Advance Wars 2 Black Hole Rising: Why Didn't This Come Out Sooner?!
Feb 16, 2005
Review by Charles Knutson
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:fantastic balance, excellent replayablity, create your own maps, multiplayer, CO's have personality
Cons:same units for all sides, AI still has some holes, some interface issues
The Bottom Line: This is the best Gameboy Advance game out right now.
Sometimes it's the games with the simple premise that really become revered by gamers. The Worms series is an excellent example of how simplistic but refined gameplay can lead to a fantastic game. That is the premise behind the Advance Wars series. Yes, the learning curve is a little steeper than other games, but the game deals with it nicely in the campaign mode, and after a few hours you're good to go.
Recommend this product?
The basic premise behind Advance Wars 2 is the evil Black Hole army is threatening to take over the region. It's up to the armies of Orange Star, Yellow Comet, Blue Moon, and Green Earth to stop them. Yes, I know that the names of the countries are like the marshmallow shapes in Lucky Charms cereal. As you work through the campaign, you'll get to know each of the CO's personalities and leanings. The plot doesn't take any twists and turns, even the missions are relatively straightforward. In all the story is pretty basic, like the game itself, and it won't quench the thirst of many RPG fans used to great storytelling.
Advance Wars 2 is pretty much your basic turn based strategy game. You take the abstract role of a specific Commanding Officer or CO in directing the movement of your military units. These units move across a map filled several types of terrain ranging from rivers and seas to mountains, forests, roads, and plains. Each type of terrain effects the unit's defensive posture, its mobility across it, its vision, or its visibility to the enemy. Many maps do not implement a fog of war option, others can which adds to the strategy.
Units themselves are uniform regardless of your CO, or country. The only exception is that the Neotank is only available to Black Hole COs during the campaign unless your country can find the design plans. The units are pretty balanced where each one has a distinct advantage and weakness. No one unit can wipe a battlefield unopposed, though the Neotank and Bombers can come close sometimes. Units can be classified into three different types: land, sea, and air. The land units are much more plentiful, where as the sea units and air units are much less diverse. One weird ambiguity is that some air units can be fired upon by all offensive land units (battle copters, and transport copters) whereas other air units (fighters and bombers) can only be attacked by anti-air guns and missile units.
The COs are what make Advance Wars 2 truly dynamic. The more enemy units you destroy, the more your CO power bar (denoted by stars at the top of the screen) increases. There are two intervals in which you can utilize this power. At the first interval you can initiate your CO's power. This comes in the form of either bolstering you're units offensively, defensively, or in other ways like improving their vision or mobility. It can also increase your funds or damage other units. When your CO power in completely full you can decide to use your CO's superpower instead. When initiated properly, this can be much more powerful than your regular CO power. It can also completely change the landscape of the battle. In addition certain COs have abilities apart from their powers. Some COs have reduce build costs for certain units, others have added power to other units. Some COs can move across rough terrain with ease or see further through fog of war.
The COs aren't all equal in terms of their ability, but no one CO is much more powerful than the others. I think of it like the balance in Tecmo Super Bowl where if one side is the 49ers, you can offset that by playing the Bills, Eagles, Bears, or Giants. Another example is the balance of Street Fighter II. Yeah Zangief and Dhalsim do handicap you against Ryu, M.Bison, and many other characters, but no one character (with the exception of a cheesy computer controlled M.Bison) excels above the rest.
There are also several different modes in Advance Wars 2. You have your basic campaign mode which follows the storyline while it teaches you the game. You can acquire points by how effectively you clear each mission. In addition, the further you progress in the campaign, the more you can unlock. There's the War Room that allows you to play against a specific CO on a certain map. This also awards you points based on how effectively you can win the battle. Versus Mode allows you to set up a game on a particular map with up to 4 players. You can even setup the teams however you want (1vs3, 2vs2, 1vs2, etc ...). This doesn't give you points based on your victory, but it can be a really fun mode to play against the computer or another player on the same cartridge. In link mode you can link up your GBA to another GBA to exchange data, maps, or play against each other. The Design Room allows you to create your own maps with similar freedom as that of the Warcraft II map designer. Finally, in the Battle Maps room you can spend all your points on new maps, playable COs, color schemes for COs, and other random unlockables. The more you advance in the campaign, the more will appear here.
The game has some decent AI, however that doesn't mean that there aren't any flaws. The biggest issue with the AI is that it is scripted in a way that the computer will react predictably for a given situation. In addition, this scripted nature holds true throughout every CO. I thought it would have been better to see different strategies from the different COs, such as the Black Hole COs are more willing to take heavy losses in order to inflict heavy losses on your side. Also sometimes the computer doesn't react to your moves, but rather runs a set of scripted moves. For instance, if you're setting up to capture their HQ with bombers and fighters, they would build enough anti-aircraft guns and missles to stop you. And by the time they do, it's too late. This doesn't mean that the computer isn't challenging. In certain situations, the computer can put up a tough fight despite its scripted nature.
Controls and Interface
The controls and interface are good, except there are some interface issues that can hamper the experience. Advance Wars 2 follows basic Nintendo convention of using the A button to execute commands and the B button to cancel them. The shoulder buttons are used to open up pages that display detailed information about units, terrain, and maps in general. The dpad responds well to movement across the tiles on the map. Overall the scheme is pretty good.
The interfaces are also pretty well designed too, with some exceptions. Most information is available on the main screens, where more detailed information is available on sub screens. One issue that seems ambiguous is when you're first starting out, if you don't pay close enough attention to the tutorial, it's hard to tell which units fire ranged weaponry and which ones are essentially melee units (that is, they have to be adjacent to the enemy units in order to attack). Another major issue with the interface is the end turn option is position right below the save game option. This means that you could accidentally and prematurely end your turn when you mean to save your game. This has happened to me on a couple occasions and can really be annoying.
The graphics aren't going to win in any originality awards, but they are very good for what you'd expect. The game sprites take on a cartoonish look, where the COs are drawn in a distinct Japanese style, but they don't quite look as if they just jumped out of a Manga comic. The vehicles are all compact looking like they were manufactured in a Soviet car factory. Each unit has a different sprite (not a pallet switch!) based on which country you're using. The overhead map is tiled in a generic way, but on the small screen of the GBA it is really clear and uses a great contrast of colors. Each
Despite the great still graphics, there aren't as many animations as I'd expect. The overhead map has some basic troop animations, and the battle animations are pretty good, but the COs are not animated at all. This gives prevents the game from further defining their character through mannerisms and facial expressions. Aside from that, the battle animations are the only impressive animated pictures that you see including cutscenes, which don't exist.
While the sound effects does not leave an impression the same way Super Mario Brothers or Zelda does, the music is far and away the best I have heard on this system. The sound effects are pretty generic. You hear the treads of the tanks, the tilting of the turrets, and even the whistle of the bombs dropping. Advance Wars 2 is not out to necessarily recreate the realism of war, but rather set the tone for a cartoonish turn based strategy game. To this end, the sound effects are pretty good. However, I wouldn't elect them to the video game sound effect hall of fame.
The music on the other hand is a different story. The style of music in Advance Wars 2 doesn't follow a specific theme. Each CO has their own theme which can vary from a refrain you'd hear in a punk group to a passive folk theme, to a theme of classical music. This music is set perfectly for the various different CO personalities. What really makes the music so great is that it builds upon the style most gamers are used to in the late 80's early 90's of gaming. Original video game music just isn't the way it used to be. Instead you're given a recycled rap, pop, or Japanese pop soundtrack. The music in Advance Wars is original and it does a fantastic job. My only regret is that you have to finish the campaign in order to buy the music test.
The game has a ton of replay value, probably the most you'll see in any other Gameboy Advance game. There are so many maps and scenarios that you can play, in addition to the campaign, that it'll amount to hundreds of hours of game time. While playing against the computer can become tiresome after you've figured out the AI patterns, playing against another person increases the replay value even more. That's not to say that many hours will be spent playing against the computer player in either the War Room or in the Campaign.
When discussing Advance Wars 2 with regard to its predecessor, Advance Wars, it's a tough call whether to get this game or not. There really is very little difference between the two games. Advance Wars 2 offers the Neotank as a the new unit to the series as well as a new campaign to work through, but other than that it's more of an expansion pack than a true sequel. This means that gamers with the original Advance Wars might not see the value in getting Advance Wars 2. Newcomers to the series will probably want to jump right to Advance Wars 2 since the sequel will help newbies through the learning curve.
In all Advance Wars 2 is a tremendous value as a Gameboy Advance game. The fact that it is portable only adds to its value as well. This is truly one of the must-own game for this system. While it won't necessarily attract newcomers to the genre, it is a great game for gamers open to any type of game that is based on a solid foundation, and most importantly is pretty fun to play.
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