Where the hell is Advance Wars?

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Of the many Nintendo franchises on hold, none seem to have as much history and as much reason to be made again other than the Advance Wars series. First, let us note that calling it the Advance Wars series is an inaccuracy; it should be more correctly referred to as the Wars series. While the franchise is most well-known under the Advance Wars name, it actually preceded the start of that sub-series by more than fifteen years, first releasing on the Famicom as Famicom Wars.

Regardless of its origins, what fans of the series like, what the natural continuation of it should be is in the style of the Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS games.

The franchise is mainly a turn-based tactical strategy (TBTS) game made primarily by Nintendo’s Intelligent Systems (IS), not unlike their famous Fire Emblem series. While it doesn’t utilize the RPG elements of Fire Emblem, Advance Wars requires more strategy.

This is the Series’s Name in Japan

While the late-series is known for its colorful graphics and chunky tanks, the games are well-respected for their deep strategy mechanics. One major element that differentiates it from other TBTS games is the ability to purchase units in some maps, which adds an elements similar to RTS games, but with more time to think.

Of all the franchises I covered in my “Where the Hell” series, Advance Wars may have the most chance of coming back. So, let’s look at what the hell happened, and how it may come back again.

The Wars series consist of twelve games over a twenty year period, with one game being a remake. Two of those titles are spin-offs of the main TBTS-style gameplay, and are a mix of Action-Tactical and 3rd person shooters. Of the TBTS games, we can neatly divided them as pre and post Advance Wars, which also marks the point the series debuted in the west.

How the series is mostly known in the West

While the games did have console releases, it clearly found its niche in the portable market, with eight out of twelve games being on a portable console. One funny thing about the naming convention of each sub-series is the use of the console name, with the Advance Wars series being named after the Gameboy Advance.

A) The Mainline Games:

a) Before Advance Wars:

Originating in 1988, the Wars franchise began with Famicom Wars, and then expanded into the portable market with the Game Boy Wars series with Hudson Soft taking the helm from IS. Two games were released on home consoles and 4 on portables.

1- Famicom Wars:

  • Released: NES (Famicom), 1988 in Japan
  • Developer: Intelligent Systems
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Critical Reception: 33/40 from Famitsu, included in Best Games of all time list
  • Commercial Reception: Unknown

The first Wars game actually established much of what is well-known about the series. It features some colorful graphics on the NES, with cartoonish soldier and some significant environmental detail. Later, that style would be elaborated and expanded upon in the sequels.

More importantly though are the gameplay elements which set the standard for the games to follow. First, the fact that there are funds each turn to purchase new units, meaning that an effective win must destroy all units in the same turn or prolong the conflict. Second, the fact that there is a strong multiplayer element, with two people playing against each other.

By all accounts, the game played wonderfully, with a lot of unit options and well-designed maps. These maps have all featured as extra content in future TBTS Wars games.

2- Gameboy Wars:

  • Released: Game Boy, 1991 in Japan
  • Remake: Released as Game Boy Wars Turbo in 1997 in Japan
  • Developer: Intelligent Systems, Hudson Soft (Remake)
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Critical Reception: Unknown
  • Commercial Reception: Unknown

Identifying its portable perfect formula, IS and Nintendo decided to make the Game Boy the next home for the new Wars franchise. The colorful graphics of the NES game could not be translated into the chrome screen of the Game Boy. Nevertheless, it managed to convey all the important information through monochrome icons, as well as have some of the NES game’s charm.

This game was remade by Hudson Soft, who went on to make the next two Gameboy Wars games.

3- Super Famicom Wars:

  • Released: SNES Satellaview, 1998 in Japan
  • Developed: Intelligent Systems
  • Published: Nintendo
  • Critical Reception: N/A
  • Commercial Reception: N/A

This is a weird one. Basically, a semi-fully-fledged sequel for the NES game, Super Famicom Wars was a game released on the Satellaview, which is probably gaming’s first attempt at a gaming streaming service. Because of that, the game is little known despite its enhanced graphics and charming visuals.

Still the same experience as before but with even less story and a focus on multiplayer.

5&6- Game Boy Wars 2 & 3:

  • Released: Game Boy & Game Boy Color, 1998 & 2001 respectively in Japan
  • Developer: Hudson Soft
  • Published: Nintendo
  • Critical Reception: 88.55%
  • Commercial Reception: roughly 200K units sold

Both Game Boy Wars 2 and 3 were never released outside of Japan. While the first of these was a simple sequel to the game originally made by IS, featuring the exact same gameplay but some quality of life enhancements, Game Boy 3 was the first shake up to the franchise’s signature gameplay.

With an extensive campaign mode, it started putting more emphasis on the single player component, even adding the ability to carry over and upgrade surviving units. In the gameplay side, it also tasked the players with acquiring resources from the game maps, making it a little more similar to the Nectaris series also developed by Hudson Soft.

b) The Advance Wars Series:

While it retained the same gameplay throughout its NES, SNES, and Game Boy days, the Wars series never had a singular identity, character, or style in which to be recognized by. Perhaps, that is why the series never saw light in the west. However, that changed with the release of the first game on the Game Boy Advance.

1- Advance Wars:

  • Released: Game Boy Advance, 2001 in NA, and 2004 in Japan (As part of a compilation with Advance Wars 2)
  • Developer: Intelligent Systems
  • Published: Nintendo
  • Critical Reception: 92.38%
  • Commercial Reception: 700K Units

This was the first Wars game released in the west. This was also the start of where the series completely migrated from Japan, with the game only being released as part of a compilation with its sequel. One thing to note is that it was also delayed because of the September 11 attacks.

Gaining an immediate dedicated following and some very warm critical reception, Advance Wars provided a good basic story, but an interesting and visually unique world that became instantly iconic. One thing that provided some much needed character to the game is in its use of commander characters, who have powers that can drastically change the tide of battle.

It had simple to understand mechanics, hiding some amazing depth. Changes only added to the gameplay, without sacrificing its identity. IS added factories to build units from plants to get funds from, and even weather conditions that significantly change things. To top all of that, the game still retained its excellent multiplayer.

2- Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising:

  • Released: Game Boy Advance, 2003 in NA, and 2004 in Japan (As part of a compilation with Advance Wars 2)
  • Developer: Intelligent Systems
  • Published: Nintendo
  • Critical Reception: 90.16%
  • Commercial Reception: 650K Units

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, which is basically what this sequel to the first Advance Wars did. Despite not being at all different from its predecessor, Advance Wars 2 was still well-received both critically and commercially. The core gameplay remained the same, and it had all the bells and whistles introduced in the first game.

One big change was its non-linear story, which gave the player the choice when taking missions, although the order ultimately didn’t matter.

3- Advance Wars: Dual Strike:

  • Released: Nintendo DS, 2005 in Japan and NA
  • Developer: Intelligent Systems
  • Published: Nintendo
  • Critical Reception: 90.28%
  • Commercial Reception: 390K Units

One of the biggest mysteries I will never solve is why Dual Strike (DS huh, huh) was such a financial flop. Released to wide critical acclaim, the game managed to sell less on a more successful console despite being better than both its predecessors, despite being a perfect fit for the DS. The game especially failed in Japan, where it was only the 301st best selling game in its home country.

Gameplay-wise, the game’s introduction of touch control sped things up, giving the player access to information quicker than a menu could. As for the core of the series, the Dual Strike feature allowed for two commanders, significantly shaking things up. That, coupled with some new units, allowed for more varied maps, and more variety of choices.

Again, I have no idea why Dual Strike miserably failed, but it surely was one of the DS’s best games

4- Advance Wars: Days of Ruin:

  • Released: Nintendo DS, 2008 in NA
  • Developer: Intelligent Systems
  • Published: Nintendo
  • Critical Reception: 85.37%
  • Commercial Reception: 610K Units

Correcting course after the financial flop that was DS, IS decided to completely ignore the Japanese market and opt for a full western style game. That meant the series lost its charm, and instead went for a black and brown post-apocalyptic world. Admittedly, that’s not the game’s biggest shortcoming, as the world has its place, and the game didn’t suffer a lot from it.

In fact, while not suffering critically, the game actually performed better than the superior Dual Strike, meaning that IS and Nintendo’s strategy worked to some extent.

Personally, I don’t have much problem with the chosen aesthetic look (Even though I prefer the old Advance War style), but I do have a problem with one key change. IS removed the commander powers and instead added a commander unit (a stronger unit with limited bonus-giving ability). That, in my opinion, removed the trump card that would often lead to finishing off battles quickly, and instead ensured some games would extend beyond an hour or so, which is unforgivable.

B) The Spin-Off Series (Battalion Wars):

The main idea of Battalion Wars is to have a TRPG game where you can directly control the action you order the units to make. Meaning that when you assign a tank to shoot, you are responsible for actually making that shot count. However, it ended up more like a 3rd person shooter with some tactical elements.

1- Battalion Wars:

  • Released: GameCube, 2005 in Japan & NA
  • Developer: Kuju Entertainment
  • Published: Nintendo
  • Critical Reception: 76.78%
  • Commercial Reception: 400K Units

Originally titled Advance Wars: Under Fire, Nintendo decided that the gameplay focus was too different to share the same name, and hence changed the name to Battalion Wars. That probably was for the best, as the game neither shares the same world nor does it have any similar gameplay. It’s basically a third person action game with some real-time tactical elements. There are several units that you can control, and you can switch between them at any time which provides some flexibility.

While the gameplay is unique and interesting, the game lacked any defining edge that endeared it to fans or critics. It lacked the charming design of the Advance Wars series, and had none of the depth. Still, it was a promising spin-off, one that didn’t sell bad on the GameCube.

2- Battalion Wars 2:

  • Released: Wii, 2007 in NA, and 2008 in Japan.
  • Developer: Kuju Entertainment
  • Published: Nintendo
  • Critical Reception: 74.29%
  • Commercial Reception: 340K Units

If Battalion Wars did enough to warrant a sequel, then the sequel did enough to kill the spin-off. Despite streamlining the game, adding some more unit, as well as a much-requested multiplayer, the game ended up performing worse on a better selling console. That fact points to how core gamers did not necessarily buy into the Wii (despite it having very good games).

Even though it is considered a better realization of what Kuju Entertainment wanted with the first Battalion Wars, this sequel failed to convert any new fans.

When analyzing why any series die, the most obvious answer would be a financial decline. Sometimes, that decline is related to the series itself, or it is related to the developers and/or publishers of the series. Still, it is always interesting to research those exact trends, and learn the reasons behind such a decline. In many way, we wish the gaming industry would actually do this to learn lessons, but we know that they unfortunately rarely actually do so.

The Wars franchise, especially in its Advance Wars incarnation, has some passionate following, with a very high critical reception on average. Still, it has been 10 years since the last game in the series was released, and it looks like IS are uninterested in reviving the franchise.

So why did it die?

Lukewarm Japanese Reception:

Even though Nintendo chases a global market, it still is a Japanese company and its home territory sales are an important part for them. As such, the sudden decline of the Famicom Wars series (as its is known in Japan) must have been very concerning to Nintendo. It meant that the series must completely depend on Western sales, while being developed by a Japanese studio.

This decline coincided with the release of Advance Wars and its amazing reception in the west. Maybe the slow adoption of the Game Boy Advance in Japan as well as the late release of the game had something to do with it. Regardless, Advance Wars: Dual Strike simply bombed there, and the last game in the series was made with Western sensibilities in mind and never released in Japan.

There are two problems with this. First, it risk alienating the Western fans that liked the game for its original style. Second, IS and Nintendo are not comfortable depending on a Western market that has never been that big on portables.

Failure of Dual Strike:

This follows from the first point. Even though the DS exploded in sales, and even though Dual Strike was a better realization of the series’ ideas, the game sold nearly half what the Game Boy advance games managed. That’s a failure no matter how you slice it.

First, it signaled to Nintendo that there is little future for the series in Japan. Second, it convinced IS that they need to drastically change the style in an effort to exclusively appeal to a Western audience. That did not end with a failure, as Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, sold better. Still, it was not the explosion of sales Nintendo may have hoped for.

Sudden Success of Fire Emblem:

Honestly, I think that this is probably the most significant reason for this franchise’s death. According to IS, Fire Emblem: Awakening, was a shot in the dark. More a final hurrah than the harbinger of more games to come. Yet, it was met with such sudden success, that IS became nearly entirely focused on the Fire Emblem franchise.

It is ironic that the success of Advance Wars, which originally convinced IS and Nintendo to localize Fire Emblem for the North American market, would then be undone by the same series.

At some level, it is understandable why IS would completely focus on Fire Emblem in lieu of Advance Wars. It became a very successful series; breaking the one million barrier for the first time in IS history for a non-Mario game. Yet, you cannot but feel that it is shortsighted, and may cause series fatigue to set in, like it did for Fire Emblem: Shadow of Valentia which failed to break that barrier again.

If a series doesn’t deserve to “live” then we wouldn’t be upset when it stops. These are the main reasons we want some new Advance Wars games.

It all goes down to its addictive, simple, and very deep gameplay

Unique Tactical Gameplay:

Some people compare the Advance Wars games to other SRPGs like Fire Emblem and Shining Force. However, other than the fact that all of these involve turn-based tactical gameplay, the Advance Wars games are actually very different. For starters, there is little to no RPG systems in the game, meaning that your units do not gain experience and develop through the campaing. Instead, Advance Wars focuses on each map as a standalone tactical challenge. Also, there is usually an element of resource management, as you need to acquire the funds and factories to build more units.

In that regard, the blend of tactical gameplay similar to Fire Emblem and resource managment more familiar to RTS gamers is what makes the Advance Wars game a unique blend. There hasn’t been a proper replacment in the market, and thus more market share for a new game in the series to claim.

Signficant Multiplayer Focus:

Since its start in the NES, the Wars franchise emphasized the ability to play against another human player. One controller is enough, as the turn-based nature of its gameplay allows both players to pass the controller back and forth. That emphasis continued until the last game released in 2008, with Advance Wars: Days of Ruin even having an online multiplayer component.

This, coupled with its portable-perfect nature, means it’s a natural fit for the Switch with its detachable Joy-Con. Think about it, this is exactly the game that makes sense to play multiplayer on the go like in all those Nintendo commercials.

Perfect for Busy Gamers:

I have always been a proponent of time being the real scarce resource, and not money. Because of that, as gamers grow up, they look for games with depth that they can also play in bursts instead of sessions. That is one reason that the Switch has a predominantly adult base. Advance Wars, with its mission structure, can be played in short bursts with a lot of depth.

Still, today, I occasionally play Advance Wars: Dual Strike on my 3DS. Even though I have time to play other games, I know that whenever I am absolutely swamped, it is only games like Dual Strike that I can play to any degree of satisfaction.

There is also the charming visuals and chunky-realistic style

Nintendo is a company that you can both be suspicous about it doing anything with its dormant franchises, and a bit hopeful that someday they may decide to finally utilize their amazing IP back-catalogue. With Advance Wars, I am not sure if the Fire Emblem success have killed any chance of franchise ever making a comeback, but here is what I think is its possible future:

Advance Wars: Switch Forces:

This is a very specific possible future, but I think any Advance Wars game released on the Switch will have the name of the console somewhere in the title. Hell, it may be the entire gimmick of the game. With the first DS game, the series introduced dual commanders. With the Switch, maybe you can switch control between two forces.

Regardless of what shape a new sequel takes, it must be released on the Nintendo Switch. The thing is selling very well, and any series comeback will get a lot of attention from players and fans alike. Plus, it makes a lot of sense for a TBTS to be released on the Switch. The portability of the console makes sure that it is a perfect fit, and the detachable Joy-Con can make multiplayer easier than ever.

You know that makes little sense for FIFA or Mario Kart, but it makes sense for Chess or Advance Wars.

Mobile Future:

I actually don’t think it is probable for Advance Wars to be released on mobile before getting a proper sequel. Nintendo have shown that their foray into the mobile market is a form of support for their core games. Therefore, they wouldn’t release a little-known IP.

However, if they ever do release a proper sequel, then a mobile game makes a lot of sense. Like with Fire Emblem Heroes, a really good mobile game can be made with the Advance Wars formula, which once properly scrutinized should push people to buy the real thing if they want a better and meatier experience.


Currently, the dormant franchises debate with Nintendo is centered around whether the fate of the franchise is going to be a revival like Metroid, or a long sluber like F-Zero. It is therefore entirely realistic that Advance Wars may not get a sequel for a long time. In fact, if it doesn’t get a sequel in the Switch’s lifetime, I think the series is properly dead, and will no longer be referenced by Nintendo except for the occasional Smash Bros. reference.

In that case, the greatest contribution the series would have had is in it convincing Nintendo to localize the Fire Emblem series, thereby at least making sure one Nintendo franchise did not rot to death.

The “Where the Hell is X” blogs are going to be a series of blogs where I discuss the decline and disappearance of game franchises that interested me greatly, and now are gone. For a series to be covered, it needs to have three or more games, an unresolved conclusion or different storylines, and is a series I somewhat played. Please feel free to give me any feedback or recommendation, as I always try to write better blogs.