Advance Wars 1 + 2 – Re-Boot Camp review: Tactical treat with a tricky subject
(Switch) **** Age: 12+
Sometimes we need reminding that war is very real and not an abstract concept represented on a videogame screen. Nintendo recognised that clash between reality and fantasy when it sensibly delayed the release of this Game Boy Advance remake last year, just as Russia invaded Ukraine.
Advance Wars is a much-loved strategy series more than two decades old but its storyline revolves around conflict between two neighbouring nations, the improbably named Orange Star and Blue Moon. No wonder Nintendo baulked at promoting a title in which you wage war like a chess game, pitting various units of infantry, tanks and planes against each other in turn-based combat. A year later in the real world, Russia is still illegally invading Ukraine but Advance Wars has been deemed acceptable for release, albeit directly in the huge shadow of the much more wholesome Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.
Still, my moralising aside, it would be a pity if Re-Boot Camp was to be overlooked because its fundamentals remain rock-solid and this remake gives the puzzle-strategy core a glossy new coat of paint. As the clumsy title suggests, you’re getting two games in the series, both lengthy campaigns in which you learn the tactics of a commanding officer on the frontline.
Instead of the pixellated original, you now have a graphical style resembling Playmobil crossed with animé, plus a simple top-down overview of the battlefield. Like many a turn-based strategy game, the idea is to move and position your units to best attack the enemy. Incorporating the rock-paper-scissors approach (tanks beat infantry, artillery beats tanks, etc) and smart use of terrain (always get to higher ground or hide in forests, for instance), the combat is filled with permutations that reward careful study.
Re-Boot Camp adds multiplayer (local and online) plus a map editor. But for the most part you’re playing a 20-year-old pair of games. You have to admire the fact that the whole shebang – albeit in less flashy visuals – was squeezed into the tiny brain of the Game Boy Advance all those years ago. The AI is no pushover and you can find yourself punished for a silly mistake – leaving one route to your HQ vulnerable, for instance. Imagine that sinking, sickening feeling when you realise you’ve been checkmated many moves ago.
There’s something of a disconnect between the notion of Advance Wars’ cheery commanding officers waging death and ruin in cartoonish graphics. But if you can see past that dissonance, you’re in for a tactical treat.