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DS  header logo

Advance Wars: Dual Strike

For: DS

It's time to take on the Black Hole Army in a war game that offers plenty of strategic options as well as more modes than you can shake a bazooka at

Product: Advance Wars: Dual Strike | Developer: Intelligent Systems | Publisher: Nintendo | Format: DS | Genre: Strategy | Players: 1-8 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: US
 
Advance Wars: Dual Strike DS, thumbnail 1
When it came to marshalling troops and taking over the world, the easiest approach for the childhood megalomaniac used to be tipping out his box of soldiers, lining them up across the livingroom carpet and then proceeding to roll marbles at them. Simple, cheap but also involving a bit of skill (aiming marbles through the shagpile can be tricky) it's a tried-and-tested method that's racked up billion of hours of relatively bloodless fun.

So how does Nintendo's latest slab of domination for the armchair general, Advance Wars: Dual Strike, shape up in comparison?

Well, it's a lot more complicated, that's for sure. Continuing the relentless conflict of the Advance Wars world (after all, this is the third version of the game to be released; the first two were released on the GBA), Dual Strike sees the return of the evil hordes of the Black Hole Army, who are out to conquer the peaceful nations. Happily these have combined to form the wacky Allied Armies of Orange Star, Blue Moon, Yellow Comet and Green Earth. And, as the battle rages, you'll get to play with a combination of troops from each colourful source.

But in the beginning, you're thrown straight into battle as the young dude commander, Jake. Part of Orange Star, the walkman-wielding clubber isn't what you'd call a typical soldier, but that's all part of Advance Wars' charms.

For all his phat talkin', when called into action he's a commanding officer who fights well with tanks on large open battlefields. As the game progresses, and you end up with a wider selection of commanding officers to deploy, these sorts of decisions become more important, with some COs great at using long-range artillery while others take less damage or earn more money from their bases.

Unlike most war games, Advance Wars: Dual Strike is much more than just rushing a wedge of tanks into battle. For one thing, it's much less freeform than other strategy war games. In many of the missions, for example, you'll start out marshalling a fixed number of units and troops, with no option to build more until you capture a factory from the Black Hole. It's also a game in which battles take place over land, air and sea, so you'll need a good balance of firepower in each form to make progress or your tanks will simply be taken out by squads of attack choppers or the massive destruction of a battleship's guns.

In many ways, the battles often play out like a cross between chess and draughts, where you have to think tactically about how you'll position your army, both in terms of which units to attack and in what order, but also what options that will leave the opposition. Partly this is because, like both chess and draughts, Advance Wars: Dual Strike is turn-based, so each CO gets to make their moves in turn. Indeed, it's worthwhile noting that this really isn't a fast-moving game. By the time you're onto level 11 you'll be controlling four Allied COs against two enemy COs, so you'll want to go into the options and switch on the fast animation mode, or each turn will take over five minutes per CO. Similarly, the best option is to play using the DS' buttons and not the touchscreen stylus, which isn't precise enough to work well on complex battlefields dotted with dozens of units.

But back to those COs. Their presence relates to the "Dual Strike" bit of the game's name as you can swap between your two COs during their turn. This is a neat trick as each has their own special abilities, counterattacks that become available when their damage meter is filled up. At certain points in the game you can even counterattack with one CO and then swap to counterattack with the other, getting two goes for the price of one.

And it's spectacular moves like these that show off Advance Wars at its best. For those who are into devising detailed battlefield tactics, no other handheld game offers anything like the same level of complexity and brain-ache.

The downside, however, is that for many players the complexity of moving troops around and thinking carefully about what you're doing will seem too much like hard work. For example, you have to be careful to make sure you know exactly what you need to do to complete each level. Of course, you can win by destroying the enemy, but often the capture of a single special enemy base, if you can locate it on the map, will be enough to take you to the next battlefield.

There are also some fiddly elements to the game. Recognising the different types of buildings can be difficult due to their tiny size. There's also the issue of how far and where each type of vehicle can move too. This depends on whether they use tracks or wheels, with track-based units such as tanks and artillery sometimes ending up completely blocked by the units around them.

We've no complaints over the scale of the game, mind. The main thread is the single player Campaign mode with around 30 missions to play, followed by 20 hard missions if you make it that far. Then there's the War Room where you can set up custom games. In Survival mode you have to survive as many levels as possible with either fixed amounts of money, time, or number of turns. In the slightly weird Combat mode you get to control one unit at a time and all the action happens in real-time rather than being turn-based.

Playing these different modes provides you with the extra points you'll need to unlock new maps, new outfits for your COs and in-game artwork, as well as unlocking all the game soundtracks and designing your own wallpapers. If that wasn't enough, there's also the Versus mode where up to eight players can go head-to-head using one game cartridge, plus bundles of other multiplayer options. You can even design your own battle maps and beam them to your mates' DS', although in this instance each of you will need a copy of the game.

So, if you're into war and strategy, Advance Wars: Dual Strike is likely to be your game of the year, and not just on the DS. Despite its cute graphics and the occasionally amusing dialogue between the different COs, it offers deep strategic options for making war. There's great attention to detail, such as the ability to merge battered units together or use captured bases to re-supply and rebuild their strength. You can also perform daring raids, landing your advance force behind enemy lines to try and gain a quick victory.

For people who need a quick fix and can't be bothered to play through the hour-long missions, saving the world from the Black Hole Army will likely prove about as much fun as a retreat through the Russian winter in your swimsuit. The rest of us can dive right in.

Advance Wars: Dual Strike is on sale now.
 
Advance Wars: Dual Strike
Reviewer photo
Jon Jordan | 30 September 2005
Ideal for thoughful turn-based warmongers, Advance Wars: Dual Strike's deep strategic glories aren't for the pick-up-and-play brigade
 
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