‘Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp’ Will Whip You Into Shape
When it comes to the tactical strategy genre, there are some titles that stand the test of time, going on to become legends. One such gem is Advance Wars, which debuted on Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance in 2001. Intelligent Systems’ classic turn-based game might have been the seventh title in the long-running Wars series, but with a pleasingly cartoony aesthetic masking surprisingly deep tactical mechanics, it launched a spin-off series that would end up attracting many die-hard fans over the years.
Twenty-two years later, and it’s still one of the best games the GBA had to offer, serving up irresistibly addictive turn-based conflict mission after mission. Now, both Advance Wars and its sequel Days of Ruin have received a fresh coat of paint with Advance Wars 1 + 2: Re-Boot Camp. This Switch exclusive modernizes the handheld hit in some much-needed ways, imbuing it with the same simple charms of the original while adding some fun twists to the classic formula. And while it introduces a couple of modern ails that mar its overall presentation, it still manages to do an excellent job of bringing these two titles into the present for new audiences to discover.
Much like the celebrated Fire Emblem series, both Advance Wars titles invite players to duel across sprawling map grids. Your battles span extensive lands, sparkling seas, and the not-so-friendly skies as you work to wrest victory from your opponent’s hands. As the tactical advisor to the fictional Orange Star Army, whose nation is warring with the neighboring Blue Moon Army, you’ve got to think fast and issue orders that will ultimately wipe out your opponent’s army or destroy their base. Each turn, you send units out to capture terrain and buildings while making the carefully outmaneuvering enemy infantry and vehicles and capturing buildings to take control of the region.
Your typical infantrymen are a dime a dozen, so they’re your first wave of defense when it’s time to attack. But they’re ultimately disposable pawns for you to use while you start planning assaults with mech infantry units, aerial bomber runs, and roll in with imposing tanks to wipe out the baddies’ entire squad at once. There are planes, choppers, rocket launchers, AA units, and much more. More powerful units cost more to deploy, but you have your cheaper, less destructive options to send out in bulk. You’ll have to effectively balance resource spending versus planning which units can get the job done swiftly and without too many losses.
These instruments of destruction may look diminutive and cute, but they mean business, especially when you’re calling for an artillery strike that wipes many of the enemy’s troops clear off the map. Combat encounters require finding a flaw in your opponent’s defense and pushing it until you break through — and lather, rinse, and repeat. It might sound repetitive, but there are few more exuberant highs than when a plan comes together, and you roll through a few tanks deep to crush each scenario in minutes. Though occasionally battles can run long, Advance Wars stays true to its handheld roots, letting you experience some of the fastest-paced matchups the genre has to offer while still seeding you with that much-needed victory high.
In addition to your standard units, you also have commanding officers, or COs. They’re in charge of the army, and each one comes packing different combat boons. For instance, default CO Andy is an all-rounder, while CO Sami’s infantry units are expedient when it comes to capturing cities and moving forward. Each CO also has a special unit that can turn the tides of battle. Andy can instantly heal all his units to get you out of a pinch, for example, while Drake can use elemental abilities to serve up some serious damage.
With that in mind, neither game forces you to gather a ridiculous number of resources to move forward. Instead, you earn additional cash at the end of each turn that can be spent on building or repairing new units depending on how much territory you overtake. You can only capture cities with certain units, so much of your time away from combat will be spent planning how you can get said units in position for these much-needed coups so you can restock your coffers.
There are some issues with the new coat of paint applied to the game, however. First, the remakes ditch the classic 2D sprite aesthetic for an overly polished, 3D cartoon vibe. The character portraits, while crisp, lend a free-to-play mobile game vibe that feels out of place. The lack of detail here in comparison to the original games doesn’t mean you see less, but it feels like less work went into making them pop.
They’ve become bland representations of what they used to be, and some of the charm is lost from the original GBA-era presentation. Newly added voiceovers also bring little to the experience, with only specific lines given the full VO treatment — an annoyance that plagues too many modern titles — instead opting to leave silence with a single phrase said over captions that simply doesn’t match.
There’s also the issue of slowdown. The aging Switch hardware isn’t always up to the task when it comes to many titles on the system; even fully optimized first-party series can end up pushing the hybrid handheld console to its limits. There’s little issue with performance in battle, but load times between basic menus and tutorials or the next mission are entirely too long. Even the boot up time feels like an eternity, a problem that might very well have been mitigated had the game’s visuals retained their 2D sprite origins.
Complaints aside, Advance Wars 1 + 2: Re-Boot Camp is a war worth fighting. Every mission is fast and frantic yet elegantly paced in ways that bring out your inner tactician. Between both titles there are dozens of hours of gameplay that will draw players back to the fold time again with a rally cry of, “Just one more.” One more turns into five, ten, and so on. If you missed out on the originals, there’s no excuse to skip them this time around. War is hell, but it can be fun too.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is out now on Nintendo Switch.