IGN Review of Battalion Wars 2
Two years ago, Nintendo released developer Kuju Entertainment's action-strategy war game, Battalion Wars, for GameCube. The title bore some similarities to the handheld series Advance Wars. Both, for example, featured cute and cuddly soldiers armed to the teeth with powerful weapons and both enabled players to take control of entire forces. But Battalion Wars also brought real-time control to the battlefield - you could issue commands to your various units while you simultaneously used the GCN pad to maneuver a single fighter across the war zone. The enjoyable and at-the-time novel play mechanics combined with the stylistic presentation won us over and we awarded the effort with an IGN.com Editors' Choice honor and pegged it as a potential sleeper hit.
Battalion Wars 2 for Wii is a typical sequel in that it operates utilizing the same gameplay fundamentals and doesn't introduce too many new mechanics into the equation. But what it does do is offer a brand new storyline that encapsulates original missions complete with more objectives, drops in the ability to control naval fleets for the first time, and features a surprisingly robust online multiplayer mode. Hence, if you liked the original project, you will surely like its sequel, too. If, on the other hand, you're expecting a gameplay revolution, you're in for a disappointment because this sequel feels and looks like its predecessor in most regards, and the novelty has faded some.
We tip our hat to Kuju Entertainment for endeavoring to create a unique storyline and moody atmosphere for Battalion Wars 2. The title begins with well-rendered and stylized cinematics and follows a tale that begins hundreds of years in the past and eventually travels to the future - and then to the past again in playable flashbacks. If you haven't played Battalion Wars before, the mess of warring nations from different eras may seem convoluted, but if you have, you shouldn't have any trouble following the premise of the advancement of the story. All you really need to know is that a long time ago the Solar Empire created a super weapon to defeat the enemy and present-day battles are again being fought over the powerful tool of destruction.
Like its predecessor, Wars 2 features a pleasing graphic style that hovers somewhere between realistic and cartoon-ish. While the battlefield environments usually look gritty and real - you'll see everything from post-apocalyptic wastelands to lush forests with running rivers and beaches - the military squads, vehicles and weapons that inhabit them are designed to be a little cuddlier. For example, the soldiers are anything but brutish - they tend to be short and run alongside landscapes with exaggeratedly bouncy animation. Vehicles have a similarly cartoon-ish style, but animate beautifully with realistic physics. Indeed, one recon jeep gives the impression of driving the warthog from Halo. Battalion Wars 2 supports both progressive-scan and 16:9 widescreen displays, which is always a plus for videophiles - hey, some of us Wii owners sweat the little details, too. The sizes of campaign worlds are huge and fairly wide open to explore, but the fluidity never reaches beyond 30 frames per second and sometimes - particularly during intense battles - falls short of the mark, which is disappointing.
Battalion Wars 2 plays like its predecessor. You take control of different armies, each featuring different squads, and use your soldiers and vehicles to advance upon or defend against the enemy. The objectives are different in each of the title's 20-something missions, which span several campaigns across the globe, but you will have to be a quick strategist with a quicker trigger-finger if you hope to complete the levels in the second half of the game. Kuju's winning formula of strategic planning and balls-out action is still highly compelling and fun, even if most of it feels familiar. It is at its very best during those "a-ha!" moments when you realize that - oh yeah - you can't fly your gunship in because the base is covered in anti-air weapons; you'll need to deploy your bazooka vets instead to take those out first.
During the course of the game, you will take control of everything from foot soldiers armed with rifles, machine guns, mortars, bazookas, flame-throwers ad anti-air missiles to ground vehicles such as jeeps, light tanks, heavy tanks, anti-air vehicles, and artillery battle stations. In addition, you'll be able to take to the skies with helicopter gunships, jet fighters, heavy bombers and strato-destroyers. And for the first time in the series, you can police the seas, too, using a combination of submarines, frigates, battleships and dreadnoughts. The sheer selection of military tools at your command is impressive, to say the least, and we're particularly happy with the long-overdue inclusion of naval fleets.
While gameplay controls are adequate at worst and intuitive at best, we feel like Kuju has in some cases failed to recognize the potential of the Wii remote or misused the controllers. You move your individual soldier or vehicle through the world with the nunchuk's analog stick, lock-on with the Z-button, and shoot with the B-trigger. Meanwhile, you select different factions of your army with the Wii remote's D-Pad and send them on their way with the tap of the A button. It all works very well, but the IR functionality of the Wii remote - an ideal fit for pinpoint deployments - is ignored. You will seldom use the Wii remote to manually target enemies because locking on is so much easier. Further, precision deployments are rarely, if ever optional. Worse, though, are controls mapped to the nunchuk - for instance, gesturing upward to make your individual soldier jump or flicking to the left or right while pressing the analog stick in the same direction to make him dive. If we've learned anything since Wii launched, it's that nunchuk motion controls are seldom reliable or satisfying.
To be fair, Kuju has implemented some Wii control advancements, though. You can choose to select a large or small bounding box to control how quickly you're able to turn the screen with the Wii remote. You can also fly some vehicles with motion controls, and these do feel good. For instance, to turn your gunship in mid-air, you merely twist your remote; or to raise the barrel of your frigate, you simply pull back on the peripheral. While implementations like these do enhance the interactive element, you will come to realize that most of the controls could have been done nearly as well on GameCube.
Battalion Wars 2's single-player game does not seem quite as difficult as the campaign powering the first title. However, it is one thing to complete a mission, but an altogether more challenging undertaking to complete it with top honors. You're given a score from S (superb) to A, B and C, depending on how well you played. The title takes into account your speed, power and technique. If you score an 'S' in all of a campaign's missions, you will unlock extra bonus content. If you don't, well, you'll have something to come back for.
And speaking of coming back for more, Battalion Wars 2 features a comprehensive multiplayer mode that takes full advantage of Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. The title boasts three separate online multiplayer styles, including skirmish, assault and cooperative. In skirmish, you basically deathmatch against a friend - the two of you send all of your forces at each other last-man-standing style. In assault, you're challenged to complete a series of objectives in order to advance. For instance, you might have to use your naval fleet to knock out some gun posts before your foot soldiers can take to land. Meanwhile, your online opponent must defend against your objectives - he'll be shooting at your frigates before they can knock out his posts, for example. And cooperative mode is self-explanatory.
In our play tests, these multiplayer additions ran lag free, although we did have some problems connection in random matches against players not on our friends list. (That's right, another game with friend codes - get used to it.) We particularly enjoyed the assault and cooperative modes. The only downside is that there are a limited number of levels for each. In cooperative, you don't actually play through the single-player campaign with a friend, which is unfortunate. Instead, the two of you play through four cooperative-compatible stages designed specifically for the mode. And, of course, because there is no Wii headset and no voice chat, you will inevitably feel cut off from the people you play with online. The game does at least enable you to point at locations and assign them as hot spots for your online friend to destroy - and they will be able to see these spots as red or green glows on their map and in the game world.
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