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Saturday Gaming Retrospective - Advance Wars

Advance Wars – Game Boy Advanced
By Dakota Grabowski

“I’m not saying I am perfect, but why focus on the negative, right?”

Nintendo made a smart decision back in 2001 to finally debut the Nintendo/Famicom Wars series in the North American and European markets with Advance Wars. Before that, the six predecessors never saw release outside of Japan. Advance Wars is often considered one of the best Game Boy Advanced titles of all time – and rightfully so.


When simplicity is better

What were its cultural impact and/or importance?

When Advance Wars released in 2001, it released a week prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Even though the events eventually forced Nintendo to cancel the release of Advance Wars in Japan, Advance Wars went on to critical and financial success.

Not only did this surprise many – since this was a military turn-based strategy game – but it also opened up the eyes of developers throughout the gaming industry. Intelligent Systems, also the creators of Fire Emblem, helped pave way for the turned-based genre in its entirety to make its presence known on the handhelds. Following the release of Advance Wars, several titles released to take advantage of the market that gradually opened up on the handhelds including:

  • Onimusha Tactics

  • Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis

  • Zone of the Enders: The Fist of Mars

  • Super Robot Wars: Original Generation

  • Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

  • Fire Emblem

  • Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones

  • Yu Yu Hakusho: Tournament Tactics

The genre has grown by leaps and bounds since 2001, and credit has to be given to Advance Wars for delivering such a rich and simple design to lure gamers back for more strategic warfare action. The characters introduced, such as Eagle, Andy, Olaf and Max, were integral to drawing in the audience and keeping them hooked on the story-based campaign. It only takes a handful of minutes to see the attraction of Advance Wars and why its grid-based combat made such an impact on the genre.



Combat took place on three levels: land, sea, and air

What areas of gaming did it advance?

It proved to be an excellent entry point into the genre, whether we are talking about handhelds exclusively or not.  Taking control of the Orange Star army and battling the Yellow Comet, Green Earth and Blue Moon armies was a fantastic journey from start to finish. In addition, Advance Wars was decisively difficult and provided a good challenge too.

There was a high level of strategy that was needed to obtain victory. There were more than 100 grid-based maps to battle on with terrain to take into account when making the next move. A few maps had fog of war as an attribute that needed to be factored in. The variety of units all had different penalties and bonuses based on the terrain and enemy units they encountered. Each unit had different movement ranges and could only attack specific units. Add in the Power Meter, which allowed the characters to use special powers, and we have a fantastic strategy game that could be played a variety of ways.

On the contrary, the storyline didn’t advance any areas of gaming as it focused on a trivial “shadow” figure named Sturm who was manipulating all the nations to battle against one another. Rather predictable and inconsequential, the storyline was a throwaway. But, at least the characters were memorable; that has to count for something, right?



We miss the old Advance Wars gang.

Does it stand the test of time?

Advance Wars passes the test with flying colors; and it does so because the sequels have yet to surpass the original.

The follow-up sequel, Advance Wars: Black Hole Rising, was pleasing, but it didn’t take any daring steps to launching the series into a whole new spectrum. It added in a few new characters, powers, units and the ability to share maps, but it never was able to step out of the shadow of the original.

The DS sequels split the fanbase in terms of those who thought the changes were extraordinary and those who thought they were abysmal. Advance Wars: Dual Strike added in touch-based controls, WiFi connectivity, new characters, new units, and the option to take total control over their AI partners in battle. Advance Wars: Days of Ruin left the world of the first three titles and created an entirely new set of characters to follow. The biggest addition for Days of Ruin was that it had online play.

Even with changes such as Super CO Powers, the series has yet to return to its former glory. The developers have tinkered with the formula and must go back to the drawing board to figure out what lies in the future.

Looking back, Advance Wars started a trend and set the bar so high, that no one has been able to raise it in the past eight years on the handhelds. Let’s hope that Intelligent Systems and Nintendo return back to the entertaining days of Andy, Max and Sami.

Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising by Louis Bedigian
Advance Wars: Dual Strike Review by Aceinet
Advance Wars: Days of Ruin Review by Louis Bedigian

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