Over 20 years ago, the Game Boy Advance was unleashed upon the public, being the latest and most accessible option in portable gaming, with robust controls and updated visuals. It was not a quantum leap over the Game Boy Color, but just enough to feel fresh with some genre-defining hits to sell the system far beyond its pocket-sized novelty. Advance Wars was among the first titles to make a splash on the system and was quick to blow people away with its accessibility and sophisticated gameplay.
While the sequel, Black Hole Rising, never quite got to the same heights of public reception, they’re both revered as positive examples of pocket-sized, short-session tactics games. With the news of a remake with enhanced visuals, people were excited to see if they could recapture the early-2000s magic, and for better or for worse, they certainly did.
A Sense of Addictive Replayability
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is a collection of 2 classic GBA titles, lovingly recreated by WayForward in the image of its Intelligent Systems origin. They look, feel, and play very similarly to the old games, embodying their spirit while still feeling oddly modern. While the controls are rather simple, they don’t need to be overly complicated, as the original games previously demonstrated. The mechanics are easy to grasp but have surprising amounts of depth to what you can do with them.
For those who have never played the Advance Wars games, or any of the Wars games (of which there are now 10!) the gameplay is turn-based tactics, with each type of unit serving a role. While this is similar in principle to Intelligent Systems’ arguably most famous franchise, Fire Emblem, Advance Wars strips things down even further: no RPG elements, just army men and vehicles. Players don’t need to feel hung up on losing units in battle thanks to no permadeath, but instead, you’ll be graded on your performance, so study up.
In either of the remakes, like the originals, you’ll be graded for how you complete each mission. This is based on Speed, Power, and Technique. This largely boils down to how many turns (or ‘Days’ in the game) it takes for you to complete a mission, along with how many enemies you can defeat while reducing your casualties. This creates a sense of addictive replayability in these games that feels distinctively like many modern mobile games, drawing you back to get your new personal best. This feature is an important one to get players to come back because, well…
The Story is Threadbare at Best
I’ll clarify this by saying the plot is not really what most players are coming to this game to play. That’s okay, and it should instead be weighed on what it aims to achieve. But also, many turn-based strategy games, like Fire Emblem and others, still achieve memorable stories while remaining replayable, and even the earlier GBA Fire Emblem games would still grade you. But that is out of the way, in regards to Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp, the story is threadbare at best.
Instead, you’re treated to charming exchanges between playable Commanding Officers, with the chance to notice the casting of familiar YouTubers, even though their voiceover work is overall quite sparse. This does little more than help personify their respective playstyles, which in itself is appreciated, and executed well.
But I found it incredibly amusing that the game made a point of cautioning players before they selected Advance Wars 2 if they hadn’t completed its predecessor. This is entirely because the villain of that game is revealed to be the villain of the first game, and it’s not some grand twist or betrayal, but rather a cliched “man behind the curtain, pulling the strings” moment. But at least they had creative names for their characters, right?
Wrong. The first game had a clone of the main playable protagonist, Andy. They called him Clone Andy and presumably made players pause so they could gasp in terror. Even if that is technically a spoiler, saying it out of context like this serves more to showcase how silly it truly is, but again, players aren’t here for the story.
A Game of Clever Problem-Solving Even for Returning Players
Despite Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp being remakes of 2 20-year-old games, they still have new tricks up their sleeves. This is not only in the new online functionality of the multiplayer, but even a map maker function that is simple, elegant, and lets you create lots of fun skirmishes for others to try.
Not only this, but the completionists will find plenty of substance to this purchase. The campaign missions are varied, if easy to figure out in many cases, and getting an S-Rank is a tantalizing prospect even for returning players or content creators seeking to prove themselves to their audiences.
The story missions, while easy to play in many cases, have a reasonable scale in difficulty, especially with the Challenge Campaign you can unlock. While features like the Fog of War or concealed units can easily be circumvented by moving across the map and canceling until you run into enemies, it’s better to think of this as a layer to the mechanic.
It forces players to be mindful of where the enemy *could* be and to send in essentially a spotter unit before laying down a barrage. Even in mechanics that could be seen as exploitable, it’s better to see this title as a game of clever problem-solving, even for returning players. Approach any mission, be it in a story battle or a shared map, with an open mind like this and you’ll find a game that knows its players, and rewards them for their adaptability.
New Coat of Paint, Same Gold Star
The characters are essentially the same, albeit given voiceover work. They’re drawn and brought more lovably to life than ever before, with Max being easily goaded into confrontations, Olaf being a tenacious and impulsive buffoon, and Andy being an adorable greenhorn quick to rise to the challenge. Seeing their characters embodied from their CO powers to their animations, and even their armies and how they play, feels incredibly satisfying and faithful.
I was cautious when I heard a franchise from my beloved Intelligent Systems was being remade by a different studio, but WayForward was a strong fit in this case. Their remake allows the old classic GBA feel to remain present, with the maps feeling similar to a gorgeously laid-out tabletop with your customized, favorite units being given a much-needed visual upgrade. It feels like you’re laying out your models for battle, given a new coat of paint, but in the case of Andy and his friends, that same Gold Star.
There are lots of drawbacks to this game, however. Despite the overall bang for your buck, and lack of having to pay for unlockable content (remember when this was the norm?) the game has a weak story and predictable Nintendo-sized gaps in its online features, like no matchmaking for Online Versus mode. You’ll actively need to seek out other players instead of the game doing the work for you, which does seem oddly limited.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp isn’t a perfect title on its own merits, but it’s addictive, stylish, and fun. The wonderful characters make up for an uninteresting and predictable plot. It’d be great to see more Advance Wars and other Wars titles make their way over to the system, but adding matchmaking for online play would be a must. It would also be nice to get a more compelling story, given how much time is required to complete each campaign, instead of it feeling like an overly-long primer on the game’s mechanics and playable COs.
This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.
- This article was updated on May 9th, 2023