Jon Gracey's

Games That Rocked…Tom Clarke’s World – #34: Advance Wars: Dual Strike

In DS on May 10, 2013 at 8:44 am

Today’s post is by Tom Clarke.

——-

Title: Advance Wars: Dual Strike

Format: Nintendo DS

Released: 30th September, 2005 (UK)

Advance Wars DS Box Art

War is adorable. At least, Advance Wars: Dual Strike is.

I often think about the numbers I’ve killed. The dozens of Timesplitters, the hundreds of Stormtroopers, the thounds of ethnic Serb- I mean Zergs. Sometimes, I’m haunted by the faces of the trusting soldiers from Red Alert, who would follow my every deranged command with absolute loyalty. They believed in me, even when I decided to tell them to attack a Tesla coil one at a time rather than as a group, just because I was bored.

It was after one of these musing sessions that I realised I had killed one person more than any other. My brother. I’d eviserated him in Mortal Kombat, Falcon punched him into infinity in Smash Bros, bored straight into his skull in Turok and wrestled him to the floor and kicked his skinny ass in Real Life.

My brother & I both started gaming at the same time. It began one fateful Christmas in Glasgow when we received a NES console (before that I had only ever played on a NES once where it took me an embarrassing 8 attempts to squash my first Goomba). Over the years we would pool our resources to buy consoles, all the time constantly killing one another, and then one day, we discovered the Advance Wars series.

Advance Wars DS

Never have I sent so many men to their death and felt so little as when playing Advance Wars, and by far the best iteration of the series is Advance Wars: Dual Strike for the Nintendo DS.

The series is known for its cutesy design; every soldier, tank and bomber is brightly coloured and commanded by a cartoonish character, each with their own special ability (which is normally possible to guess based on their appearance [Oh, this guy is wearing flying goggles and is called Eagle, I bet his ground units are really good. NOT.]) Losing a unit isn’t as traumatic as, say, losing one of your worms in Worms (especially when it’s one you named yourself, possibly after a famous dictator, as I like to do), and a lot of this is down to how death is portrayed in the game. When you bomb the tits out of a squad of soldiers, rather than a traumatic scene wherein you watch a charred soldier cradle the severed limb of his buddy who tried to eat an explosion, the soldiers just bounce out of shot, making killing the relaxing endeavour it was always meant to be.

Black Hole

Reckon they’re the bad guys? Nah, me neither.

The game’s story is similarly light-hearted; the commanding officers act as if the invaders have challeneged them to a dance off, rather than an all-out military conflict. The characters motivations are also farcical; most battles happen out of confusion rather than malice (“Oh no! My clone has attacked a Yellow Comet CO who was actually a disguised as an Orange Star General’s twin brother!”) which doesn’t harm the game (and could be considered satire of a sort), but instead makes each match feel more like a puzzle game with more replay value than a story dependant event.

I love strategy games, and the key to an enjoyable strategy game is the balance between luck and strategy.

Advance Wars Battle

In Risk, the winner is ultimately decided by dice rolling, whilst Chess is a game of pure strategy (unless, like me, you play using medical waste instead of pawns; then luck is all that stands between you and hepatitis). Advance Wars includes just the slightest bit of luck in every battle – rarely changing the outcome, instead affecting how battle ready the unit is for the next encounter, and as a result, your future choices.

Let’s suppose you order your unit of infantrymen to attack another unit. Your unit is encamped in a city, whilst the enemy is wading through marshland, so you have a defence boost and therefore a distinct advantage in the fight. You know the fight will end in victory, but what you don’t know is how many men you’ll have left after the fight. If it’s 7, then you’d probably send that unit off to attack something else, but if it was 6, you’d realise how slim the chances of victory are, unless you can guarantee the defence boost offered by woodland or a mountain, and decide to send them to a base in order to ‘heal’.

Advance Wars Battle 3

Then again, you might not, and it’s this element of risk that makes both your and your opponent’s decisions less predictable, and a lot more exciting, without the sheer lunacy often encountered in a luck-dependant game like Risk (case in point, I won’t finish off another player if I can torment them by leaving them one territory surrounded by hundreds of my troops, because I like to remind people that I am God).

Dual Strike‘s main gimmick is that you can engage in two battles at the same time by way of the DS’ two screens. The second battle is always a dogfight (as in fighter planes, though I would totally buy a dog fighting RPG) the winner of which is given a bonus. While something of a novelty, this second battle does force the player to split their focus, making for some very demanding battles, and the inclusion of a second commander for that fight means you can have a lot of fun experimenting with CO combinations (I like to pretend they are an insane war-faring couple, so will always pair the least likely lovers).

Advance Wars Battle 2

In short, Advance Wars Dual Strike is the culmination of a great series of games, adding new material without changing the core mechanics that people love – mechanics that if done badly, would just make AW:DS a colourful game of rock-paper-scissors.
 It’s a game that’s made me see killing in a whole new light, given me a bloodlust that I had thought lost forever. I’m looking forward to killing again; killing my brother, my friends, killing strangers on the internet, and who knows, maybe one day, I’ll kill you too.

Tom Clarke writes for, amongst other things, sketch pests The Beta Males. Follow him on twitter and say hello! He’ll love that.

Tom Clarke

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  1. Tom, are you doing Hadouken?!

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