Revisiting Advance Wars on the Nintendo GBA
The war in the Ukraine has postponed the remaster of Advance Wars on the Nintendo Switch, and I because I can’t even find a date for when it’ll be released, I just had to boot up the GBA (emulator) and play it all over again. Of course, I can understand why it’s been postponed, Nintendo being Nintendo, have always tried to be sensitive to their players and customers.
It’s been 2008 since the most recent Advance Wars was released, the uncharacteristically dark, brooding, post-apocalyptic Advance Wars: Days of Ruin on the Nintendo DS. I remember loving that, but just to give some context it means I have been waiting 14 years to play Advance Wars again. Fourteen years since my team of Commanding Officers have fought back the enemy. I must admit, I wasn’t convinced by the post-apocalyptic depression that one induced, but the game was still great (I think!).
Maybe I’ll play it another day. The original Advance Wars on GBA was released in 2001, and with my very fond memories of the series I decided I couldn’t wait for the reboot, so I grabbed my Napoleon hat and started my campaign of cute war destruction.
It’s been decades since I played it, and I was surprised at just how saccharine sweet they made this oh so good turn-based war game. So very, very, very, very sweet, it’s a war where defeated enemies just sort of disappear and are never mentioned again. A war where enemy commanders are friends, and the battles are simply contests of thought and will. The characters are totally child friendly, and I expected to skip every cutscene and all the dialogue. Something strange happened, the more I played, the more I read through the more I wanted to be part of that silly, warm world. I was wondering if it was just nostalgia on my part, but when it was released, I would have been out in the world working, no longer a boy. I just think it has a little bit of magic, like a Studio Ghibli film, but obviously it’s game so the writing is nowhere near as good! It surprised this middle-aged man, cynical of the games industry he works in, filled with greedy nickel and diming bastards armed with spreadsheets that we’ve all become.
The game itself, and bear in mind this is first one released outside of Japan, is beautifully constructed. The way units are balanced is a master class in design. Long range units, battleships, planes, helicopters, tanks, anti-aircraft units and infantry all have their strengths and weaknesses that with intelligence and good tactics can be used to your advantage. Each level can be defeated, and you can win in style. By style I mean decimating the enemy quickly, efficiently and with epic power.
Each commander that you face or use, has their own special powers that can turn the tide of war. Each level is a strategic puzzle, that requires you to use your brain. I’m genuinely good at these games, in a Pepper Pig way, I’d claim I’m a bit of an expert. Obviously to bolster my credentials I must also mention that I am master tactician at the Civilization series (all of them and most of the DLC). But make no mistake, a properly drunk Midnight Retro will not romp through these battlefields without consideration. It was absolutely necessary to march around the living room in his Napoleon hat to consider his moves and to talk about himself in the third person. Especially if he wanted those elusive S grade victories. If your retro game memories are fading, you may not remember that S grade in Japanese games was always higher than getting an A grade. Think of it like an A+ or A*.
Getting those high grades is useful too, beyond the campaign, those grades provide the coins that allow you to open new battlefields to play against the computer or any friends who happen to have GBA. Of course, these days we’d try and charge players enough money to feed a family for a week, by making them inherently unfair. You know that level that you can’t pass in Candy Crush that made you pay some cash, that’s a pinch level. it pinches money out of your wallet. Here though I found with thought, knowledge, and a fine military hat I could get most of those elusive top S grades.
The problem these days is that as I have grown older, I have “responsibilities”. So, although I have completed this joyful battlefield romp, I won’t be honing the tactics of my troops for every top grade, but you know I want to, I really want to. You also know that I want to pick up my child from school wearing some kind of military hat, or maybe even a beret but out in the school yard its frowned upon. That’s not a hill I am willing to die on. For the record the CO Max is easily the best one, give him a couple of Medium Tanks and he’ll roll through the enemy, like Sonic on speed.
Beating the Black Hole Army (the most ominous sounding text in the whole game) was a delight. Sturm the enemy boss, has a nasty special weapon missile that will damage swathes of your troops, but he was no match for me. Truth be told winning the game is relatively easy the trick is to get those S grades, but damn I enjoyed it while it lasted.
For the record I’m almost certainly going to buy the Switch version just that so I can play multiplayer. I wonder if I’ll like the remaster or slate it like the Total Recall film. (Seriously why did they do that, it looked great, but it was an absolute catastrophe).
That’s the joy of playing retro games, if you can look past some of the hardware limitations (especially for the earliest of games) in terms of graphics and sound, you can find gems that still delight even with over 20 years of evolution that is inherent in this industry.
It’s time to play Advance Wars 2. If I write about it, the next post will have action pictures of military hats.