Advance Wars Dual Strike review
Advance Wars Strikes Again
New game modes
Tag Power can be overwhelmingSummary:
The Gameboy Advance was a platform that saw a number of new series appear or at least new to outside of Japan. Advance Wars was one such series, and its impact on the GBA proved that strategy could be fun and accessible without removing the challenge. Now we make the move onto the DS and the third entry in the Advance Wars series makes its appearance. Time to see if Dual Strike continues the success enjoyed by the previous two games.
The Advance Wars graphical setup has always been reliant on a cartoony style, and Dual Strike really doesn't attempt to stray from that path. Everything in the Advance Wars universe is done with bright colour and exaggeration. Whether this looks right or not depends on the individual, but while the style isn't something most would instantly associate with wars or military there is no denying that it has been done well.
The body sprites of the commanding officers have been drawn very well. There are clear bold details on each person, like the buttons of the jacket or the creases of a vest. IS have also taken care to include the typical effects one would associate with this style, like the light reflection on Eagle's googles. There is also a wide variety of poses by these officers, which prevents the views from becoming boring.
However, it should be noted that these COs lack any actual animation. Anyone expecting them to move will no doubt be disappointed. It seems the idea of cutscenes or even animated cutouts on backgrounds wasn't a priority for IS. This was bad enough for the two GBA games, but I can't believe it's something they still haven't looked into.
The unit battle sprites are similarly detailed and bold. There's not really any colour variation here though, as troops are colour-coded according to which army they belong to. One interesting trait is how the designs of the troops also can based on which CO is using them. There are five designs in total, so it's nice that all infantry don't look identical.
Unlike the COs, units do have actual animations in battle. Tanks roll up and fire their cannons, infantry take position and let rip with machine guns and bombers unload their bombs on helpless victims. The animations may get a little old eventually as they never really change all that much (you simply get reduced animations when units are damaged) but it's nice all the same.
A lot of attention has been given to the map view as well. The tiles that comprise the map environments have a sufficient level of detail without distracting, as well as matching the colour mood of the rest of the game and even changing based on the weather. The unit icons are as monotone as the in-battle sprites and quite animated as well, preventing them from being mere static blobs.
As if the invading forces wasn't incentive enough...
The special effects are a little disappointing though. The inbattle effects (the explosions, in other words) work fine and do their job. However, the effects caused by the special powers don't live up to the rest of the game. The style goes for exaggeration, and yet the power effects just seem pretty basic by that standard.
Even worse is that every super power has the exact same effect appearance, aside from a couple that simply copy that COs regular power. A lack of variation and impact makes this part seriously underwhelming.
The previous two games were very strong in this area, so it should come as no surprise that Dual Strike also manages to excel here as well.
If you've played either of the previous games then you'll find much of the soundtrack familiar. All the returning COs have retained their theme tunes, as have the individual armies and the different power levels. However, all of them are of a notably higher quality than the GBA games, so it's nice to hear them.
The new tracks added to the selection fit in very well, so overall you have a very solid music selection. Each track fits perfectly to what it is used for and, outside of personal distaste, will appeal to many. There is a good variety here too, which prevents it from becoming stagnant.
There's not that much variation to battle sound effects. It's either explosions or machine gun fire. Sometimes you'll hear bullets pinging off tank armour (though it's not often someone would try that) but not often so it does get a little stale. There are map sounds too, such as movement sound that matches the unit and even the weather condition, and things like a flood hitting or a bouncing troops matches up well.
Dual Strike is essentially the last part of a trilogy of games. If this is the first instalment you're playing then chances are parts of the story will be lost on you. Don't worry though, as a brief catch-up summary is given and it works fine as a standalone plot.
The evil Sturm had led the mysterious Black Hole army in an invasion of Cosmo Land. His efforts failed twice, thanks to the courageous efforts of the land's COs, and Sturm disappeared. The void at the helm of Black Hole was soon filled by an equally enigmatic Von Bolt, who launched a brand new attack upon Cosmo Land.
This attack took everyone by surprise, as the Black Hole forces had been left decimated. Their rapid recovery gave them the advantage, but Cosmo Land forces aren't prepared to give in that easily.
The story of the fightback begins with Orange Star COs Jake and Rachel, who push their way through the enemy invasion and join up with allied COs to uncover the secret behind Black Hole's recovery and their intention.
I wouldn't call the plot a raging success but it is a solid foundation and does provide some good set pieces that I won't spoil for you here. I was irked at the total disappearance of Flak and Adder though (unlike Sturm there is no reason behind their disappearance either in this game or at the end of AW2).
The main problem with the plot is the delivery. Having conversation boxes popping up might be fine when conversation needs to happen during the act, but AWDS does it all the time so it's hard to get immersed in the dialogue when there's little attempt to engage the player in it.
Advance Wars is a series based around tactical turn based strategy, and that isn't any different in the newest game, Dual Strike.
The concept is an easy one to grasp. Each player takes turns on the battlefield, where they can give orders to their units as well as construct new units. Powers can also be used at this time, and COs can also be switched around. The aim is either to destroy every enemy unit on the map or capture the HQ.
AW plays out in a turn based manner. Each unit on the field under your control can receive one order. An order can include movement except in the case of indirect fire commands.
There are a variety of different units available to players, of which the selection not only includes all the units from the previous games but a healthy number of new units. Units are initially grouped into three categories: land, air and sea.
Plan your moves carefully.
Land units make up the majority of units. These units are restricted by the terrain around them and cannot cross some terrain. However, they can benefit from terrain defences and tend to be more cost effective.
Air units are not restricted by terrain, allowing them to fly almost anywhere. However, they cannot benefit from terrain defences and can run out of fuel and crash. Sea units are capable of traversing the waters in the game, including several units capable of transporting units across waters, but they're pretty useless in areas with a lot of land.
Land and air units tend to be very effective. A strong ground force can be built up faster than an air force and don't have the same fuel concerns, but an air force is more mobile. By comparison a sea fleet is rather ineffective. A sea fleet is neither mobile nor cost effective. I honestly only found the lander and black boat to be of vital use, while the others were largely replaceable by other, better units.
These groups are further split up by internal types. In the land set we have tanks that excel at taking on other land units, anti-airs that work against air forces, infantry troops that capture properties and so forth. Each of these types have their own strengths and weaknesses, which is further expanded by the individual units. For example, both fighter jets and bombers are plane types, but a fighter jet is competent against other planes as long as they get the first hit, while bombers are helpless against an aerial attack.
There is definitely a lot of variety in unit choices, making decisions in which units to send where or even which ones to have in the active army very important. Of course, choices don't end with combat.
Several units work as supply vehicles, delivering fuel and ammo on the move. This is handy when you're nowhere near allied properties or needing to resupply multiple units in one turn. The black boat even restores HP of a unit as well.
Transport units are design to hold other units and take them to other locations. Land units cannot cross water without a lander to take them, while the usual short distance infantry troops can cover can be bypassed by loading them into these units and dropping them off.
Infantry troops are the weakest in terms of combat, lacking offence and defence power and even movement. So, why deploy any? That is because these are the only units capable of capturing properties, which is vital to any campaign.
See, maps tend to have properties in them. Every property under the control of an army gives money (1000 gold by default) per day (a day is the collection of 1 turn from each army). Allied properties can restore supplies and health for units resting on them, but the main reason to do this is to build new units.
Bases, airports and seaports can also be captured, and new units can be deployed from any of these properties under your control. It's not that easy though, as restrictions do exist. First of all is that you can only deploy units from the relevant property (air unit can only be deployed from airports), you can only deploy from a property if no other unit is sitting on that property and unit deployment is also determined by funds.
Yes, that is a main use for your funds. Every unit costs money, which is normally related to their use. Low power units, like infantry, cost very little to deploy, However, you can expect stuff like bombers and mega tanks to cost a lot to send into battle. In deployment maps you have to manage funds effectively. Go for one Neo Tank or several standard tanks?
Choosing which units fight other units is also important. As useful as tanks are against most land based units, they are pretty useless against sea and air units. Anti-Airs are effective against air units, but poor against land vehicles. In addition, only two units in the game are capable of firing on every type of unit, which makes most units vulnerable in certain situations.
Even when a unit is attacked it can counterattack units it can normally fire on in direct fire, allowing some backlash damage to occur. However, the counterattack will be less effective than an initial attack. This is because of how Advance Wars handles damage. Unlike other games of the genre, damaged units in AW actually have reduced firepower as a result (and as a nice touch, this is even reflected in the battle animation). A tank with 5 HP will only be half as damaging as a tank with 10 HP.
All combat units possess either direct or indirect combat ability. Most units fall under the former category, which means that they must move next to an enemy unit to be able to open fire on them, which opens them up to counterattack. Indirect units are able to fire on enemies at range and thus avoid counterattacks, but suffer from being unable to move and attack in the same turn (those who play SRPGs often may find this trait odd) and cannot counterattack themselves.
Generally, direct combat use heavily outweighs indirect, but that's not to say ranged attacking is useless. They can easily form part of a solid defence strategy, or hide them and lure enemies into firing range. Being able to pound on an approaching Neo Tank to weaken it before using direct combat is certainly useful.
Weather conditions also play a part in things. Fair weather tends to be the most common, where nothing is particularly affected by it. Those used to the last few games may be surprised by how the other ones have changed though.
When snow falls all units have the same movement but use double the fuel. Rain fall reduces the vision range of units and causes Fog of War. There's also a new sandstorm weather that reduces the firing range of all indirect units by 1.
In all I'm pretty disappointed with the weather system. Rain is definitely an improvement over what it originally did (merely being a lesser version of snow). Snow got downgraded though, as limiting your movement was a lot more interesting than increasing fuel consumption. Sandstorm is decent enough, but indirects aren't used enough for it to matter. The biggest problem though is that the weather doesn't change enough. Most of the time it is fair weather, and when a different weather condition comes in it only stays for one day and then clears up again.
OK, so now you want to know what this Fog of War is, eh? Fog of War limits what the player can see on the battlefield, which is now restricted to the vision ranges of allied units, as well as seeing any units parked on allied properties. Vision ranges differ depending on the unit, so a recon unit has a better vision scope than a tank. In addition, units in forests or reefs are completely hidden unless a unit from the opposite side is right next to them.
This sounds like it makes for some excellent tactical plays, and against a human player it does. However, there appears to be a programming flaw when it comes to computer opponents. Basically, they can see through the fog perfectly, making it rather pointless to play FOW against them, and unfair as well.
I guess I should also mention the mechanics behind COs and powers too. Each army gets to pick two COs to take charge. There can only be one active CO at a time, but a player can switch anytime during their turn, although doing so automatically ends the turn right away. Tactical use of a switch can be really useful. Build a massive army with Colin and switch to Kanbei to wreck havoc.
The active CO affects all the units in the army. For example, all of Eagle's air troops get more firepower and better fuel consumption. However, many COs also get hit with negatives, like Eagle's naval units being inferior. Picking the right CO for the job is important, and this makes the switching a vital component to master.
Every CO also has access to special powers. Energy for their power gauge is built up when they destroy units or have units destroyed. Inactive COs also gain energy when their active partner does, although it is always a lesser amount. The system is set up to give more energy to the CO whose units are taking damage, as a sort of last hope measure.
Fill up the first part of a gauge and gain access to a normal power. The actual power differs based on the CO (Andy restores 2 HP to all allied units, while Colin receives a cash boost), as does the energy needed. All can help give that army an edge. If a player holds off and completely fills their gauge then they get a super power. Super powers are typically stronger variants of the normal powers (with a few exceptions - Colin's two powers work quite differently to one another) and give an even greater edge.
AWDS brings in a new level of power called Tag Power. This requires the power gauges of both army COs to be maxed out. When activated the army benefits from the effects of the active CO's super power. Play continues as with the super power, but instead of ending the turn the player switches COs. At this point all units are refreshed (giving them all another action) and the switched in CO's super power is activated.
Sound awesome? Unfortunately, it's somewhat overkill. Put Sami and Eagle together and activate a tag power and say hello to victory. Yes, it really is that broken. While no pairing that doesn't include Sami is instant win having an army act twice with super powers in one turn can truly decimate armies.
What really sets this apart from previous games is the interface. Duel screens means that the map is displayed on the bottom screen and stuff like information for the currently highlighted area is normally displayed in the top screen. This setup prevents too much display changes, allowing the player to have a better idea of what's happening.
Dual screen battles bring in another level of strategy to the field.
Since the map is on the bottom screen that also means the game makes full use of the touchscreen controls. Players can just tap units directly and commands and have them executed. It's faster and smoother than the button interface we're used to (although that's still an option). The only flaw was when creating a map it is hard to scroll with it without accidentally placing items down.
Some missions are Duel Front missions. In these missions the COs of the armies split up and handle two missions at the same time. In these missions the inactive map is displayed on the top screen (but switches out for info displays at the press of a button). Gameplay alternates between the two maps as play progresses.
However, this isn't just two simultaneous maps being played out. The army on the primary field can send units to the secondary field, and of course if the secondary field battle is over the winning CO rejoins their ally in the primary field. These are a nice addition but a little underused. I would like to have seen more of these kinds of missions.
AWDS brings in a myriad of game modes. Campaign mode makes a return and has been changed yet again. The setup seems like a hybrid of the campaign modes of the first two games. You have a set linear path through the game (no choosing your missions here) but you get to command a hefty number of COs through the game. I'm a but disappointed that we've reverted to a linear nature, as I liked the option of skipping the odd mission in AW2. The missions selection is pretty solid though, with some well constructed maps.
Some campaign missions differ from normal gameplay by giving you different objectives to complete, as well as certain objects only in this mode. There are crystals that heal enemy units and laser cannons that fire on troops. There's definitely a lot of variety here, and with a hard mode as well the campaign alone should keep you busy.
War Room makes a return, and feels as useless as ever. It's essentially single player versus with limits and ranks. Everything you can do in War Room can be done in versus.
Speaking of which, Versus has returned too and is largely unchanged, which is a good thing. The only real differences are the maps available and the gameplay mechanics. You still get to set various options and side with teams.
What may be surprising is that AWDS brings in a few new game modes as well.
Challenge delivers a series of maps and challenges the player to clear them all with a set limit. Players can choose to limit either their funds, turns or time. All of these are quite difficult and should keep even AW veterans thinking on how best to move forward.
Combat mode is definitely the most different. This mode throws out all the ideas of the rest of the game and offers a real time combat game instead. Players choose from a limited number of units and COs, then they take to the battlefield where they actively control the unit in question. The game uses a clever combination of the touchscreen and the button controls.
It's a nice alternative, but it's a little short and can become rather frustrating as it's basically you against an army, and when you is a single unit at a time then it becomes a little silly.
The game also comes equipped with a map maker. The core basics of this haven't really changed. You're given a small area in which you can build your own maps. Set down environment tiles and predeployed units. There are limits to what you can do, but creating your own ideal battlefield and fighting it out on them is just very cool. It would have been nice to get a little more size to them though.
AWDS takes the original concept of the original game and builds upon it. The result is a strategy game that's accessible and yet very challenging. It is a work of genius; something no strategy fan should be without.
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