Advance Wars: Dual Strike Updated Hands-On

We've been counting down the days to the release of the next game in this incredibly fun strategy series, which we got to play in near-finished form.

LOS ANGELES--One of the many Nintendo DS titles playable amidst the din of the third annual G-Phoria awards event was Advance Wars: Dual Strike, a turn-based strategy game slated for release on the same exact day in late August as Nintendogs, another highly anticipated DS title. These two games may be about as different as can be on the surface, but we bet we're not the only ones who want both right now, yet would have expected their release dates to be farther apart. At any rate, at E3, we got our first look at Advance Wars DS' new real-time "combat" mode, which takes the underlying mechanics of the series and turns them into what seems like a neat little action game. Here we had some more quality time to spend and jumped into more of the game's options.

The core gameplay of Advance Wars DS is very similar to that of its predecessors, but since those games achieved a near-perfect balance of fun and addictive military-themed turn-based strategy, that's all right by us. We were excited to notice at least a couple of new units that have been added to the mix, though: the piperunner, a defensive structure that can bombard interlopers with missiles, but has very limited movement; and the megatank, a slow but horrifyingly powerful vehicle that can cut through medium tanks easily, and significantly outguns even the neotank from Advance Wars 2. These new units are balanced primarily by their high cost of production.

Advance Wars DS also introduces a slew of new commanding officers, both friend and foe, and offers a brand-new campaign for you to fight through. The new COs include Rachel, the determined but less gifted sister of CO Nell, and the evil Black Hole army's new CO, Koal, who's painted out kabuki-style. Fans of past Advance Wars games should love all the new character artwork. Like its predecessors, this game seems to feature plenty of sharply written dialogue, which really helps convey all the different characters' personalities.

There are lots of gameplay options to choose from. The main menus offer the following choices: campaign, war room, versus, survival, combat, battle maps, history, wireless, sound room, gallery, and design room. Some of these are self-explanatory. Some obviously benefit from the DS' touch screen format, such as the design room, which lets you create your own maps by drawing with the stylus rather than using the directional pad, if you prefer.

You can use the stylus to move your units around during regular gameplay just by dragging and dropping, but we found that the old D pad control system (which works as well as ever) was actually more comfortable. In any case, the amount of depth and modes of play evidently present in Advance Wars DS is almost overwhelming, so we're confident that this is one DS game that's going to offer lots and lots of bang for the buck when it finally ships next month. Stay tuned for our full review.

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