One of the most stunning titles to ever hit the Game Boy Advance market was Advance Wars, a continuation of a Japanese strategy series that, for the first time, hit the North American market. Even though the idea had been explored in previous versions on Nintendo consoles overseas, it was the first time we ever got a chance to experience Intelligent System's creation in a much more fleshed out, portable edition. It was, and still is, one of the finest gems in the GBA library, with a sequel that, while not featuring as heavy an impact as the original, kept the series going a couple of years after the original release.
Advance Wars: Dual Strike is the first official "spin-off" of the series to another Nintendo platform in the US, and Intelligent Systems has struck gold again with a game that keeps with the already successful formula and branches it out with new elements, including dual screen combat. Because it doesn't go far beyond what's already been established, the DS game doesn't make quite as big a splash as the series did originally on the GBA, but that doesn't mean it's still not a fantastic game that needs to be experienced. Because it is.
The Advance Wars series is a turn-based strategy game that's quick-paced and energetic, and absolutely addictive because of all the little nuances in the game design keeping players on their toes. All the action takes place on a grid map of different terrain, and the spots on the grid affect how your troops handle the battle condition. Across land, sea, and air, you'll command a growing assortment of troops and vehicles with one goal in mind: victory against the enemy armies. Even though the game design is a turn-based affair, it does borrow a bit from the real-time strategy genre -- in many missions players must earn revenue by controlling buildings within the set territory, and convert those funds into troops to solidify and strengthen the lines against the opposing forces. Missions can last anywhere from a simple couple of moves to several dozen before victory is had by any side, and it's the player's mental skills that determine the outcome.
It's was a a fantastic single player game on the GBA and remains so on the DS, and it's enhanced further with multiplayer focus for single and multiple cart users. The wireless battles aren't much different than what GBA owners got in Advance Wars and Advance Wars 2, but this time players are no longer tethered together by uncomfortably short link cables. Wireless capabilities free up the link so players can spread out and relax while plotting their strategies.
Advance Wars: Dual Strike loves the number two. In past Advance Wars games, the CO (Commanding Officer) of a certain area would determine special abilities of the player during battle. In Advance Wars: Dual Screen, players can have two of these COs at the ready and swap them in and out between turns to change the outcome of a specific turn. And though the action in most missions is contained on the lower screen with the upper screen housing all the pertinent information on highlighted troops, in others the action spreads out across both displays of the Nintendo DS. In these dual screen missions, players only assist the action with specific commands instead of fully controlling the strategy. But it still shakes things up in comparison to past games in the Advance Wars series.
When the game hit the Game Boy Advance a second time in Advance Wars 2, the development team offered slight enhancements to the original game design. The same can be said for Advance Wars: Dual Strike -- anyone already familiarized with the previous two games in the series will find themselves in extremely familiar territory on the Nintendo DS. Intelligent Systems didn't fix what wasn't broken to begin with, so the visuals have barely been touched outside of a slightly 3D look to the strict 2D grid. The action, still turn-based, still has a lot of energy because the team put a lot of "whiz bang" effects to keep the experience appropriately adrenalized just like the GBA version.
Advance Wars: Dual Strike is a great example of a DS game that doesn't need to use the touch-screen for control. Sure, you can fully control all of the action with simple taps of the stylus on the touch-sensitive panel, but it's not nearly as tight as the usual D-pad control of the GBA Advance Wars and Advance Wars 2; wrongly aimed taps on the touch screen can cause unintentional things to happen that, while easily corrected, are still a bit annoying to go back and fix. No, the game is perfect as a D-pad game, and can fully be controlled exactly as it has been in the past two Advance Wars games on the Game Boy Advance.
Where the touch screen does work wonderfully, obviously, is in the map creation function. Like the previous games in the series on the GBA, players can custom create their own maps and battles, and store them on cart as well as transmit them to friends with a copy of the cartridge. The stylus makes everything work so much better than D-pad in this creation mode because it works much like a PC paint program would. In turn, I think more people will take advantage of this mode and come up with some seriously creative maps as a result.
Another addition to the Nintendo DS version is an arcade-style mode that takes the turn-based mechanics and converts it into a real-time controlled action game. This mode is proof that not everything Intelligent Systems does is golden, because while it has its merits, it's not all that much fun. The controls are clunky and the action is far too segmented for an action design. It's an okay diversion, but it could never stand on its own as its own design, and it's quickly lost and forgotten among the rest of the menu options because it's really nothing special.
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