Review by NDS_Master

"Touching World Domination"

When the Game Boy Advance first came out, Nintendo was so pleased with their newest portable that they decided it needed special treatment. After all, it was the most futuristic handheld of its time, sporting flashy 2-d graphics and a vibrant screen display. To advertise their success in creating such an advanced portable, Nintendo created a turn based strategy game with the simple name of Advance Wars.

Although it might have seemed that Nintendo was only being a braggart with such a name, those that ventured out to play Advance Wars quickly realized it was much more about quality gaming than it was about hype. Later, caving into the demands of tacticians everywhere, Nintendo broke down and threw Advance Wars: Black Hole Rising into the arena. Fans gobbled up the gameplay like a Thanksgiving Day turkey, and soon Advance Wars was established as a profitable franchise.

With its enormous prosperity on the Game Boy Advance, observers knew that the DS would be in need of a solid Advance Wars game. However, diehard fans threatened Nintendo with inflammatory mail once they learned that the beloved series would move to a system that did not have enough self esteem as to deem itself an advanced portable. Seriously, the DS stayed low with its dual screen label, never venturing out to claim it was superior. Such a system failed to deserve the quality the Advance Wars brought to the industry.

In shock at the sudden outbreak of rage, Nintendo knew that it would have to do something drastic to unify the gamers initiating riots all across the globe. Playing off of the dual screen concept of the DS, Nintendo joined together the game's commanders to establish a new power displaying the awesomeness of the DS: the dual strike. The brilliance of such a move was more than enough to warrant it being slapped on every game cover, and Advance Wars: Dual Strike was born. By combining the advancements of the GBA with the multiplicity of the DS, Nintendo released a marvelous game that players all over the spectrum could accept and enjoy.

Unfortunately, the enjoyment does not begin right away. Omega Land, once a thriving nation, is being transformed into a desolate desert at the hands of the sinister Black Hole army, and with a secret weapon they are threatening the survival of all countries. Such a dire situation leaves no time for fun.

Well, maybe not. Advance Wars has an intriguing plot, but it is in no way a hindrance to the game. Even in alarming circumstances, a layer of lightheartedness covers the characters involved in the plot. The good guys, comprised of Green, Blue, Yellow, and Orange Moon commanders, make jokes about the battles and often resort to some good-natured slang to slander their opponents. Despite their evilness, Black Hole generals also keep the casual setting intact with laughable dialogue. Since Advance Wars is all about having fun while saving the world, the mood fits in perfectly with the storyline, offering a truly enjoyable experience.

So, the atmosphere is all fun, but that does not mean achieving goals in the game is simple. Every Advance Wars game boasts a complex battle system, and with its two screens Dual Strike is the biggest boaster of them all. For each level, there is a map consisting of several squares that represent various types of terrain, including mountains, forests, plains, seas, and cities. Filling these spaces are units from both sides, which will have to go head-to-head in a fierce battle. On their turn, players will be able to select a unit and perform actions based on that unit's abilities. They all have a certain amount of spaces that they can move, and after they move most troops or vehicles can perform an action such as capturing a building, supplying other units with fuel or ammo, or attacking. As this is a turn based strategy game, once a team is done the next team gets a chance to push its own evil agenda.

Now, at the beginning of a skirmish several units from both sides of the fighting will start on the playing field. But, it is possible to garner new fighters during the war. In many of the levels are factories, which either side can capture using foot soldiers. If a factory is in the control of an army, that army can create one ground unit per turn in that factory. Along with that, airports and docks allow air and sea vehicles to be manufactured. All of it costs money, of course, and players will be able to obtain cash through the cities they control or the battles fare well in.

The heart of this game is the battles. Once a unit is within range of an adversary, they can choose to attack. Usually they must be adjacent to each other, but indirect attackers such as Artillery can fire from a few spaces away. When a battle is initiated, the screen changes to show both parties and the armies that occupy the fighting spaces. First the attacker will deal a blow to the defenders, after which the weakened force will have a chance to retaliate.

Since the battles are indeed the heart of the gameplay, there is so much more to them. For starters, the Allied Nations and Omega Land have a plethora of lethal units ready to fight, ranging from jets to ships to tanks to infantry. And those are just general categories -- every single military force mentioned has a variety of units, making the game even more diverse. With forces specially designed to counter part of the enemy host and each with unique weapons and characteristics, deciphering the units alone can be a dizzying part of mastering Advance Wars.

Although the battle system seems complex, everything about it has not been covered. Yes, it gets so much more disconcerting. To oversee the actions of the individual task forces, both sides have commanders, known as COs. The commanders are controlled by either the gamer or the computer, and believe it or not they have an intense role to play. Every CO has his or her own strengths and weakness -- one may excel at fighting on the plains, another may acquire funds quickly, while still another may dominate the skies. Because of their unique effects on the army, choosing the person who will lead the assault is a vital part of the beginning of every game. Should the general prove to be unequipped to face the challenges presented, the duel could be over before it even gets started.

While an army dukes it out with the enemy, the CO leading it will gain power. This is represented by stars next to the CO's name that fill up. Once enough star power is acquired, the leader may commence a power or a super power, both of which furnish the commander with a valuable strength. Sometimes it is as dull as increasing firepower, but at other times it is as interesting as an electric bolt that falls from the sky in the middle of the enemy army, zapping opponents into temporary disablement and dealing damage at the same time.

Basically, that is what Advance Wars is all about. Its battles, COs, and power attacks have given it a place in gaming history, making it one of Nintendo's most popular franchises. However, when it jumped onto the Nintendo DS it did not conform to its predecessors; instead it added many features that make it far superior to those that went before it. Obviously, it now uses the touch screen, permitting players to choose actions with a tap of the stylus. Traditional buttons are also available, and gamers will have to figure out which method of play they prefer. Since both have benefits and blemishes, neither is dominant over the other.

Along with the touch screen control, new units have been added to the game. The coolest of these are the Megatank and the Stealth Fighter, ultra powerful and expensive units with a talent for obliteration. Also, the top screen typically displays fact and figures about units and the terrain, making it super easy to find necessary information.

Despite the traditional, unavoidable changes that come with a dual screen system, Advance Wars: Dual Strike goes a few steps farther than its predecessors. For each army, there can be not only one but two COs. This allows players to take advantage of completely different CO powers while staring in the face of destruction. Each leader can only use his or her strengths when leading the troops, so a simple end-of-turn commander change is necessary to activate another's abilities.

What is best about the dual leadership, however, is the ultimate power move known as the dual strike. When both COs have a full power meter, they can team up to initiate the dual strike. Basically, the two COs use their super powers, and they get to take turns back-to-back. While using a dual strike, a player will use two turns before the enemy attains even one. This gives an amazing advantage, so whatever team uses the move will temporarily gain the upper hand.

However, the dual screens sometimes present a problem for the dual strike. Occasionally, the two COs will have to split up and fight on two different battlefields. One starts off on the touch screen with the other beginning on the top screen. Once both sides are done taking turns attacking on one front, the alternate front will move to the touch screen and the secondary COs can duke it out. Usually, the first front is the only one the matters. But, when someone wins the secondary front, the CO that was leading the effort will be able to join up with the leader in charge of the main front. This allows them to take on the enemy two against one, giving them a major edge.

That nearly covers the gameplay. These techniques are mostly used in Campaign, which sends gamers on missions in an attempt to learn the secrets of the Black Hole army and send them to their timely demise. It has great length, and even greater difficulty, though the challenge factor may vary from level to level. Sometimes players will begin crying and calling for mommy because a battle is so hard, while other times, even near the end, the gamers will feel like Napoleon Bonaparte due to the ease of the mission. Should the regular campaign not satisfy difficulty desires, however, hard mode will decimate Napoleon wannabes, forcing them to resort to toddleresque mannerisms.

War Room stands besides Campaign with virtually the exact same gameplay, only it contains individual missions that strategists can unlock by continually playing the different game modes. All the missions in Campaign and War Room and also graded depending on how well the gamer does, which makes them even more interesting. Survival follows a similar idea, but it take players on a journey through several missions. However, in Survival tacticians will receive a set number of turns, cash, or time to finish the game.

And, finally, Combat remains alone at the bottom of the list of ways to play Advance Wars. In it, players receive multiple units (though they can only use one at a time), which they use as if they were in the normal game. The only difference is Combat is real time, so the gamers control their units as they attempt to decimate the enemy army. It is humorous and challenging, but it is only a minor part of the overall game play. Combat lasts about five hours before it gets dull, which is not that bad. However, compared to the twenty hours required to play through Campaign once --along with sixty to ninety hours of lasting gaming value after that -- Combat is nothing in comparison with the rest of the game.

Of course, the replay value is increased even more when multiplayer comes into the picture. Although single card download play disappointing permits only Combat, multi-card play offers the full extent of Advance Wars to two totally different players. Since gamers will be able to try their hand against their friends in entertaining arenas, multiplayer is sure to be a favorite among tactical geniuses.

With such hullabaloo surrounding the gameplay in Advance Wars: Dual Strike, it is tempting to think that the graphics did not procure any attention. Unfortunately, that is correct. They graphics in Advance War DS are by no means bad, but they just are not outstanding. Just about nothing was updated in the change from the GBA version to the DS version, so the battlefields still feature basic 2-d graphics. The fight scenes are nice, but still mostly 2-d. All the characters are 2-d, all the units are 2-d, and all the cut scenes are 2-d.

Perhaps the 2-dness seems redundant, but face it: that is all the game consists of. It is sad considering how much the DS is capable of, though it really does not matter. Everything looks great, and the graphics flow smoothly while accurately displaying every aspect of battle. The graphics might not have received the desired update; however, they did not need improvement to begin with. 2-d looks just fine, and it is more than sufficient for Advance Wars DS. Besides, the sight of wimpy foot soldiers getting blown off the screen as a result of the machine gun of a Megatank is so funny gamers will hardly realize what they are watching is only in two dimensions.

On the other hand, sound earned a few nice touchups. Every CO has a special song that plays when it is his or her turn, and all the songs are stuffed with quality. Admittedly, the music is replayed constantly. However, it never becomes repetitive. Instead, it draws players into the battle at hand. Since most of the focus will be on military decisions, none of the music matters much. Nevertheless, it is well crafted and enjoyable to listen to during the most intense of firefights.

Besides the music, sound effects are also blatantly present. Simple actions such as a tank driving from one space to another have accompanying sound effects, which are nice to listen to and very appropriate. Of particular interest are the effects played alongside battle scenes -- they fit beautifully. While it might not be the greatest thing to listen to outside of the game, Advance Wars DS has sound that players will appreciate immensely while they are immersed in gameplay.

To be blunt, there's nothing not to like in Advance Wars: Dual Strike. It has a superb gaming heritage, and its new features totally blow its predecessors away. Not only that, but quality graphics and awesome sound round out this replay value intense game to make it one of the top DS games of all time. Some might have responded in an outburst when Nintendo first brought Advance Wars DS to the table, but those who refuse to acknowledge its brilliance are little more than dolts. Without question, this game must be in the gaming library of every strategy gamer who owns a DS.

Storyline: 8.8
Controls: 8.6
Gameplay: 8.8
Graphics: 7.4
Sound: 8.5
Replay Value: 9.3
Multiplayer: 8.2
Overall: 9.2

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/09/06

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