
I really think you could run through both campaigns in 15 hours if you're good, but there's so much more to do that it's hard to give an exact estimate of how long this will last. If you really want to 100% this game, you will be playing for a long, long time - I'll say that much.

SUMMARY
+Gameplay is fun and surprisingly deep - you will need to think
+The units are balanced, there's counters for basically everything
+There are lots of COs (~26), and they all have their purpose
-Skills are either broken or stupid
+Campaign is pretty long
-Campaign is pretty easy, especially for vets
+War Room is long, but not easy
+Vs Mode is what completes this game's awesomeness - single system multiplayer FTW
-Combat mode is an underwhelming minigame that shouldn't be in the game
+Designing maps gives you the option of creativity, and kickass maps can be made
+Graphics and sound are both nothing special, but good enough
+The game is damn long
+The game is damn long (I mentioned it twice to give you an idea of how long it is)

Overall, Advance Wars: Dual Strike is a fitting addition to the growing Advance Wars series. It provides a portable device with a deep and fun strategy game. Because of that, I give it a 9 out of 10.

Rent or buy? Quite simply, there is so much to do in Advance Wars: Dual Strike that it would simply be a shame to have to return it after a few days. To buy is your only option here.

FINAL SCORE: 9


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/24/06, Updated 04/10/06


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