Advance Wars was a 2001 turn-based tactics game for the Game Boy Advance by Intelligent Systems and Nintendo. I got a Game Boy Advance shortly after this game was released. I had heard good reviews about it from my old Nintendo Power subscription, but I never had the money to buy a copy. There was always another game I wanted more. My Game Boy Advance got a lot of use but only with a select few games. Most of my money during this time went to Nintendo GameCube games. I could have spent my savings in the bank, but I have always balanced my spending with my income. In the early 2000s, my allowance (income) was around $20 a month. I would not dip into my savings. I would only let myself spend $20. Because of that, I had to skip many games that sounded good, but now with the Wii U’s Virtual Console, I got to play it.
Advance Wars had gameplay that was very similar to Fire Emblem, another Game Boy Advance game. That game had the same turn-based tactics gameplay except with role-playing game mechanics added. Advance Wars came out first, so it was the simpler game. There were no role-playing game mechanics, but it had some things of its own that Fire Emblem didn’t have. Like Fire Emblem there was a lengthy campaign full of various levels to play. Each level the player and the enemy got a few units to tactically move on a small battlefield. The goal was to destroy all of the other player’s units or capture their military Headquarters. The key difference here in Advance Wars compared to Fire Emblem was that the units were generic like Tank, Mech Infantry, Artillery.
The units were not characters like in Fire Emblem. Because of that the units were mostly expendable. The player earned money from captured buildings on the battlefield that they could use to build new units just like the ones that had been destroyed. It was still best to keep units alive for efficiency, but losing a unit was not the same as losing a character I had come to enjoy for the last ten missions.
Advance Wars was set in its own, unique world, but the technology was roughly the same as World War II or early Cold War. There were no stealth fighters or laser-guided missiles, but they did have access to attack helicopters. The world was made up of five countries or factions. Each country had its own army, with many conflicts between them through the course of the campaign. The armies were flavored based on real world armies. For example, the main protagonists of Orange Star were based on the US Army.
I found the story to be interesting but not great. The characters functioned like comic book characters. There wasn’t much sophistication to their actions. The positive side of this was that the game was very clean. Even the violence between the armies was pretty clean. When a unique was destroyed, it just exploded into thin air. There was nothing graphic at all. The gameplay was different.
Despite the gameplay being simpler than Fire Emblem, it still had a lot of depth and fun in it. In some ways, Advance Wars was even better. The strategy in this game was much tighter than in Fire Emblem because all the units in a class had the same stats. There was some randomness in damage done or damage taken. Outside of that, a unit that looked the same had the same stats. This made skill a much bigger factor. I also loved being able to replace units. I couldn’t bear to lose a unit in Fire Emblem because it would kill off possible story scenes later on in the game if a character was not present. In Advance Wars, I didn’t mind losing a few units to win. It made the game less frustrating.
Besides the campaign, Advance Wars had a couple skirmish modes. The single player mode let a player pick a map and an opponent computer AI to play as. The multiplayer mode was mostly the same except all players were human. Multiplayer supported up to four players though, so there were special maps for three or four players. The skirmish modes started with only a few maps, but more were unlocked by playing the campaign, earning coins, and purchasing the maps from the in-game store. Coins could also be used to purchase new COs, the player’s thematic leader on the battlefield. Each CO game with a special ability. Progress towards using the special ability came from damaging and destroying enemy units and capturing territory on the battlefield. There was a lot to do here, and I really enjoyed it. I really did miss a lot not playing this game before, but I have access to it now. I am happy I was able to try it out.