Review by nirual

"Stunning Comeback of the best turn-based Handheld Strategy Game"

Introduction

After the rather subpar Black Hole Rising (still a great game but didn't feel that much different from the first one), the next part of the popular series enters the DS for an amazing expansion of its gameplay variety. New units, new CO's (Commanding Officers), new modes, new music and a lot more.

Graphics: 9/10

For many, this is the point that is the most disappointing about AW DS. The changes are minimal, a few unit models got improved, the view is now slightly isometric and features some added goodies like the shadows of clouds moving over the field. AW:DS also features for the first time terrain sets, apart from the normal one you can have your battlefield covered in snow or as a desert or wasteland. The quality of the CO's graphics have also been improved and the actual fights feature some pseudo-3d aswell as the CO's commenting on the outcome using expressions such as "great" or "oh no".

However, the lack of shiny graphics is more than weighted up with all the additional stuff they fitted into this package.

Sound: 9.5/10

As before, the different tunes sound great and while all old CO's still have the same themes, they sound simply better now. New themes include Jakes Rock Music style theme aswell as some rather creepy themes for the new Black Hole CO's. In total, the game features 67 different tracks which you can listen to in the Sound Room feature. Only the main menu sound is a bit annoying because of static noises.

Controls: 8/10

Not much to say here. The controls haven't changed much, only the X button finds some new use and while the new features aren't really used, you can control the game without any buttons using the stylus. This however has a few flaws and occasionally doesn't do what you wanted. The stylus is great for the Map Design Mode though.

Story: 8/10

Once again, the mysterious and sinister Black Hole Army is attacking (do they ever learn?), this time on the continent of Omega Land. The 4 nations unite as the Allied Nations to counter this threat. Yeah, naming places never was the strong point of AW, but in the end it doesn't really matter. Even though the Story starts out sort of lame with Black Hole returning even though you supposedly beaten the stuff out of them in AW2, it features some rather interesting twists and the new characters are sort of deep. Apart from the normal storytelling between and during missions, the Campaign has some interludes, for example a page from a diary of one of the new CO's which add to the atmosphere. Also, unlike previously, you'll eventually discover the motives of the new Black Hole Leader, while you never really knew what Sturm was after (other than generic world domination).

Gameplay: 10/10

as mentioned before, the game offers not only all the maps and CO's from previous games, but also a lot of new features.

For one part, the top screen can now be used for a second battle. In a normal Versus fight, you can simply select a second map on top of your first and you got a dual screen fight. You don't have to win on the secondary front, as its called in-game, but doing so gives you a great advantage over the enemy team, as the victorious CO joins the main front afterwards, allowing for a Tag Battle.
Naturally, the War Room offers some DS fights.

You can also use Tag Battles in normal fights though. A Tag team consists out of 2 CO's switching at commanding the army with their different strengths and weaknesses. This adds a whole new level of tactic as you combine different COs and use whoever is better suited at the moment. Also, a Tag Team has 2 CO Power Bars to fill, with the currently active CO getting charging his faster. Once both CO's have their bars filled, you can unleash a Tag Power.
A Tag Power is basically the first CO using his Super Power and moving the units, and then the second CO using his Super Power and moving again. Thats right, thats 2 turns in one. Some CO's also have Tag Affinities which also increase the firepower of units during a Tag Power. Some teams however don't really work well together and suffer a penalty.

Another novelty is that the CO's now get experience when used in battles that give you cash (Campaign and War Room). For every 1000 EPX (which is calculated the same way as cash), the CO ranks up. For the first 4 ranks, he gets a slot to place Force Ranks in, while rank 1 trough 9 grant him access to different tiers of Force Ranks, which are additional boni to the CO's troops, such as more direct damage, a faster charging CO power, more sight range or more damage while it snows.

Apart from the old modes, AW DS features a couple of new ones:
Survival Mode: beat a row of maps with a limit on time, money or turns
Combat Mode: some sort of a shooter where you directly control a unit and shot at enemy units. This mode offers only 4 units and 7 CO's, but with 3 difficulty modes and a row of maps its still fun to play. Combat Mode is also AW DS's version of Download Play, which is more fun than the previous AW games that only had a greatly limited version of the normal AW modes.

There is also a History option which lets you track tons of things, such as the units you've produced and destroyed or the total play time. Each objective also rewards you with 3 medals, giving you an incentive to try and complete as many of them as you can. Some of them are pretty cheesy however, such as the amount of units you deleted during a fight.

The Campaign mode is back to a set pattern, with the exception of 3 "lab" missions that you have to unlock in the previous mission by capturing a certain city. These give you, like in AW2, access to new Black Hole weapons. As usual, most maps don't have any special objectives and are simply about defeating every single enemy or capturing the HQ, but quite some maps offer some special features.

While AW2 only introduced one new unit, the Neotank, AW DS has no less than 6 new units, ranging from realistic units like the Carrier, a ship that can transport up to 2 planes and can shoot down air units from afar to futuristic Black Hole Inventions like the Black Bomb which works similar to Missile Silos. Black Hole also uses a couple of new structures. The AW2 factories are, thankfully, gone (These allowed the BH army to produce up to 3 units per turn for free), but the other structures like Pipelines and Black Cannons are back.

The game also offers a great deal of new CO's with most of the old ones being back, except Sturm. 2 of the new Black Hole CO's however are very similar to 2 AW2 Black Hole COs, Flack and Adder. In the Campaign, those two don't appear at all and it seems like they were supposed to be replaced completely, but they are still available for other modes. Many of the old CO's got some tweaking and are much more interesting to play. And with Tag Battles the possibilities of usage got that much increased that you won't get bored anytime soon.

The only downside is the scaling of difficulty in the Campaign and the Survival Modes. Most of the Campaign modes are easy to accomplish with a perfect (S) rank, even in Hard Mode, but a few of them have a irritating difficulty spike that will frustrate you greatly until you found the right strategy.

Design Mode also experienced some changes. Every CO has apart from color changes a alternative costume unlocked when they reach rank 10, and as a new feature you can pick Wallpapers for your game. Most of them are unlocked by beating the Campaign, more precisely, the 3 most used CO's get their wallpapers unlocked.

The game easily offers around 60 hours of fun, even more if you want to unlock every bit of it, such as getting every CO to rank 10, unlocking their wallpaper or getting every medal. All the old versus maps and many new ones provide lots of variety and you can always design a map yourself. A bit disappointing however, you can still only save 3 custom maps.

Conclusion:

AW DS is a great sequel to the series and exceeded my expectations a lot. If you didn't get a DS yet because you didn't see any great game, this just might be the reason to get one.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 04/03/06


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