A lot of people tend to gloss over the fact that Nintendo does more than just Mario, Zelda and Metroid. If you look far enough into their catalogue, you’ll find a number of different games and franchises that span almost every genre. Some of these games maintain cult followings and steady sales, such as Fire Emblem and Kirby, while others fall by the wayside with only a few people caring that it likely won’t come back (unfortunately, I’m looking at you, Elite Beat Agents).
Though Advance Wars made its North American debut in the early 2000s, the series originated in the late 80s in Japan. Why did it take so long to make it to North America? I don’t know. But I can tell you that when it did, it blew my mind.
At the time of its release, I had zero interest in playing turn-based strategy games. However, I was also a Gameboy Advance owner starving for new content. The sites I visited were giving this game insane reviews, which ultimately convinced me to give the game a go.
Even as someone who had zero interest in the genre, it won me over quick with thanks to its amazing gameplay. As the CO of your army, your tasked with managing your army by capturing cities, creating soldiers and weapons, and fending off enemy forces to complete the objectives at hand. Every unit type feels to have a purpose and knowing when to deploy what units at the right time is critical to success. Also critical is your ability to manage your CO power. Each CO has a unique special ability that can dramatically turn the tables on a battle. Knowing when to deploy that CO power for maximum impact is critical. On top of all of this, you had to keep in mind all of the other factors involved in the battle, such as money from captured cities, terrain effects, weather effects and the capabilities of your opponent (or opponents).
Maybe the biggest triumph to Advance Wars game design is how it eases the player into its systems, which can get really complex if you want to dive into it that far. I came into this game a complete newbie to the entire genre, and by the end of the single-player I felt like I was General Patton, managing dozens of troops like nobody’s business. Even my high school friends, who aren’t hardcore gamers and never played Advance Wars single-player, were able to learn the game quickly just by messing around with it.
I loved the game for feeling like a cooler and more complex version of chess, which is weird, because I don’t like chess. As the game progresses, you’ll realize that the combat and strategy gets extremely deep and satisfying. Even though a single move could take you minutes to think about and execute, it was always satisfying to make great moves and see your opponent crumble under your might. I played through through the single-player mode on normal difficulty at least twice. The missions in the campaign are highly entertaining and feature a lot of variety. For the 5-star general level Advance Wars players, a hard mode for campaign would unlock, which made me realize that I had a long way to go before I could truly become a tactical genius.
As if the single-player wasn’t awesome enough, local multiplayer really put the game over the top. You could play on a number of multiplayer maps against the computer, or up to four players through pass and play or through connected Gameboy Advances. Having four Gameboy Advance systems and a connector cable available didn’t happen that often, but pass and play worked great. My brother and I played countless hours against each other, gradually implementing new and crazier tactics once we figured each other out. My high school friends and I also played a lot of Advance Wars during lunch or when we were out and about just to pass the time.
To this day, memories of the first Advance Wars game hold a special place in my heart. It still holds up as a fantastic turn-based strategy game that has since grown into a solid franchise. It will probably never reach the heights of Mario or Zelda, but it has enough of a fan-base that will keep the series going forward, and hopefully pick up new fans along the way. While I highly recommend you check the series, it may not be the most practical to grab either of the Gameboy Advance games. It’s probably most convenient to pick up Advance Wars: Dual Strike or Advance Wars: Days of Ruin on the DS.