Review by bluej33

"Break Out the Tanks--It's Time for War!"

What comes to mind when you think of the words “video game”? Perhaps mindless shooting of unnamed enemies, long, involved role-playing games, or high-speed racing through city streets at night. Does thinking come to mind? Probably not. Well, Intelligent Systems, one of the most respected names in game development, is going to change the way you think about video games. Advance Wars, released in 2001, was a huge hit, and soon a follow-up game was released. Now, Intelligent Systems provides for us mindless gamers a third installment in the beloved franchise–Advance Wars: Dual Strike.

The most stand-out characteristic of this game is the fact that it makes you think so hard. To truly enjoy all that Advance Wars has to offer, you'll have to throw out all your pre-conceived notions of video games, because Advance Wars will change your entire view on the matter. The game is divided up into around 30 missions, with the mission goals remaining pretty much the same the entire way through: simply capture the enemy's Headquarters. Well, this isn't as simple as it might sound. You are given a certain number of different units, ranging from infantry to artillery to battleships to aircraft. With these soldiers at your disposal, you must fight your way through enemy soldiers and conquer the opposing commanding officer. The true difficultly lies merely in maneuvering your troops and utilizing them in a way that will result in victory. Even on the lowest difficulty setting, the AI in Advance Wars is brutal. You cannot rely on force alone; in fact, you're usually outnumbered in the battles. Instead, you need to have a keen mind and keep your wits about you if you wish to come out victorious in Advance Wars.

“Leave the thinking for homework”, you might say. After all, video games are supposed to be a way to unwind and relax, not tense up and have to think hard! Well, you cannot know how wrong you'd be. Sure, Advance Wars offers a wonderful challenge. But above even that, the game is just genuinely fun. Commanding your vast array of soldiers and pulling off brilliant strategic moves makes you feel like a true armchair general, and the game will have you hooked for hours. Perhaps the most interesting game play feature in Advance Wars is the Commanding Officers that you use to actually order your troops about. Rather than simply commanding from an unnamed viewpoint, or even commanding from the perspective from a soldier on the field, you order your troops in Advance Wars DS as one of many Commanding Officers. There are more than 20 COs throughout the game, and each of them differs drastically. Every CO has a specialty of some type; some excel in urban warfare, while others perform well in messy weather. After perusing the battlefied and developing a strategy, you must then choose a CO that you wish to use. In order to win the mission, you will need to choose a CO that not only suits your style of play, but also one that would perform well on the map at hand. Some maps are very large and complex, so it's often hard to develop a successful strategy using only one CO. Well, that's where another crucial game play element of the game comes in, and it's also where the game get's its subtitle: Dual Strike.

As we living in materialistic-America love to think: the more the better! Well, that's certainly the case in Advance Wars DS. As said before, sometimes one CO just isn't enough to provide a successful battle strategy. Well, don't worry, because in this installment of Advance Wars, you have the ability to choose two COs per map–at one point, you'll even get to use six at a time! This isn't gimmicky at all, and it's not just thrown in there to give Intelligent Systmes an excuse to release another game. Instead, it plays a very critical part in how skirmishes unfold, because there are numerous skills that different COs that you will need to take advantage of in battles. For example, if there is a large amount of cities on a map and it is also snowing hard, then you should pick the two commanders that will be able to best utilize the conditions. The COs add a tremendous amount of strategy to the battles, and they are incorporated into battles in several different ways. For example, in some battles, you get to use two officers at once, and switch them at will. In other missions, there are actually two separate maps, each a different “front”. Each commander controls one front, but units can be exchanged between the two fronts. Overall, it's wonderful what was done with the Commanding Officers. They provide a tremendous amount of customization and strategy to the game, and make the game more challenging and more fun.

Because of the amazing game play of Advance Wars, other aspects of the game are put in a poor light. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though, because the campaign itself sets a very high standard for the rest of the game to follow. The plot has a very weak presence throughout the game, and you get the feeling that it's there only because it has to be. The plot is certainly nothing new: the world is under attack from the Black Hole Army (that's right, for the THIRD time), and it's up to you to stop them. The plot stale and unoriginal, but it does help to push the game along a bit.

Graphically, Advance Wars DS is very unimpressive, merely because it's no different from its GBA prequels. Animations and character renders were clearly stripped directly from past games, and it obviously shows. Breakthrough graphics are not an expectation when it comes to DS games, but it is nice just to see an improvement from past games. However, the music in Advance Wars is phenomenal, and completely makes up for the lack of quality in the graphics. Each of the several COs has their own soundtrack, which plays whenever they're ordering about troops on the field. The music ranges from soothing classical themes to hard rock full of pick slides and other such heavy metal musical implementations. All in all, the music definitely showed off the developers' amazing creativity, and it's a real pity that the same attention wasn't given to the game's visuals.

Even once you finally beat the campaign mode, Advance Wars continues to please thanks to a number of extra gaming features. To be honest, the amount of game play time that Advance Wars offers is mind-blowing; you can easily have 50 hours of fun with this game. To begin with, there are almost 50 extra maps that allow you to hone your tactical commanding skills even further. In addition to tons of extra maps, two extra difficulty modes are available for you to unlock, as well as additional COs and the game's complete soundtrack. The fun does not even stop there, though, because Advance Wars DS sports a fantastic multiplayer mode. Using download play, you can compete with a friend in a real-time battle that is very uncharacteristic of Advance Wars games. If some of your friends have a copy of the game themselves, however, you can compete in huge turn-based multiplayer wars. Even more unique maps are available for this mode, as well as the ability to play on maps that you have created yourself using the level editor. There is a tremendous amount of extra game play features in Advance Wars, and truly do ensure that you'll never get bored of the game.

Advance Wars: Dual Strike is a wonderful example of just how amazing a DS game can be. Intelligent Systems jam-packed this game with everything you could possibly want, which include a long, fun campaign, numerous extra maps, fantastic multiplayer, and an amazing soundtrack. It's an amazing gaming experience, all bundled up and ready for you to play on the go. Advance Wars presents a strong case for being the best DS game on the market today, and no DS owner's collection is complete without this masterpiece of strategical gaming.

In a word: Amazing

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 05/29/07

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