Reporting for duty
One of my all-time favorite gaming memories is someone showing me the original Advance Wars at a convention. I was no stranger to strategy games (my first was Dune II), but until then it had eluded me. From that moment on, as we spent hours using the “pass-and-play” feature to enjoy one long game throughout the weekend: I was hooked.
Now, another generation can experience that same rush with Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp (Switch)
Release: April 21, 2023
Even if you’ve never played a strategy game before, Advance Wars (particularly this version) is a great place to start. Re-Boot Camp specifically is a remake of the first two core games in the series (released in 2001 and 2003 respectively), with some extras and a modern coat of paint. The gist is that you’ll be taking control of the peppy and friendly Orange Star army, as you attempt to take down the aggressive Blue Moon forces. The Orange Star leader Nell will help you acclimate to the game’s asynchronous (turn-based) strategy system, as well as the ins and outs of each unit and optimal placement/maneuvering. Thankfully the tutorial isn’t too hand-wringy, as you can choose to skip many aspects of it in Re-Boot Camp, and the tutorial itself serves as the first few missions of the game.
As a fan of the originals, I assumed it would take me a while to get on board with the new “WayForward-ey” style, but I bought in pretty quickly. Every single aspect of this double-pack remake is lovely aesthetically. The menus are sleek and practically pop out of the screen (especially on an OLED), and the bright visuals and stark character work showcase just how fantastic this world always was; and how it’s a shame we didn’t really get more of it.
No joke: I even waffled around the menus a bit as I unlocked stuff just to see the screen transitions: they’re that fun and cute. Once you actually get into the game you’ll see that same signature sleek look employed on basically everything else. I know the Advance Wars style was polarizing at the time (and based on many comments on various YouTube videos and articles, it kinda still is), but it looks beautiful in motion.
The core still holds up too. Your job is to command units on various maps and take out enemy forces either directly, or indirectly via an objective like capturing their HQ; routing the opposing forces. You’ll do this by moving a wide variety of units, like foot soldiers (who can capture buildings on the ground), supply vehicles, aircraft, tanks, and ships: all of whom have subdivisions that counter specific units and have their own sets of strengths and weaknesses. By the time you hit the game’s crescendo, you’ll be moving around myriad unit types like a master: but Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot moves along at a reasonable pace, introducing you to each unit in a guided fashion.
Adding an extra layer on top of all that nuance is the CO (Commanding Officer) system, which elevates your army with a named character; all of whom sport different powers. Even something as small as changing up the CO you use can drastically alter how you may approach a mission or a map layout, or even suit a specific playstyle. That special power mechanic also applies to enemy COs, which creates a fascinating tug-of-war where you one-up the opposing force, then they hit right back. It’s fun, thrilling, and in the context of the remake’s new visuals, exciting to watch.
It’s also not overwhelming while offering each player a good amount of individual choices for each mission. The general “flow” of Advance Wars still works in 2023, as veterans can get really into it and go for S+ ratings every time, while newcomers can boot up casual mode and enjoy the scenery. No in-game challenges or unlocks are linked to either difficulty, so you can also swap at will if there’s a particularly taxing map in your way, or you want to up the challenge.
There are also a few convenience-focused elements of the Re-Boot Camp re-release, like the ability to jump right into the second game if you want (though Re-Boot warns you that you should finish the original first), and a casual mode to help folks acclimate to all of the strategic concepts: both from a macro-genre standpoint and the micro of what everything in Advance Wars 1+2 actually does.
If you’re into creating your own maps the design room returns (where you can make up to 50 maps on a maximum 30×20 grid), as well as a versus mode for up to four players (with single console pass-and-play, multi-console play, and 1v1 online play), a war room (an AI mode where you can play bots), and a shop to buy new maps, extras, and even COs. While I do wish some of these modes were more fully featured with additional options and tweaks, there’s a lot here to keep you busy after you’ve finished both campaigns.
Although we were not able to test out online for this review, I cannot understate the convenience of pass-and-play, which is still an enduring feature decades on. The ability to just bring one copy of a game and entertain other people is a lost art, as split-screen and local play have been disappearing at a rapid pace from just about every major multiplayer release. It severely ups the cachet of owning the game, as you can bust it out at any time and teach people how to play on a single console.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is a tough sell to some for a variety of reasons. Straight-up: a lot of folks likely aren’t going to want to pay full price to experience these games all over again, and I get it. But I found myself falling in love with the Advance Wars universe for the second time in my life, despite occasionally going back to my still-working GBA copies. I really hope this leads to a series resurgence, and Nintendo/WayForward both use this opportunity to move the franchise forward from the ground up.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]