Review: Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp – A Pair Of Strategy Gems Delightfully Reimagined

[embedded content]Subscribe to Nintendo Life on YouTubeAfter two lengthy delays to its original release date of December 2021 — a combination of last-minute fine-tuning ...
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After two lengthy delays to its original release date of December 2021 — a combination of last-minute fine-tuning and “recent world events” (aka Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine) — Wayforward’s Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is finally here. This pair of Game Boy Advance classics have stood the time incredibly well and, honestly, the trickiest part of reviewing this shiny new collection has been finding anything of real substance to complain about. What we’ve got here is a treasure trove of delightfully addictive strategising wrapped up in a colourful comic-book style that’s almost impossible to put down once it’s got its hooks into you.

If you’re an old war dog who’s played the original 2001/2003 releases back in the day, you’ll already know what to expect for the most part here, with some of the slickest and most deceptively deep turn-based tactical action available on any platform. The Advance Wars series may not serve up the breadth of options of more “serious” turn-based efforts like your XCOMs or Total Wars, but what’s here works so wonderfully well, and is so perfectly balanced, that it doesn’t matter in the end. These are the sorts of games you make a permanent place for on your Switch, such is the endlessly replayable nature of the battles at hand, perfectly paced skirmishes that keep you glued to your screen and coming back for more.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

The action in Advance Wars may at first seem like frivolous cartoon fun as you dig into getting to know the game’s various enthusiastic COs, but once the training wheels come off and you’re in the thick of the action, you’re 100% going to need to get your strategy cap on to survive the tight scrapes and ever-expanding array of enemy units and scenarios thrown at you.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t give this one consideration if you’re new to turn-based tactical action, though. Far from it, in fact. Your onboarding officer, the super-sassy Nell, is on-hand at all times to explain the ins and out of how everything works, the game’s tutorial section has been smartly reworked so that every new aspect of battle is explained as it’s added to the mix, and there are guides aplenty to dip into whenever you need a refresh. There’s also a casual mode that you can switch to at any time during either of the two campaigns that dials the difficulty down from its classic form to help smooth over any tough spots for new recruits.

And what of those two campaigns? Well, combined you’re looking at a solid 35-40 hours worth of tactics action here, perhaps considerably more if you’re new to the genre, and we thoroughly recommend you start with the first campaign, as the admittedly throwaway story that backs up the core combat will be ruined somewhat if you choose to skip onto Black Hole Rising, something you can do right from the get go if you choose for some reason.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Kicking off with 2001’s Advance Wars and, after a quick run through the basics of unit movement and attacking with Nell, we’re introduced to Andy, an energetic young Orange Star CO who’s eager to get onto the battlefield to tangle with Blue Moon’s invading forces. Opening sorties see you get to grips with unit types, terrain tactics — mountains give you a height advantage/forests conceal your movements and so on — and the ins and outs of trundling light tanks around in order to block off corridors of movement and disrupt your adversary’s plans. You’ll then be slowly introduced to capturing cities in order to earn supplies with which to churn out more units from bases on the field of action, and it’s in the carefully balanced selection of these units that the game finds its wonderfully addictive ebb and flow.

Once you’ve got a full range of tanks, ships, submarines, helicopters, missile defence systems, recon jeeps, APCs and so on in the mix, the real genius of Advance Wars begins to reveal itself. Maps that seem incredibly simplistic at first glance quickly become tense battlegrounds, with bridges quickly turning into chokepoints where fierce tank battles play out as you tussle for territorial dominance and control of supply routes. The seas play host to face-offs between great warships capable of crushing targets from range and sneaky submarines that lurk beneath the surface, and the skies are dominated by the business of bombers, fighter jets, and helicopters as they carefully outmanoeuvre each other turn by turn. There are multiple flavours of combat happening all at the same time here and every single one of them is delicious.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

On top of managing and manoeuvring all your different unit types, you’ll also need to consider a fog of war effect in certain missions, a thick blanket that stretches out across the combat zone requiring you to send out recon teams and ascertain the position of hidden enemy troops. The rhythm of battle changes during these exchanges, making for slow excursions that require you to carefully consider terrain in order to zone in on your opponent, soften up their defences and locate their HQ without finding yourself surrounded. Remember too that an enemy HQ can be targeted and captured straight off the bat in order to end a confrontation in the game’s default skirmishes, and you should always be both defending your own base of operations and taking advantage of fast-moving transport options to sneak a unit in the back door and shut your foe down by surprise as they’re distracted by combat elsewhere.

The game mixes things up further by dishing out missions where you’ve only got a set number of days to complete your task, or by charging you with capturing a certain number of cities before your opponent, leading to face-offs that see control of shorelines and roads become of paramount importance as you seek to block the enemy from progressing across certain sections of the map. All of this leads to the sort of tactical action that generates truly memorable situations; impossible escapes, wild comebacks, shock defeats, and triumphant routs, and it’s all enhanced further by a cool cast of COs that come with their own special powers which can be deployed in order to help you turn the tide of battle in an instant.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

All of the old favourites return here, with the likes of Andy, Max, Grit, Sami and so on giving you lots of different CO powers and superpowers to play around with, such as Andy’s ability to mend vehicles and units once his gauge is charged up — saving you from retreating to a captured base to heal — and Grit’s sniper senses temporarily extending his army’s attack range. Advance Wars gives you limited time with these various characters in comparison to the expanded choices afforded in Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising but, by jumping into the game’s War Room mode and earning coins, you’ll be able to unlock the full roster of available COs from Hachi’s shop in order to rock them into battles against the CPU, hone your skills and earn those elusive S-Ranks on every map.

If you prefer your opponents in human form, you’ve also got the option of jumping into battles against up to three of your friends in either online battles (a mode we haven’t been able to test for this review) or in local play that sees you share controllers on one console or hook up four Switches to get stuck into combat. There are a ton of premade maps to buy from Hachi for use in these various modes and the game also comes with a dinky Design Room where you can get busy creating your own maps which can then be used online or shared with other players. Re-Boot Camp is, in short, a thoroughly well-rounded package that gives you plenty of ways to play, and we can only hope that the new addition of online play against pals performs adequately once players start to jump into action on release day.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

In terms of the enhancements made for this remake, beyond the addition of that online mode and a handful of modern conveniences, such as the ability to replay your last move or fast-forward through an enemy’s turn, it’s all very much business as usual here from a gameplay perspective, which is exactly what we wanted. Why mess with such a perfect formula? It’s therefore in the graphical and audio presentation that we see the biggest changes and this is the only area of the game where we have a small criticism.

The crisp and clean new graphical style makes for an update that sticks closely to the vibe of the original games, taking the wonderfully clunky units and pixelated maps of the classics and giving them a makeover that adds fine details, smooth edges, new animations and plenty of delightfully swooshy cutscenes as you unleash your various CO powers. The audio evolution adds much to the experience, too, with lots of excellent voice-acting bringing the cast of characters to life like never before. The UI is also super clean and easy to parse in all situations, with every bit of info you need in any situation available by simply moving over a unit, holding in a shoulder button for further details, or pressing ‘B’ to check out attack radiuses.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

So, what’s our niggling criticism then? Well, we’re not totally sold on how the battle maps are presented in a sort of playbox/board game style. Yes, we’re being incredibly nit-picky, but there it is. You get used to it as you play, and we’ve all but forgotten it now, but early on it feels like a design decision that pulls you out of the action a little. We get that it’s perhaps a decision made to further remove the warfare at hand from anything resembling real-world events, but we definitely prefer the original style of zoomed-in combat arena. There’s also, perhaps, a sense that there’s nothing really new to dig into here. There are no big surprises joining forces with the delight in this beautifully presented remake; it’s very much what you would expect.

Beyond those minor complaints, though, Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is indeed a delightful reworking of a pair of bonafide strategy classics. The core gameplay here hasn’t aged a day with battles that feel perfectly pitched and finely balanced throughout. The story is throwaway stuff, yes, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the infectious enthusiasm of its cast of highly likeable COs. The whole package also looks great and performs perfectly in both docked and handheld modes. We just want remakes of Days of Ruin and Dual Strike now please, Nintendo. We’re fully addicted all over again.

Conclusion

Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is a delightful reimagining of two classic GBA strategy titles. The gameplay here remains as endlessly addictive, finely balanced, and challenging as ever, and the addition of a handful of modern conveniences and the ability to play against friends online makes for a slick overall package. With a crisp, clean new art style that adds lots of new animations and cutscenes, a remastered soundtrack, and voice-acting in the mix, this is a polished return to Advance Wars action that’s got us fully addicted to the series all over again. This is the sort of game you’ll reserve a permanent space for on your console, a timeless experience you’ll keep tucked away on your Switch for the foreseeable future.

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