Advance Wars: Days of Ruin Hands-On

We get our hands on a near-final version of the latest entry in the Advance Wars series for the DS.

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Nintendo's Advance Wars games have wound up becoming an appealing new franchise in the company's admittedly robust stable of games. The latest entry for the DS is arguably the best game in the series, yet it comes courtesy of a brand new setting that's darker and pretty emo for an Advance Wars game. We recently got our hands on a near-final version of the game and clocked in some quality time with the very promising entry in the series, which is coming packed with features galore.

You'll find three game mode options when you fire up Days of Ruin. Single DS play lets you go through the robust single-player campaign or hone your skills in a free battle that you can set up using various customizable options. Multi-card play lets you take on up to four players in a local multiplayer match or trade maps you've created. The Nintendo WFC option lets you take on up to four friends in an online battle. The game will also let you talk smack using the DS's built in microphone or headset. In addition the proper game modes, you'll find a design room where you can design maps to trade with friends via an easy-to-use editor and also customize the color scheme of the commanding officers (CO) you've unlocked in the game. Finally, the records option lets you check out your play history and listen to the game's soundtrack via a music player. While you'll start out with a handful of tunes to listen to, you'll be able to unlock a grand total of 50 tunes by going through the game.

Some aspects of the game will look familiar if you're a fan…
Some aspects of the game will look familiar if you're a fan…

The heart of the single-player experience is the campaign that casts you as Will, one of the survivors of the meteor shower that sets the stage for the action. You'll start the game on the run from the assorted Mad Max-style gangs that have formed in the wake of the disaster. You're saved by a military platoon led by Commander Brenner and his second in command, Lin. Whereas the assorted gangs that have formed since the meteor strike are preying on the survivors, Brenner and the remaining military forces are banding together to try to help. Brenner takes you under his wing, and you set out to try to restore order, facing off against the gangs and their twisted COs. You'll meet various new allies on the adventure, including the mysterious Isabella, an amnesiac who seems to know an awful lot of specific military information.

While Days of Ruin's story is a dramatic change in direction from the previous AW titles, the gameplay stays true to the previous games and refines the already solid mechanics. The first thing you'll notice is an overall difference in the gameplay pacing due to some rebalancing. While COs are still key to the experience, their special abilities have been revamped to ensure that they can't be leaned on heavily to turn the tide of a losing battle. They'll still be handy, but it doesn't seem like you'll be able use them to make up for sloppy playing. The new units you'll find in your arsenal include the awesomely powerful war tanks that are death on treads; the strategic, an antitank vehicle that helps stop tank rushes cold provided you can protect it; and the subtle, the new flare vehicle that shoots off a flare to reveal parts of the map.

Controlling your armed forces is a breeze, thanks to the game's intuitive control scheme that's been refined throughout the various installments. A new zoom feature lets you get in closer than the original eagle-eyed view of the field of battle. Nintendo has noted the game's stylus support has been tweaked, which does in fact feel a bit better. However, we're purists when it comes to our portable turn-based strategic action, preferring the button and D pad setup, which is tight as ever.

…while others are quite unlike anything that has appeared in the series previously.
…while others are quite unlike anything that has appeared in the series previously.

Days of Ruin's presentation is basically a new look for the series that overhauls many key elements. The character art is more mature-looking, and the game's overall color palette leans toward the darker end of the color spectrum. This bleeds over to the units in the combat cinematics, which are darker as well. The same hold true for the game's soundtrack, which loses the perky bounce heard in the previous games and has a heaver sound to it.

Based on what we played, Advance Wars: Days of Ruin is shaping up really well. The darker tone may turn off some initially, but the gameplay should reel folks back. The game has a good feel to it, thanks to the tweaks and improvements. The visuals build on the already impressive quality of the last DS game and get a lot of mileage out of the darker look. The various multiplayer options are gravy on the already solid package and should make the game that much more appealing. Fans of the series should most definitely keep an eye out for the game when it hits stores early next year.

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