9.5

Advance Wars has never been so deep, so addicting, or so much fun.

Building on the formula laid out by the previous two Advance Wars games, Dual Strike adds new CO's, new units, new modes of play, and new maps. In short, this game preserves everything that was great about the first two games while adding enough new features to make it all seem fresh again.

The graphics and sound, while nothing to write home about, fit the vibe of the game perfectly. The sprites are all smaller, which allows more of them to be shown on-screen at once. The animations have been touched up a bit and the characters have retained their cartoony image, keeping the game lighthearted. Each CO also has his or her unique theme music. This really doesn't change the gameplay at all, but some of the tunes are pretty catchy. Add in the quintessential explosions and gunfire and you've got yourself a pretty decent audio package.

You can control the game old-school by using the D-pad and buttons, or you can make use of the touch screen to control everything. No scrolling across large maps ups the pace of the game a little and makes the task of managing a large army easier. Again, this doesn't alter the gameplay too much, but it is kind of nice.

The new content in Dual Strike is what puts it ahead of the first two AW games. The there are several new units and CO's (about a half dozen each), and they are all incorporated into the game flawlessly. The Campaign mode introduces you to all the new features in the game, such as missions that have you managing different armies on each screen. These DS battles work pretty well, although you're not always able to control your units on the top screen (the A.I. will usually do a decent job). The best new feature is the tag battle, in which you use two CO's to control the same army with the option of swapping them at the end of any turn. By building up both CO power you can unleash a tag power, allowing you to attack two turns in a row. Different CO combinations have different tag powers of varying effectiveness, and using one of these at the right time can completely change a battle around. On top of everything, all the old units and CO's are still available, as well as all of the old War Room maps.

Aside from the classic Campaign, War Room, and Versus modes, there are now Survival and Combat modes. Survival has you clear a set of maps under certain time, turn, or money limitations, while Combat is a real-time action game. Both modes are fun if you want a break from the lengthy Campaign or the endless array of War Room maps.

Overall, this game succeeds in almost everything it attempts. The new units and CO's are great and, together with the new DS and tag battles, they add a whole new layer of strategy to the already complex world of Advance Wars. Dual Strike is not only one of the best strategy games available, it's also arguably the best game for the DS.

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