War-based strategy games have been seen often across several decades. It's a genre that takes players deep into the trenches and allows them to bring out their inner Patton. War is brutal, it's gritty, and it's violent, which is why it was somewhat remarkable that in the early 2000s, Nintendo made it colorful. The Advance Wars games captured the intensity of tactical warfare while also sprinkling in a bright and colorful atmosphere. Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp keeps the spirit of those old Game Boy Advance classics intact, but it also doubles down on the almost whimsical setting with a souped-up presentation that successfully brings the series into the modern day.
War is heck
Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp takes players through both the original Advance Wars and its sequel, Advance Wars 2: Black Hole rising. It's welcoming to newcomers, thanks to some helpful tutorials, but also allows veterans to take the campaigns at their own pace. If the old-school player so desires, they can simply scroll past the spoiler warning and go straight into Advance Wars 2. Both games play almost the same with few differences, but regardless of which campaign players are experiencing, they're in for a tactical treat.
Battle in Advance Wars is simple on paper and mind-numbingly complex in practice. The idea is to direct various units across a grid-based map. Players must use their infantry, tanks, aircraft, battleships, and whatever else is at their disposal to totally dominate the opposition or capture the other side's headquarters. While individual units have simple movement patterns, it's keeping track of which ones do what, how far each can move, and which opposing enemies they work best against that makes Advance Wars such a complex effort.
It can be overwhelming, but Nintendo and original developer Intelligent Systems (re-created brilliantly by new developer WayForward) does a great job in keeping players engaged through vibrant animations, toe-tapping music, and a habit-forming moment-to-moment gameplay loop. It also helps that the game's tutorials are very user-friendly and easy to understand.
It was a formula that worked to a tee in the early 21st century and one that still works today, thanks mostly to the presentation upgrades from WayForward.
The spoils of war
Mechanically, the Advance Wars formula in Re-Boot Camp has not been touched. Anyone who has played the original games can approach this remastered collection the same way and still achieve the same level of victory. However, Re-Boot Camp has been given a beautiful new coat of paint that makes it a fine fit for the Nintendo Switch.
The difference is clear almost immediately. The menus, overworld map, and individual stages are much more colorful. Individual stages look much more like a board game than they ever have before. Moving units across the field is like maneuvering chess pieces and when they come up against an enemy, the ensuing animation plays out charmingly and without any over-the-top violence.
The changes extend to the Advance Wars Commanding Officers. In addition to having bouts of dialogue with other characters, they can build up a special meter to unleash a unique ability. These abilities have been made more theatrical for this remaster, though this particular upgrade isn't perfect. It's not just that these animations are unskippable, but there isn't really an adequate explanation as to what each CO ability does. Advance Wars is so good about explaining nearly every other mechanic in the game, to not indicate what individual CO abilities do feels like an oversight. I started to get nervous the first time Flak used his Barbaric Blow ability in Advance Wars 2, but when I didn't see anything indicating what it actually did, I was more confused than anything else.
A more noticeable upgrade is with the game's story and its characters. Characters now look like they came in straight from an anime. Many of their lines now have voice acting and their character models are much more expressive than they were in the past. The villains, specifically, in both games are practically cartoon characters in the way they interact with one another and behave in the face of defeat. The main players are a lot of fun and keep the story light-hearted, almost too much. As high as the stakes are, the character interactions make the whole idea of war seem like a game, which makes it understandable why Nintendo delayed this package for so long.
Admittedly, there wasn't a lot that Nintendo had to do to make a successful Advance Wars remaster. The formula still works. The mechanics are easy to understand, the story is engaging, and it's engaging enough that it's hard to put down.
Beyond the story, Nintendo and WayForward mostly succeeded with another important aspect of this title: the multiplayer. Up to four players can get together locally and either team up or get into a full-on skirmish. Four-way war is a lot of fun and feels like a more involved experience than the simple 1v1 battles of the campaign. Unfortunately, as much fun as skirmishes are, there are a few areas that don't feel very advanced.
Multiplayer battles, especially ones with four players, will run very long, often hours at a time. Inevitably, someone may have to take a break. If that happens, there's no way to save the current session and pick things up later. Players must either complete multiplayer rounds in one sitting or lose all of their progress and start over. Meanwhile, online play is a lot more restrictive. There's no declaring war on strangers. Only friend battles are available and sessions are only limited to 1v1.
The multiplayer's shortcomings aren't a dealbreaker, but they're definitely disappointing. Even with a subpar multiplayer experience, Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp is still a game worth experiencing. It's a triumph of tactical strategy with a vibrant coat of paint. It's a reminder of what a gem of a franchise Nintendo has been sitting on for over a decade and represents a hope that maybe there's more Advance Wars on the horizon.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch code provided by the publisher. Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp will release on Nintendo Switch on Friday, April 21 for $59.99 USD. The game is rated E10+.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp
- Engaging tactical gameplay
- Colorful presentation
- Tutorials are detailed and easy to grasp
- Four-way multiplayer is a lot of fun
- Some animations can't be skipped
- Can't save multiplayer sessions
- Can't play online multiplayer against the public