Welcome to Save State, where we enjoy remakes as much as anyone else in the year 2023. When I was a much younger person, many of the games that defined my childhood were on the Gameboy Advance. One of them was previously featured in this column – Riviera: The Promised Land. Titles like Super Mario RPG, Baldur’s Gate II, Riviera, and Tales of Symphonia sparked a lifelong love for RPGs, while ones like Advance Wars caused me to get wrapped up in basically any game that’s turn-based strategy. Simple on the surface, but incredibly deep to the point of fostering an online community that has its own Pokemon Showdown-esque simulator online, Advance Wars is one of those series that I kept joyfully returning to with every new iteration… until they just stopped releasing.
After 15 long years, Advance Wars has finally graced us with a remake of the first two Advance Wars titles and, of course, I had to give it a shot and relive some of my halcyon days in gaming form. The story of Advance Wars takes place in Cosmo Land, and strife between the countries of Orange Star and Blue Moon have erupted into all out war. In the first game, you largely control Orange Star commanding officers as you fight against Blue Moon, Green Earth, and Yellow Comet, but in the second, you’ll primarily fight against the Black Hole Army as the Allied Nations. The story is very simple, which you’d expect from games originating from 2001 on the Gameboy Advance, but this remake features voice acting, animated cutscenes, and very well drawn and animated character portraits by the developer Wayforward, which really helps endear the characters to the player.
Advance Wars has traditionally been a straightforward turn-based strategy series, even back during its time as Famicom Wars. Each side of the battle takes a turn to move their units, attack opposing forces, and create new units for use on the following turn. The money you need to create units, from infantry soldiers to powerful armored vehicles, can be acquired by capturing cities with your infantry. Advance Wars is a lot deeper than the initial description provides, as map control of the various city nodes throughout the map ensures a steady supply of new forces. This marriage of map control and resource management pushes players to move quickly and decisively, as acquiring additional funding sources is just as important as balancing when and where you attack with your infantry, tanks, artillery, or helicopters.
One of the biggest factors that can swing the tides of battle in or out of your favor is correctly using your commanding officer’s abilities- including a tide changing strength called a CO Power. Each character you can play as has a passive benefit they bring to the table- muscleheaded Max, for example, gets a solid damage boost for units that get up close and personal while his artillery units have a damage penalty, while marksman Grit is the complete opposite of Max, boosting his artillery instead. Some COs have more situational powers, with Olaf having no movement penalty in snow, making his passive benefits only really useful on specific maps or when his CO Power is active, but COs like Colin and Kanbei are generally just good all around.
The CO Power is a meter that can be charged up as your units take damage, allowing you to completely reverse the tides of a battle if you use it at the right time. Andy’s CO Power heals his units and gives them a firepower and defense bonus, some can change the weather, Colin, on the other hand, can straight up give you 50% more funds to buy new units which can allow you to flood the field with powerful Mega Tanks or even Bomber Planes. Knowing when to fire off your CO Power or charge it further for a Super CO Power is quite possibly one of the most important skills a player can have in Advance Wars, and adds a ton to the strategic depth since your opponents have access to it as well!
The campaigns of the Advance Wars games are reasonably lengthy, with the first likely taking 12-15 hours, and the second taking over 20 to complete. Of course, if there were only campaigns, then Advance Wars 1+2 wouldn’t be anything to write home about, but thankfully there’s plenty of additional content for you to enjoy. The War Room lets you play skirmish matches that typically have you working your way out from some kind of disadvantage, and there are dozens of these maps present from both Advance Wars titles with which you can flex your strategic chops. On top of this, the custom map creator from the GBA games has also been included, but also slightly expanded with more options, and there’s even online multiplayer, a great addition considering players have been using an online simulator to play Advance Wars against each other for over five years now.
For those wanting to further challenge themselves, Advance Wars has traditionally scored player completion of stages and maps by ranking your speed at clearing a given stage, how many enemy units you decimated, and by losing as few of your own units as possible. Chasing after A and S ranks will yield you the highest amount of currency to unlock new maps and COs for the War Room, Versus, and Online modes, or even unlock music tracks for you to listen to. Effectively, the better your ranks at the end of stages, the faster you’ll unlock additional content to sink your teeth into.
The visuals in Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp may be take it or leave it for some. While I absolutely appreciate the fluidity in which anti air units will mow down jets, helicopters, and infantry, the new crisp and clean polygonal graphics lose some of the charm of the original chunky sprites. This may be due to the fact that the units look more like toys now when juxtaposed against the combat backgrounds. On the other hand, the updated artwork and animations for all the characters in Advance Wars 1+2 maintain a ton of their old charm in Wayforward’s signature art style, and are always amazing to look at when firing off a CO power.
The music, on the other hand, has been faithfully reproduced while still holding onto the charm from the GBA soundfont. Many themes that were adored in the original game have been given special care, with Grit’s theme having bluegrass inspirations, while Sensei’s theme goes full electroswing when you activate his CO Power to further energize you as you decimate the opposing forces. Developer Wayforward did a wonderful job on almost every theme plus all of the necessary variants to make entering combat and using CO Powers even more impactful. It’s difficult to not get amped when you bust out your Super CO Power and turn the battle in your favor with a backing track of electric guitars.
All in all, Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp is a lengthy title both in content provided and in its nomenclature. I’ve enjoyed games like Tiny Metal, Kaiju Wars, and Wargroove, and I’m eagerly looking forward to Warside, which should release sometime in 2023. But there’s just something magical about Advance Wars as a series- the charming visuals and music, the great map design and unit balance, and the explosive powers of a good number of COs make this series an absolute blast to play, and it’ll always be one of my most recommended to anyone who enjoys turn-based strategy.
That being said, I think we can bring this entry of Save State to a close. Remember, it’s important to always keep your freaks on a leash, even if that may sound a little… corny. Bye!