Published on May 8th, 2023 | by Martijn van Gent
Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp Switch Review
Summary: Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp confidently brings two extremely solid strategy games to a modern audience.
Intelligent Systems’ Wars series is one of consistent unfortunate circumstances, as if it gets karma for its chosen subject matter. After 13 years of Japan-exclusive games, Advance Wars would be the first game in the franchise to be released in the West. It ended up hitting the shelves a mere day before 9/11, likely leading to its delay for Europe – and ironically enough, Japan. The game was a success anyway, and seemed to have played at least some part in bringing over Fire Emblem, Intelligent Systems’ other strategy series, to Western markets as well. While that series has seen massive growth ever since its installments on the 3DS, Advance Wars did not get any new games on that system and seemed to have been left behind – until E3 2021 where they announced a remake of Advance Wars 1 and 2 (made by WayForward), coming to the Nintendo Switch. The game was supposed to come out in April 2022, but once again saw unlucky timing – the Russian invasion of Ukraine two months earlier – push back its release. One year later, and it is finally here. Does Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp succeed in revitalizing the series? Can it make a new fan out of me? Let’s find out.
In Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp, you play as various commanding officers (COs) who, on a turn by turn basis, order many different troops to their right positions on a grid-based field of war. All elements are covered here when it comes to unit types: ground based ones such as tanks and infantry, air based ones such as copters and planes, and sea based ones such as ships and submarines. Each unit type brings something unique and interesting to the table, while possessing both good and bad match-ups against other unit types – which means it’s up to the player to use the right units in the right situations. An obvious example would be the anti-air units doing well against any unit that flies. However, units are not exclusively useful in combat – for instance, infantry units have low movement and generally do poorly against most unit types, but have the invaluable distinct ability to capture properties on the map.
Missions generally fall into two categories: ones where you’re given all of your units at the start, and ones where capturing properties increases the money you receive each turn – money which you then use to buy whatever units you would like to deploy, with the enemy doing the same thing. In most missions your objective is to defeat all enemy units or capture their HQ (both are possible on the same map), with only a couple of missions having you do something more unique to earn your victory. Lastly, each CO (including enemy ones) has access to their own special “CO Power” – once charged, it can be activated at any point during your turn and will then last for the rest of that turn. These powers can give various benefits to all of your units – such as extra range, movement, firepower and/or defense – and serve to make missions more dynamic.
Advance Wars’s gameplay is beautifully elegant in its relative simplicity, yet also still has enough nuances to keep you engaged for the hours upon hours you’ll be spending moving units across plains, seas and skies. Moreover, I really love how much of a concentrated strategy experience it is. Unlike a lot of other strategy games that incorporate RPG elements (such as Fire Emblem), almost none of my 60+ hour playtime was spent outside of missions. As such, you don’t need to think about the rest of the game while playing through one of said missions – there is no being overprepared or underprepared, the game knows exactly what tools you have and can create balanced challenges based on that. However, this statement is less applicable for the category of missions mentioned earlier that involves using money to buy units. Because of this, these tend to be the most tiresome missions in the game – despite me liking the concept – as it starts having too many variables for the (sometimes sloppy) AI to properly handle. My troops were traversing some of these maps for hours, even with animations off – at some point I forgot I ever had them on in the first place. A few of the last missions of the second campaign (Black Hole Rising) cemented this issue – but it did take that long for me to start getting a little tired of the gameplay, and I think that is a testament to its quality.
After playing both Advance Wars 1 and 2’s campaigns back to back, I am not surprised that they chose to combine those two games for this remake. Heck, in Japan it actually already was released as one package on the GBA back in 2004. Black Hole Rising is what Super Mario Galaxy 2 was to Galaxy 1 – essentially a level pack with very few mechanical or visual changes. This works fine however, since there was very little to fix about the core gameplay. It does increase the scope of the story and makes missions more varied by introducing stronger (but slower to charge up) versions of CO Powers, some new property types such as one-time use missiles, and more different mission objectives.
Speaking of story, I would be very surprised if this is anyone’s favorite aspect of the game. As one is able to infer from the title, war is indeed what the narrative is about – the world is even appropriately and quite depressingly named “Wars World”. Despite this, the tone is mostly unserious and any form of politics is almost non-existent – it is genuinely fascinating how little worldbuilding there is, and whatever we do learn about the world is kind of baffling. For instance, in Advance Wars 1, there are missions where a CO “tests” the capabilities of other COs in battle – using actual, living human beings to do so. Then, in the sequel, a villain who proclaims that war is fun tells this same CO that they “are not so different” – and I’m agreeing with her? In some way, Black Hole Rising seems to almost be self-aware of how stupid its world is, and I don’t quite know how to feel about that. That game does at least give its characters more interesting things to do and say than its predecessor, but it’s still not enough to really hold my attention.
Looking at the remake side of things of this remake – which mainly consists of an updated presentation – WayForward did a pretty solid job. The game has a very colorful and charming art style that feels like a board game come to life, and the animations in particular are absolutely beautiful – it’s only disappointing that there aren’t more animated cutscenes. When it comes to the music, it is unfortunate that you’ll be hearing a lot of the same themes constantly, as they are tied to whichever CO is currently in charge – this also means none of them are made for specific missions to fit the mood. The tracks themselves are very catchy though, especially the more upbeat versions that play after using a CO Power – so I can’t complain too much. Speaking of COs, they naturally have updated designs and even voice actors to go along with them, which is great – however, their use is weirdly inconsistent. Some of their lines are fully voiced, some are only halfway voiced, and some aren’t voiced at all, with no clear reason as to why. Thankfully this is the one awkward blemish on what is otherwise a confident looking and sounding game.
In conclusion, Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp is the pure strategy experience I never knew I wanted. And that is without having even mentioned all of the other modes the game has to offer besides the two campaigns; such as the Design Room where you can make your own maps, and the various ways you can test your CO skills against opponents – whether they are CPUs or humans, both locally and online. These are nice extras that I’m sure other people will enjoy more than me, but none of them were needed to make me a new fan of Advance Wars. I want more of this – more of this genre, and more revivals of franchises that were thought to be dead. Simply put, if you like strategy games, you owe it to yourself to pick this game up.