Review by clarkisdark

"Love and War"

The cleverness of naming the Game Boy Advance's strategy war game "Advance Wars" doesn't carry over into naming the Nintendo DS's version "DS Wars." I can see why nobody bothered with it. Advance Wars: Dual Strike does go for the cheesy subtitle with "DS" for initials, however. Ugh. There's no need to call every DS game "Cool Game DS," just like there wasn't a need to label every N64 title "Cool Game 64" or every Super Nintendo title "Super Cool Game." Oh well. The trend has been set. Let's hope Advance Wars can set other trends for the DS, as this is one of the system's first really good games. Hear, hear!

There is nothing cute about war, but the brightly-colored and cartoony facade of this game somehow works without being a mockery. If I didn't know better, I'd say those were kids running the tanks. Anyway, Advance Wars: Dual Strike doesn't deviate much from the graphics of its predecessors. It looks a little cleaner than the GBA games but not by much. The isometric view is plain and simple and shifts into a quick 2D fight whenever units clash. Of course, it wouldn't be a DS game without utilizing the second screen. Usually, this is reserved for information and stats, but occasionally a battle will take place on two fronts and cover both screens. It isn't necessary to split everything across two screens, but the added clarity is appreciated.

More and more, DS games have started to sound less like GBA games and more like an evolutionary step in handheld audio. Dual Strike sounds good. I take that back. It sounds great, which is why I go out of my way to haul my headphones around with me. The provided music is a nice accompaniment to battles, changing to fit whichever Commanding Officer is directing. Unleashing a character-specific power ignites a powerful and intense song that, in all honesty, never gets old. Listening to the clatter of footsteps across the terrain or the whirr of a tank add further to the involving atmosphere. Great stuff is at work.

Nintendo is known for producing simple, easily-accessible, kid-friendly stuff. While all that is clearly evident in the Advance Wars series (turn-based strategy war games for the uninformed), the amount of intelligence and depth involved is surprising and astounding. In fact, jumping right into a battle without any prior training proves to be very, very confusing. Luckily, Advance War's campaign mode does a great job introducing new elements one at a time until you've unknowingly learned all the intricacies of ground, air, and naval combat. For instance, APCs come across as totally worthless, because they can't fire. However, they have the ability to transport ground troops and resupply other units. Anti-air vehicles are great against helicopters and infantry but are weak against tanks. Infantry is the best suited to capturing cities and bases but is the weakest unit. The list goes on, creating a great selection to balance and manage.

Now if you've played the Game Boy Advance Wars before, you already know how this all works. What separates Dual Strike from the rest isn't just the addition of another screen and a couple new units. Commanding Officers can now team up to fight the same battle. This means you can switch between two COs at the end of a turn in order to take advantage of the other's abilities (i.e. how playing as Colin decreases the price of units). As you win and lose mini fights, a special meter slowly fills up. Using the meters separately dishes out superpowers unique to the present CO. If you have the patience to wait for both meters to max out, you can unleash a special Tag function that lets you take two turns back-to-back. The result is usually devastating and a complete turn-around for the current battle.

The Tag ability is great when you're using it, but the AI can completely destroy a well-placed army with this tactic. I find myself getting mad at the AI sometimes. It isn't stupid and will often surprise me by not falling for one of my "clever" traps. Advance Wars starts out really easy, though, which was kind of disappointing. You'll most likely restart a campaign one or two times until you find the right footing to start on, but then it's just a matter of patience until the enemy has been wiped out. By the time you reach Mission 20, however, things start to really pick up. A particular battle took me three hours to beat, because I had to keep restarting. This game really requires some kind of smarts on your part.

Lasting Appeal:
When I play Advance Wars: Dual Strike, I am totally engrossed. Each of the 28 campaign missions lasts at least an hour, but it feels like time well spent (whether it really is or not is debatable). The game also keeps track of just about everything imaginable, awarding medals when you reach certain markers (like buying so many of a particular unit). These medals are purely collectible, but the inclusion is fun. Earned experience points are used to purchase a harder campaign mode, special options, or maps for freeplay, and a random game against the computer is just as enjoyable as the dialogue-ridden campaigns. You can even save in the middle of a battle and pick it up at a later time. Unfortunately, this feature does not exist in wireless multiplayer. Because battles take so long, there is little likelihood you and a friend will finish in one sitting. Too bad for you, because you can't save your progress. Playing locally on one DS does grant this option, but I don't like sharing my DS with dirty-fingered people. Besides, sitting around and waiting for your turn with the DS is boring.Waiting in a wireless battle is also boring. It would have been nice if you could play a GBA game on the top screen or do something while you waited-- but you can't.

I've put over 30 hours into Advance Wars: Dual Strike, and there is plenty more I haven't accomplished yet which I crave to do. That speaks volumes about this game. Advance Wars has given me a special kind of enjoyment I haven't gotten out of a video game for a very long time. I typically don't even like turn-based games, but this simple but deep take on war is highly intelligent and rewardingly engrossing. If you've never played Advance Wars before, now is the perfect time. I insist, you must play it. Already familiar with the series and its GBA versions? Well... Dual Strike isn't that drastically different, actually, but it fits the DS like a glove and should take immediate precedence over all the garbage released last year (Sprung, Rayman DS, etc. etc.). Strongly recommended.

+ Strategy required
+ Easy depth
+ Rewarding and engaging
+ So much to do
-- Multiplayer needs some help

Score: 10/10

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 12/10/05, Updated 12/16/05

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