April 21, 2023
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is a remake of the first two original games in the classic Game Boy Advance series. Freshly available on the Nintendo Switch, it is an excellent excuse to return to some of the tactics genre’s best, or a strong welcome to those that missed it. Twenty years since either of these games was released, the revived tactics series has aged the best, compared to others. This is one worth pulling your bootstraps up for.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is all about riotous warfare. Players are situated with an isometric perspective above a battlefield, and must skillfully deploy and utilise all of their units (be it a tank, soldier, helicopter, submarine, etc) to dominate the space. Determining how many units you can deploy is the War Fund (gold), with the typical earning of 1000g each turn multiplied by the buildings your team gradually captures. From there, players will have to consider other factors like what unit type is strong against another and how to get a point captured as quickly as possible before a foot soldier is killed.
Tactical thinking and smart strategies will be required to come out on top of a battle, and this doesn’t just apply to later battles but even some tough fights peppered throughout each campaign.
If the gameplay loop sounds minimalistic that’s because it is. Advance Wars excels at giving you the basic blueprint for success in battles. It’s up to you to do something with that, creating magic and tight victories across the battlefield.
As with the originals, both Advance Wars games are packaged with a campaign that one can lose dozens of hours to. Both narratives are very light in beats, but provide some engaging character interactions and personalities between each Commanding Officer (COs). The main cast is the trio of the young mechanic Andy, the brutish, blue-haired Max and soldier Sami, making up the army force known as the Orange Star. Before long, they engage in conflict with other nations and forces, only to triumph against them and hence likely have them join with them in defeating the greater evil. This is largely how both campaigns go down, with more artistic flair and new forces in the mix to shake things up a bit.
As far as campaigns go, this is enough when you consider the incredibly solid and thoughtful tactics gameplay you’ll be getting in the trenches with. There is room for some creative choices and fun moments in the story. I found it a nice touch that the way some characters behave and act is congruent with their gameplay. For instance, Nell is the other member of the Orange Star that takes a back seat until you unlock her following the completion of the first campaign. This is because she’s more or less the head strategist, diegetically giving tips and tricks to the player at the start of battles and in tutorials.
Similarly, there’ll often be little fun pre-ambles to missions. Most unexpectedly, the writing even at times got laughs out of me. I entered a level assuming I’d play as one CO, only to discover at the same time as the character that this was a map where no airports (and air units) could be used. As this was their strength in battle and a boots-on-the-ground approach was not, they quickly tapped out and I was then assigned to control another CO.
I’m not going to pretend that the campaigns in Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp have deep stories. Never is it a commentary on the brutality and cruelty of war. Instead, it’s more of a whimsical pair of games that lets you essentially play Battleship, planning and dolling out your own wars on and off the land. You and I both know this. That doesn’t mean there aren’t engaging threads that come up. This includes just reveling in the very goth-looking army that is the Black Hole force found in Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising or the weird individual in the first game that has beef with Andy, despite Andy insisting he’s never met him.
“…an excellent excuse to return to some of the tactics genre’s best.”
The real meat and potatoes of Advance Wars is the gameplay. That’s a hard thing to ruin in a remake and of course, no such thing happens here. Each battlefield and mission you traverse is true and exact to the original. So much so that I can already imagine the returning fans daydreaming about their return to such levels and how they’d tackle them now. Everything is incredibly flat and unlike more recent tactics games, verticality isn’t taken into effect. Players only need to be mindful of the attack and movement range themselves and their enemy’s units have, along with the apropos timing of storming a city or base. All this leaves you with is a very heads-on approach, you won’t be too muddied with the finer details to come out on top, allowing for battles to be that little bit extra stress-free.
It’s in this barebones approach that the player is invited to learn the game and its mechanics intimately. There are scarce ways to ‘cheese,’ a level, meaning players just simply have to try, often fail but then learn. In fact, the difference between constantly beating your head against a wall, trying to eventually pass through a level and actually succeeding often requires revising on your part, stopping and thinking it out. I’m a very aggressive player in games, but storming through with force is often not the way to go with Advance Wars. So, I opted to slowly inch my way forward, waiting for the enemies to come to me and enter my attack range. That was my eureka moment as I let my far back and out of harm’s way missile units, artillery and the like take out any unit that dared near me.
Tactics games have historically been incredibly varied in their approachability. I’m thankful to see that Advance Wars 1+2 Re: Boot Camp tries its best to simultaneously appeal to both hardcore fans and newcomers though it’s not always perfect in execution. Two campaign difficulties are available from the get-go: casual and classic. Players can now fast-forward battle cutscenes and turns, making the mission progress more efficiently. One can even roll back and attempt their current turn, but only the current turn. Tactics Ogre: Reborn, which I found to be more difficult even allowed rolling back more turns than this. While the enemy certainly packs a punch, there are saving grace mechanics that can help you pull through. As is common with tactics games, placing a unit in a tile with trees or a hill gives them terrain advantages, providing more defence when the bullets start flying.
CO’s passives and powers are where some of the tides can turn in battle. Fill up a gauge and one can unleash this power. Max can output double damage, proving very vital in pushing through a crowded scene while Colin, an officer you’ll pick up in Advance Wars 2, can add an extra 50% to their current War Funds. Combine this with the fact his passive (as with other officers, this is available instantly with no prerequisites) lowers the cost required to deploy units and pretty soon you’re soon raining in force members on the battlefield. Whenever a CO performs one of these powers, players are treated to a nice flashy cutscene animated in a very anime fashion, once more providing extra little tidbits of flair to each character.
It never ruins the experience, but trying to cater to both sides of skill can leave the game imbalanced and in between a bit of a rock and a hard place. I found some late battles in both campaigns trivial, while pretty middle-of-the-run missions felt artificially difficult. I imagine this to be more of an issue of the original counterparts, rather than it being the fault of Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp, but it’s still a noticeable issue.
Advance Wars’ level design has also aged incredibly well. With verticality out of the equation, smart choke points often spring up in battle, including small water channels or bridges you’re crossing through to make that final push on a home base. No one level feels the same with this philosophy either. Some missions also had me sweeping the outer edges of a map, only to eventually hone in on the centre, where a point of interest such as a gigantic cannon that must be destroyed or a base that must be captured laid waiting for the grabs.
The win conditions of a mission did often go deeper than just being instructed to kill all enemies, something that was much appreciated. Missions that require players simply survive x amount of turns while being overwhelmed by enemy forces were true skill checks, making sure I inch units away from the heat of combat while leaving a few in check to delay the front line. Another challenged me in rushing a base to destroy a series of docked battleships in a limited amount of turns, sending my attacks in from the seas while my ground forces took some heat.
Managing tanks and submarines, foot soldiers and jet aeroplanes, you’re given plenty of engaging tools to feel like an ultimate strategist. While returning fans might miss the excellent sprite work that was on offer in the originals, the cartoonish and colourful vibes on the present are just as, if not more effective. Each army’s colours are simple reds, greens, blues and so on, but they do an efficient job of distinguishing themselves. Adding to this is the fact that each force also has its own theme. For instance, the more modern and younger crew in the Orange Star have music of this era that plays during their turn. Juxtaposing this is the Black Hole, which experiments with more alien-looking tanks and military technology, and features a track with subtle sync work.
So many careful touches have been included in Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp. Taking the battle to multiplayer is more tantalising an offer than ever, providing not only private local but online matches that you can mess around with in the many unlockable maps. I can’t wait to check online play out and inevitably be schooled by the hardcore returning players. Even the environment and model design is worth gushing about. Each little figure and unit looks like a plastic model, further adding to the illusion that you yourself are commanding and controlling your own table top-esque battlefield. Now, more than ever, you’re immersed in a thrilling and smart tactics world.
- More engaging campaign than you'd think with fun characterisation
- Incredibly smart level and battlefield design
- Engaging objectives that go beyond the bare minimum and provide tense fights
- Immersive environment and model design with some sick tracks
- Some slight difficulty imbalance from time to time
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is one of the better returns to a classic tactics series. Both individual games have aged exponentially well with campaigns that are more enjoyable and charming than you’d think, and just as many thrilling fights to match. Developer Wayforward deserves credit for earnestly including quality of life and approachability options for more players, but it can ever so rarely leave a difficulty imbalance from level to level. However, that is hardly a scuff on the excellent product provided. Smart battlefield design accompanied with engaging objectives make for some excellent missions to chip away at. Similarly, the colouring and model design is superb, further immersing the player in commanding a battlefield as an ultimate strategist. Players are in excellent hands with Re-Boot Camp. It’s up to them to use those tools to triumph in battle and come out on top. Hoorah.