Review by Eric43

Reviewed: 01/28/08 | Updated: 02/28/08

The Good, the Bad, and the Ruined

Advance Wars, since its time on the NES, had a knack for its G-rated war-themed gameplay, making a turn-based strategy game have more in common with Good Burger than Saving Private Ryan. This niche really boosted the series appeal for three games on the Gameboy Advance and DS, until someone at Intelligent Systems said “Screw that. We’re gonna nuke the earth, kill everyone, and start again. This is a man’s game, dammit.” Then Advance Wars: Days of Ruin wad made. Yes, the initial shock of pre-release photos had me going from hate to love within months, but I eventually picked up the game, being an Advance Wars fan and all.

For the most part, the bulk of the gameplay is still the same. In a grid-based battlefield of epic proportions, up to four players take turns building from the usual variety of units, such as infantry, tanks, artillery, ships, airplanes, and whatnot and try to defeat the other players' armies. Each unit has a certain cost and still have their own strengths and weaknesses—infantry can capture cities but are generally weak, tanks can blast most ground vehicles with ease, anti-airs can take out air units but are weak against tanks, the usual. Amid this, several groundbreaking changes to the gameplay involve a completely new cast of Commanding Officers (your “playable characters”), a handful of new units, and the nerfing and buffing of a few existing units. But what really blows you away is the more sullen mood the game has, particularly in the game’s plotline.

The gist of this game, as told by the story, is that the world (not certain that this is the same world as in old AW games) has been struck with meteors and about 90% of the earth’s population is dead. One young cadet, Will, climbed his way out of the rubble to be rescued by a God-fearing, straight-shooting captain named Brenner who tries to serve and protect any innocent civilians with his band of soldiers. As usual, all hell breaks loose as rebels threaten to kill you, ex-countries go to war again, strange viruses run wild, weird alien people dupe stupid generals, and ultimately, main characters die. I can tell the developers were trying to make the storyline more serious in AW:DS and they go a little further in Days of Ruin, but some textboxes and the occasional photo really hinge the story together. And yes, people do use mild profanity in this game such as "hell," "damn," and "crap," which is really no shocker for this world of turmoil. Doesn’t anyone miss “What’s an airport?” General consensus is that the story is improved, but I wasn't sold on it.

The game’s missions are the bulk of the more object-oriented gameplay in the game. The missions in Days of Ruin are similar to the ones in AW:DS with tons of tutorial missions sprinkled in with a couple of challenging scenarios in which you battle enemies of greater numbers. The missions aren’t too hard though you’re still given a score depending on how skillfully you defeat the enemy. There’s about twenty-five missions altogether and you can replay any one you like at any time. Unfortunately, unlike old AW games, the War Room (a mode in which you defeat an enemy opponent on a certain map and are scored on how well you do) doesn’t really exist and is just limited to a few “Trial” maps. You can't even choose from different COs in these missions either. The lack of a War Room or any unlockables really stinks. Thankfully, the game's main draw is its versus mode, which you can dive into right away if you want to have some casual fun.

For the actual gameplay, a few new features stand out. The most apparent are the changes to the existing roster of units. Some “useless” units such as the neotank and the black bomb were removed and replaced with a few more “practical” units such as the bike, a more mobile infantry, and the duster, a cheaper version of a fighter jet. Other new units include a tank that can shoot flares and reveal areas in fog of war and an anti-tank, which is basically a high-defense artillery unit that can fire back if directly attacked. Prices have been changed so now infantry spam has been toned down in favor of more strategic planning. The medium and large tanks have been nerfed (and are cheaper) to receive more damage from weaker units. Naval units and fog of war combat are revamped to become more balanced. Not only that, but units now have an “experience” system in which they become slightly stronger when they destroy other units, thereby making spam tactics less effective. For the most part, the units take some time to get used to, but there are generally few complaints with it.

The COs don’t have as large of an impact as they did in previous AW games, built with crazy powers that can wipe out the enemy with the push of a button. They do have a new feature—COs can “mount” any existing unit (for a small fee) and give specific power boosts to any allied units within a fixed range of that unit. If the unit dies, the CO simply returns back to base unharmed (at the cost of having to redeploy him again). In practice, this isn't a bad idea at all, but the rigidity of getting "screwed" by having units one tile out of range is a frequent occurance. You can charge up a power bar, but they come infrequently and are the equivalent of CO Powers from Advance Wars 1—typically not very game-changing. The problem with the new COs is that while they are more fair than the travesties of Grit, Colin, and Hachi from old AW games, they are somewhat bland and don't really vary as much as the old roster did. After much speculation, the roster still seems somewhat unbalanced, thus the variety is somewhat constrained. Not to mention that most of the COs have typically “filler” personality and are your usual gritty post-apocalyptic anime heroes, complete with theme music that sounds like a combination of alternate rock and happy jingles mashed together.

Not to say that these new guys are bad; they are quite cool but they really lack the seniority of the old cast. In other words, I miss the old COs. I missed the old powers they used to have (except for Colin, no one misses him). I miss the colorful armies and the big-headed infantry. I missed the “happy times.” However, you can't dock the game that much because for a "new start," it's actually pretty good. In comparison, the environments look more morose and the interface is more mechanical in nature, yet the concept of moving little midget units around is the same. Props to IS where is due but there may be growing pains for AW fans. The new theme can make or break the game, so analyze this quote from Mike Judge's character from Office Space, who explains the mere difference that atmosphere can make:

“People can get a cheeseburger anywhere, ok? They come to Chotchkie's (restaurant) for the atmosphere and the attitude. That's what the flair's about. It's about fun.”

And apparently, IS is Jennifer Aniston, quitting her job because she's had it with the flair, so she gets a job at Flinger's, which has less flair. Also, Jake must be the annoying waiter guy, the lovable little punk that you'll never see again. IF IS ever returns to the old AW theme, they should concentrate entirely on balancing the COs and units, and nothing else (which is more apparent in Days of Ruin). I want to be able to beat a fair-and-balanced Grit once and for all...

The rest of the game’s tangible features are quite excellent. The versus mode is loaded with a huge list of maps to play with friends. The map maker can now hold FIFTY custom maps at different dimensions, thus making a dream come true to all of you who couldn’t withstand just an anemic three from previous iterations. Then there’s the WiFi online play. You can play or trade maps with friends over long distances. While a few complaints have surfaced with bloviated play time, players disconnecting, and unfair maps popping up now and then, at least you can finally get to play over the internet, which was something that AW:DS was sorely lacking. However, with the existence of other means of playing AW online, such as Advance Wars By Web, WiFi play isn’t as groundbreaking as it seems.

As mentioned previously, the game’s visuals are more dingy in nature and don’t have that luster of the old AW games. Excusing that, the new units do look like the little bouncy munchkins as before and the battle cutscenes are rather comic-book esque as units blow up and fly away just like before (ironically, infantry still die painless deaths). The environments are fairly clean and easy to read, bar the forest and wasteland terrain which can get you confused at first. The music consists of a lot of techno-rock or mellow-dramatic music and it is borderline memorable, yet grating in long session. A few new sound effects are a bit annoying, particularly an annoying drill sound that accompanies building a unit and the "blonk" of moving a unit, but otherwise, it’s just the same-old bullets and explosions.

At first, I really didn’t like this game and didn’t consider buying it, so it's strange how I changed my mind. I don’t regret buying this game, but at the same time, I'm not blown away by it. Generally, a couple of good ideas such as unit balance and WiFi don't fully compensate for some things such as the watered-down COs and the lack of a War Room. If you are a big fan of Advance Wars, have seen the screenshots for Days of Ruin, and want to buy it, then be my guest because it’s the same fun Advance Wars gameplay you’ve known to love. This isn't that bad of a game, so it's worth a look.

Presentation: 7/10 – You gotta admit that the meteor shower intro is kind of chilling, but what happened to all my old COs?
Gameplay: 8/10 – Same old Advance Wars fun with a few integral changes, most of which mak
Graphics: 8/10 – Aside from a few confusing terrain layouts, you should have a clear view of the battles.
Sound: 7/10 – Bullets, explosions, rock music, not that spectacular but it’s there.
Replay Value: 8/10 – With a decent campaign, a bunch of versus maps, and online play, you should get your money’s worth for the long run.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Advance Wars: Days of Ruin (US, 01/21/08)

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