"It'll be hard for the Advance Wars series to ever top this."

Most Advance Wars fans will tell you that Days of Ruin is the best game in the Advance Wars series. Well, it's not. Days of Ruin is fantastic, but it's got some major issues, namely only 12 COs and the CO power system being awful. The best game is actually Dual Strike, and it's really not close. Dual Strike culminates everything you've been working towards in pretty grand fashion. The game has nearly 30 total COs, a ton of new units, and a plot that actually feels like something beyond "go kill the bad guys".

Oh it's still a simple story, mind, but Dual Strike makes you feel like you actually have something to fight for. It takes place in a new continent though, so you start off with Rachel and Jake instead of Nell and Andy. And the world is... a plague, more or less. Desert is spreading everywhere, and no one can really figure out why. It's Black Hole, of course, so off you go to foil their latest plot. This game offers a lot more plot-wise than Advance Wars 2's "Black Hole is invading and nothing else" stuff, which is nice, but obviously the plot will always be simple since no one is really playing Advance Wars games for deep storylines. You're not really going to see fallen empires and political intrigue here, and that's okay.

What everyone does play these for is the gameplay, and no game in the entire series does that better than Dual Strike. If you count the unlockable COs, Dual Strike has 27 in total and you can actually use whoever you want in the hard campaign -- which makes the hard campaign a joke until near the end, but whatever. Dual Strike is true to its name, in that you can use 2 COs on each map. They can tag in and out, both build meter and eventually unload a tag CO power where both of them get a turn in one go. Effectively everyone has Eagle's Lightning Strike, which is rather questionable but you only really have to deal with it in the campaign since no one uses that stuff in serious multiplayer. The mass of COs isn't exactly balanced, but balancing 27 different things perfectly without making them all identical is an impossible task. Like always, the different COs all bring their distinct personalities to the table and it shows in their units. For example Jake, the main character, has this whole rockin out to music while driving thing going on, so his units have extra firepower on plains. A lot of old friends return in Dual Strike, but you'll also meet a lot of new ones and it never stops being fun.

The units themselves probably offer more in Dual Strike than in any other game of the entire series. First off, every unit from Advance Wars 2 comes back. Every single one. But unlike Advance Wars 2 where the only new unit was a Neotank, Dual Strike goes nuts with putting new things in. Most of it is a blast, a few things are gimmicky and it's all pretty good fun.

On the ground, you've got the same units you've always had. Infantry and mechs capture buildings, APCs supply and transport your guys, recons do scouting in fog of war, and your anti-airs, different variety of tanks and different variety of indirect combat units deal all the damage. You get two new ground units in Dual Strike, which are the Megatank and Piperunner. Megatanks are the one true tank in the entire Advance Wars series. These things barely move at all, but they also barely take any damage. If they get the jump on any other ground unit and attack first, it's almost always a one hit KO. Piperunners are... weird, but neat when you're actually able to use them. They're these cool indirect units that can only move on pipes, but they move a long way, deal insane damage and actually have decent defense compared to your other indirect units. There's a war room map that's pretty much designed entirely for you to abuse Grit and Piperunners, and it's freaking hilarious.

In the air, you've still got your transport copters, battle copters, fighter jets and bombers. Transport copters transport (obviously), battle copters are amazing at countering ground units other than anti-airs, fighter jets destroy any other air unit and bombers.... bomb things. The new air units are the Black Bomb and the Stealth Fighter, which are ungodly expensive but they basically exist solely to break stalemates. For 25000 bucks, a black bomb can fly a long way, blow up and deal everything in a massive radius 5 damage. Against a Grit with the perfect defense? Black Bomb him. Stealth Fighters are equally awesome, and you can do all sorts of silly things with them. True to the name, they can go into stealth mode in the air. When they do, the only unit in the entire game that can engage them in combat (and this is only after the stealth unit is discovered) is the fighter jet. This leads to all sorts of mean tricks.

Lastly is naval combat, which got the biggest upgrade of all. Landers are back, doing the transport thing landers do. Battleships are back, raining death from 6 panels away. Cruisers are back, broken as ever until you stealth them out of existence, and subs are back, blasting things away from underwater like subs have always done. But unlike the past, now you get BLACK BOATS. These are seriously the best unit in Dual Strike. They're basically water APCs that transport units and supply, but they aren't restricted to naval for whatever reason. Meaning you can park a bomber next to a black boat and the bomber gets refueled somehow. They can refuel and repair any other unit in the entire game, which is nuts.

Yes, repair. One HP per day, though it isn't free. You pay the HP cost, but that's not really the point. You get to throw out water APCs that heal anything they can get next to. You also get carriers, which are an absolutely absurd anti-air indirect unit that can fire from 183 panels away (all numbers approximate) on top of being an airport for stealth fighters. It all adds up to the same massive game of rock-paper scissors we've always loved, and in the campaign you get ton of random new things to blow up, like black crystals and obelisks and cannons and the absurdly evil OHKO oozium units.

Last but not least are all the little things that have always done into the Advance Wars games. Fuel costs, weather, movement penalties, infantry revealing a lot from on top of mountains in fog of war, beaches, terrain bonuses and the like are all back, and this stuff is arguably the most important part of any Advance Wars game. Without it, these games would be a big shell with no center.

Dual Strike doesn't only have the best gameplay, though. It has the best graphics in the entire series, including even Days of Ruin. The combat screen finally looks like an actual combat screen instead of an amorphous mass of blobby pixels, which is long overdue and a welcome addition. It also has the best or second best overall soundtrack in the series, depending on how highly you value the best tracks from Days of Ruin.

The one concern most people will have is how any game on the DS will mesh with DS gimmickry that Nintendo has been forcing upon us these last few years. You can control the entire game from the touch screen if you really want, and honestly the missions in the campaign that use both screens are pretty neat. A lot of new things are tried -- some work, and some don't. The only real downer is the last mission having a secondary front you can't control, but you can send units up there and the top screen will eventually get smashed anyway.

Overall, this stuff adds up to what is objectively the best game in the entire series. If you have a problem with Dual Strike, then you have a problem with yourself.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 01/12/12

Game Release: Advance Wars: Dual Strike (US, 08/22/05)

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