Review: War has never been cuter, or more portable.
Portable systems are for easy to pick up, twitch-style games for short attention spanned gamers, right? Then why is it so many great turn-based strategy games are released for the GBA? Apparently enough gamers on the go want something a little more involving than your average Poke-game, something like Advance Wars, an early release on Nintendo's new handheld and a bit of a surprise hit. It became successful enough to warrant a sequel, and that sequel is now here.
This update is far from revolutionary, but it looks to be just as successful as its predecessor. The story of Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising is that the Black Hole armies are back, somehow completely unaffected by their massive defeat in the last game, and are attempting to take over the conveniently color-coded nations of the world. You must take control of the various Commanding Officers (CO's) from each nation and command your nation's forces against the incursions of the Black Hole CO's through successive turn-based battles.
Those of you who never played the first game may think that all turn-based strategy games are a real snore. And, while that's generally the case, Advance Wars is about as fast-paced as it gets in this genre. Even though you may have dozens of units to command, turns rarely take longer than 30 seconds, and you can speed things up further by turning off the various battle animations that boost the game's visual presentation.
In the game you'll command anything and everything from your basic troupe of foot soldiers on up to tanks, helicopters, submarines, and even the fancy new Neotank, which looks like an overgrown tangerine with four legs and a big cannon where its navel should be. Each type of unit has specific attributes, such as how far it can move or whether it can attack land, air, or sea enemies. But, each unit is basically commanded the same as the others, so it takes no time at all to get up to speed as you're presented with new types of units.
As mentioned above, gameplay is fast and fun, and there are plenty of ways to play. A lengthy campaign mode will introduce you to the various friendly and enemy CO's that the game features, and will also give you a good lesson in the game's tactics. But, there are also a number of one-off challenges for you to complete, and a simple yet comprehensive map editor that lets you create battlefields that you can share with your friends. Multiplayer over a link cable with up to four others is featured, even if only one of you owns the game. You can also have two-player battles on a single GBA, which is a nice touch if your friends dig strategy games but lack GBAs.
Graphically things are little improved over last time, but little needed improving, and so things here still look good. Most of the game is spent looking at an overhead map with simple icons representing everything, but when two units engage each other you're presented with a split-screen view of the battle. Here you get to see the cartoony looking tanks and helicopters and whatnot dishing out and receiving fire with simple animations. We're not talking graphical perfection here, but the game looks good, and sounds good too. Music is simple yet reasonably catchy without getting annoying, and the battle sound effects do the job nicely.