What the wrench has to do with war we have no idea.
  Note to self: Tanks and jeeps do not mix.
Come get some, etc.

    Advance Wars brings with it an interesting moral conundrum, for those inclined to obsess over completely inconsequential matters: is it better to portray war as a savage, destructive conflict that tears apart lives and worlds, along with all the blood, pathos and betrayal that implies? Or is it better to sanitize it into a bright, colorful cartoon conflict, fought between clean, neat territorial demarcations in the name of personal honor and glory? Does the one dramatize the horrors of war, while the other trivializes them?

Nobody leaves The Island.
Charge of the Light Brigade

    Such burning issues aside, Advance Wars is a sharp little tactics game and one of the better current investments for a Game Boy Advance. Gameplay consists of a string of tactical engagements between two or more opposing forces, with some (extremely minimal) story tossed in between battles. In some respects, players who have cut their teeth on strat games like Final Fantasy Tactics will not feel out of place here; there's the expected variety of units and goals, the same turn-based gameplay and rectangular map grid simulating a variety of terrain.

    But in other respects, a good deal of adjustment will be required. Units do not carry over from one battle to the next, so nearly all units are destined to be cannon fodder at some point. Nor are all units equally effective against each other; anti-aircraft guns are great against aircraft and ground troops, but are easily destroyed by tanks, which are weak against bombers. These numerous dependencies sometimes make Advance Wars feel like an overly complex game of rock-paper-scissors; add in movement costs, terrain layouts, economic and production considerations, and different commanders with varying attack styles, and Advance Wars becomes an exceedingly intricate system that takes hours to master. The title isn't Starcraft in terms of detail and nuance, but it is surprisingly well balanced and about as good an RTS substitute as can be found on a portable system.

  Design your own private killing fields!
Like Sim City with heavy artillery

    Fortunately the game has an extremely reasonable learning curve. Before almost any other mode, the player is required to play through an hours-long series of training missions explaining necessary facets of gameplay. Beyond that there's a campaign mode with battles against the computer. Winning battles here allows the player to unlock a plethora of standalone maps in the Battle Room, new phases of campaign mode, and additional commanders to try out. There's also a map designer and two multiplayer modes, one using the GBA link cable, and one allowing different players to play against each other on the same GBA. In short, there's an insane amount of playability inside this cart.

Kitten with a riding-crop thingy.
Colin Powell never looked this good

    Graphics and controls are also both well suited to the GBA. Graphics are large and colorful for easy viewing, and the turn-based nature of gameplay means those with large hands won't have to struggle for constant and precise control of their handhelds. There are also small animated cut scenes illustrating each engagement between two units - these are entertaining for a while, but more experienced players may wish to deactivate them, as they greatly slow down the gameplay. The music is largely inoffensive while being appropriately martial, and can also be turned off separately from the game sound effects.

    The only minor quibble that might be found with the game is that it only allows the player only one save slot; other than that, Advance Wars is a surprisingly solid game. It's a must play if you're an insatiable strategy gamer, but it's also more than worth the money for almost any GBA owner who doesn't mind taking their turn.

Review by Chris Jones, GIA.
Game Boy Wars Advance
Developer Intelligent Systems
Publisher Nintendo
Genre Strategy
Medium Cartridge (? mb)
Platform Game Boy Advance
Release Date  Summer 2001
E3: Advanced Wars release date, length
20 new screenshots