Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is a remake of 2001's Advance Wars and 2003's Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising. While the first Advance Wars hasn't aged as well as its sequel, both games are nevertheless elevated by Re-Boot Camp's robust suite of game modes, the local and online multiplayer, and an intuitive map editor. As a package, there is plenty to do, see, and unlock, and it's all held together by a fantastic presentation that evokes Saturday morning cartoons and colorful board games.
Foundationally, the Advance Wars flavor of turn-based tactical combat holds up well. In its most rudimentary form, two commanding officers hailing from different fictional countries move units around a map to wipe out enemies and capture key areas. Each unit, however, has strengths and weaknesses that need to be considered for both individual firefights and multi-turn campaigns. For example, Infantry and Mech units are the only units that can capture cities, airports, seaports, and bases. They are instrumental to securing victory, but their movement is limited and they are weak to just about everything. APCs, Transport Copters, and Landers can ferry Infantry and Mechs great distances, but they need the protection of other units due to their inability to attack. Of course, the units tasked with this responsibility also have their own set of strengths and weaknesses that need to be considered. Tanks can be devastating at close range, but long-range Rockets can make short work of them. Artillery can clean up enemies at medium range, but they are useless at close range.
Coming to grips with each and every unit can be a little daunting, but Re-Boot Camp has numerous tutorial missions across both games, many of which cover the same ground. The basics, such as commanding units and capturing cities, are handled in an optional Field Training menu, which can be accessed in both games. However, the first handful of missions in both campaigns also act as tutorials and run through the basics of armored, naval, and aerial warfare. These tutorials do a great job at showing you the strengths and weaknesses of each unit, but a lot of the same info is covered twice. This means that the early hours of Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising can drag on a bit if you start with the first game.
Most missions demand keen tactics, careful resource management, and a decent understanding of how each unit operates. From there, you need to balance your short-term goals alongside your long-term ones, while identifying potential threats and keeping a close eye on your enemy. Some missions give you a fixed amount of units to work with, while others are dotted with points of interest that allow you to purchase new units. Both mission types feel very different from one another; the former plays out more like a puzzle where you have to achieve victory using only what's available to you, while the latter feels more free-form since you can invest in any unit you'd like.
A unit's strengths and weaknesses don't account for everything, though, and terrain can be just as important. Mountains offer extra protection for Infantry and Mechs, while cities protect and repair land-based units. Roads give certain units more movement range, while reefs can obscure ships and submarines from enemy sightlines. Although superior terrain can’t save an Infantry unit from a tank, it can offer just enough protection for the infantry to hang on for an extra turn. This makes battles feel a bit more dynamic as you advance on an enemy or set up ambushes.
Each country is also backed up by a handful of colorful commanding officers, or COs, who have unique passive skills and abilities that range from powering up units to changing the weather. The COs add an extra layer of depth and unpredictability to combat that forces you to stay on your toes. You could be gaining ground against Eagle, the cunning CO from Green Earth, only for him to activate his Lightning Drive ability that allows his vehicular units to move and attack a second time. Not all of these COs are balanced in a multiplayer setting, but in the campaign, they do force you to think ahead and respond effectively when your rival activates their superpower.
As a package, there is plenty to do, see, and unlock, and it's all held together by a fantastic presentation that evokes Saturday morning cartoons and colorful board games
What really ties everything together is its charming presentation. The cast of COs feels as though it’s been lifted from an old cartoon and given a fresh coat of paint, while each unit looks like it’s been unearthed from the bowels of a toy chest. This is backed by a catchy, energetic score that swings from rock and roll to jazz.
While the fundamentals of Advance Wars are strong, the first Advance Wars does a poor job of making use of all these mechanics. Throughout the story, you are introduced to nine different COs, but you can only use three for a majority of the campaign. On top of that, most missions are relatively straightforward: Defeat all the enemy units, capture the enemy's capital, or survive for a certain number of days. The units at your disposal will differ depending on the mission, but after a while, missions start to get longer and blend together due to the lack of objective variety. By the end, some missions can drag on for hours as you and your opponent get locked into a battle of attrition where no one faction can gain any significant ground.
The lack of a proper rewind feature--something that has become popular in modern strategy game design--also means that if you make a mistake, sometimes the best course of action is to restart the battle, which could cost you hours over the duration of a campaign. You can correct minor mistakes by resetting your turn in the menu, but resetting a turn can't save you from a tactical error you made a few turns back. This makes it risky to try out different strategies or experiment with different units.
While Advance Wars 2 occasionally suffers from the same issue, the campaign itself is excellent. It improves upon Advance Wars in almost every way. There's more mission variety, you are constantly trying out different COs, and the map design is much better at encouraging you to try different units and mechanics. One of my favorite missions has you defend your capital from an onslaught of enemy tanks and infantry. You are outgunned and outnumbered, and because the capital is surrounded by mountains, most of your units can't even access it. This means you must indirectly cut down the enemy before a unit reaches the capital. It's a thrilling skirmish that requires you to quickly assess threats, carefully position your units, and manage your resources. Not every mission is as good as this one, but many of them come pretty close.
Fortunately, you can skip right to Advance Wars 2 if you'd like. The game will advise you not to due to story spoilers, but the plots of both games are unremarkable. There's a bit of dialogue before and after each battle, as well as a couple cutscenes, but combat is the main event, and since it really hits its stride in Black Hole Rising, I don't think you'd miss much by skipping the first game altogether--especially since both games kick off with a tutorial and the difficulty ramps up at a similar pace.
As you play through the campaigns, you'll earn coins that can be spent at Hachi's Shop in the main menu. Here you can purchase music from the excellent soundtrack, artwork, and new Battle Maps and COs that can be used in some of Re-Boot Camp's additional modes. One of the standout modes for this is local multiplayer. You can play with multiple consoles via local connection, or you can play on one console by passing the controller. This is where Advance Wars really leans into board game aesthetics. Gathering around a TV with friends, passing the controller back and forth as everyone vies for control, feels like the way Advance Wars was meant to be played. There are dozens of multiplayer maps and a bunch of COs that keep combat fresh for each battle, so multiplayer does have some longevity. There's even a great map editor that lets you create and share fully functioning maps in minutes. The sharing capabilities are pretty limited, allowing you to only share with friends.
Online plays similarly with up to two players; however, the lack of an asynchronous multiplayer mode seems like a huge missed opportunity. Battles can drag on as turns get longer and longer, and without that communal feel of local multiplayer, it can be painfully slow. A mode that allows you and your friends to take turns at your leisure would have been perfect for this style of turn-based combat.
What makes Advance War 1+2: Re-Boot Camp an exciting prospect today is the same as what made the games compelling when they were first released: fun and approachable strategic gameplay that is built on a solid foundation. While the first title certainly shows its age in the latter stages, the moments of magic that earned Advance Wars a passionate fan base are still there. If turn-based tactical combat is your thing, there is plenty to sink your teeth into here.