Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising Review
Whether or not you consider yourself a fan of turn-based strategy games or any strategy games, chances are you'll have a terrific time playing Advance Wars 2.
The first Advance Wars was the definitive sleeper for the Game Boy Advance. Released without any fanfare in the fall of 2001, this ingenious turn-based strategy game met with unanimous acclaim from critics and soon earned a large following of fans. The game's execution was practically flawless--from its distinctive graphical style, to its perfectly tuned gameplay balance, to its well-integrated tutorial, Advance Wars was highly accessible and very deep. It was simply an outstanding game by any standards and was ideally suited for the GBA's portable form. Now Nintendo and Intelligent Systems are back with a sequel to Advance Wars, which begs the question, how do you make something that's extremely good to begin with even better? Advance Wars 2 doesn't try to mess with success and doesn't try to fix anything that wasn't broken (not that anything was). It's fundamentally similar to its predecessor, offering more of the same addictive gameplay and the same memorable characters. However, Advance Wars 2 also expands on the original in some subtle but meaningful ways, making it technically superior to the first game even if it isn't as innovative. At any rate, it's a must-have for Advance Wars fans, and it's also great for anyone who might have missed out on the first one.
Like its predecessor, Advance Wars 2 is very easy to pick up, regardless of whether or not you've played other turn-based strategy games before. As the commanding officer of a small military force, you'll take turns with your opponent moving your units around a tactical map, capturing territories, attacking enemies, and positioning your forces strategically. The game teaches you how to play and about all the various units you can use in the context of the first few missions--this will all be old hat to veteran Advance Wars players, but they might want to not skip over it since Advance Wars 2's characters are so endearing, and the dialogue is so well written.
It's not like this is a story-driven game--the focus is squarely on gameplay, but there's a good amount of plot to lend continuity to the campaign, a branching series of linked scenarios that compose the main mode of play. The premise is simply that the Black Hole Army, which you fought against at the end of the original game's campaign, has returned in greater numbers and is again seeking to take over the land. So the various warring factions from the first game will have to stand united against a common threat. Despite the military theme, the game maintains a lighthearted tone that just about anyone would like, and the various COs for all the different factions have unique personalities that come across in their interactions between missions and to some extent in how they influence their units.
The greater number of COs is one of the key features of Advance Wars 2. In the previous game's campaign, you only controlled the Orange Star army and its three COs, Andy, Max, and Sami. The enemy COs you'd square off against, including Blue Moon's blustering CO Olaf and Green Earth's intimidating fighter pilot CO Eagle, were unlockable for the game's skirmish mode but were primarily your opposition. Now the campaign offers you the chance to play from the perspective of most all the game's original COs, plus a number of new ones. Every CO has his or her own strengths and weaknesses as a commander, plus two different super powers--they only had one in Advance Wars, but now they also have a higher-level power that takes longer to charge up. Some COs' supers are considerably stronger than others', but like every other aspect of Advance Wars 2, this is well balanced--the stronger super powers take more turns to charge up.
The COs themselves are interesting and fun to play. Fans will remember the original cast, including Kanbei, a samurai CO whose forces are more expensive to deploy but are better trained and stronger. There's also Grit, a gunslinger whose indirect fire units, such as rocket launchers, enjoy tremendous range, but whose standard forces are weak in head-on battles. The new COs include tough opponents such as Adder, whose units are particularly fast and so can move farther each turn, and Flak, a brutish commander whose units sometimes inflict extra damage. Just like in the first game, there's only one set of units in Advance Wars 2, though they at least look different for each faction. But, depending on which CO you're playing as (or against), you'll have to play to your strengths and try to offset your weaknesses.
There's only one new unit in all of Advance Wars 2: the neo tank, a devastating spiderlike tank that's the toughest thing on the ground and whose only real weakness is its high cost. The fact that the gameplay is basically the same and that there's only one new unit may initially disappoint some fans of the first game expecting a completely overhauled sequel or at least some unique units for the different sides. But they should soon realize that the original Advance Wars really didn't leave much room for new unit types. You already have access to two types of infantry, light and medium (and now heavy) tanks, a recon vehicle, an antiair vehicle that doubles as an antipersonnel gun, mobile artillery, mobile rockets, mobile missile launchers, submarines, destroyers, battleships, armored personnel carriers, transport helicopters, naval landing vehicles, battle copters, fighter jets, and bombers. It's an impressive arsenal, and each unit is extremely well suited to particular tasks and can be useful in any stage of a battle.