[GRWC8] Advance Wars [Review]

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A.I.
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Post[GRWC8] Advance Wars [Review]
by A.I. » Mon Sep 15, 2008 7:40 pm

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Anonymous wrote:Advance Wars

I’m addicted to Advance Wars. I play it every day. I play it immediately after I wake up - I play it while on the bus. I play it while I’m walking to wherever I’m going, I play it when I’m there; under the table, behind the tutor’s back. I play it at the dinner table - I play it while I’m watching a film. I play it on the toilet. I play it in bed into the early hours as it eats into my sleep. Tomorrow can wait, this is important. It takes a…

‘Feck off, this is impossible! How on Earth is this level possible when they send a sodding army after you??’

…to finally divorce the game forever. Or so I say, every time, every night. And...



…repeat.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I always believed, as Pro Evolution Soccer 1-to-4 and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1-to-3 proved so devastatingly, that videogames were only inherently addictive when the game involved quick reflexes and such realistically captured animation that responded to your ever-dexterous thumb.

A turn-based strategy game does not follow this line of thinking. Advance Wars is unique in having a learning curve that’s shaped like the gentlest, never-ending hill that climbs and climbs through the course of your life and only ends when it reaches Heaven and you’re in a coffin. For you never stop learning, never stop improving. And there’s nothing more satisfying in your videogame career than the times you start a videogame feeling like a total novice and so many years later feel like an expert. Or when you begin a campaign dumbfounded by the praise heaped on a game and by its end you are gasping for air trying to come up with your own superlatives to describe the turn around of affections.

Advance Wars has that ‘one-more-go’ factor entirely because it does not rely on quick reflexes; fail a level and you’ll curse the game, decrying that it’s impossible, but you’ll ultimately give it another go because as long as you can carefully determine your moves and stay a step ahead of the A.I.’s deadly attack range, there’s always a chance. That is its key - the gameplay is so precise. Success in real life war may depend on a million variables, but Advance Wars’ simplicity and playability lies in the basic range of options available to you within one move: build or move, take over a building or attack. Its depth, however, lies in the range of possibilities that accumulate over the course of several of the game’s turns, meaning you can potentially re-try the same level over and over again and each time be in an entirely different situation than before. The A.I. will react to every decision you make and in turn so will you react to theirs. It can be a case of trial and error, of making mistakes and learning from them and correcting it next time.

Its aesthetically pleasing visual style of bright pop-art colours and crisp pixels does more than allow the game to be assessable to all; the different elements of the map like the mountains and the forest are cleanly defined. It’s humorous that anyone dismissive of the game’s apparently ‘child-ish’ visuals would forget that what appears on the screen is nothing more than a graphic representation of what’s below. A square on the map showing two trees is actually a forest, a building actually a city. It’s a clever feature of the game that pressing R1 on any part of the map will show a little illustration of the area in a more realistic fashion. And of course attacking another unit will initiate a beautiful animated sequence with the one army soldier on the map actually representing an infantry of 5 soldiers.

It says a lot that for any level that you do find yourself playing over and over what must amount to hundreds of attempts and no end of mental torture at your inadequacy, that finally finishing it with the required S rank (or better; a perfect 999 score) is met with feelings of unparalleled happiness and a tinge of sadness. Yes! I finally beat the bastard. No! I was really quite enjoying the challenge of that.

And that, surely, is the mark of a classic game.





But saying all that, the music is terribly repetitive and will give you a mighty ear ache. You might want to switch it off, and the same can be said of the unnecessary animations of your units moving across the map and - as beautiful as they are - the battle animations. Not wanting to be delayed by these little annoyances will mark your progression from someone who was appreciating all the joy the game has to offer to someone who now views the map as a tactical playground and the units on it as like the movable pieces on a chess board. Your tactical awareness becomes so honed that you’ll make decisions on your current move thinking 5 steps ahead. You’ll get so into the game as to not realise that you're thinking twice as fast as you was when you could only manage a B on your favourite War Room level.

Ah, the War Room. Unlike the Campaign mode, you can replay (over and over) any of the 20 levels with any character you like. And as such, your character’s special power (accessed after winning battles and filling up a bar) will be a factor in who you pick. As will your opponent and their special power, and how yours can disable theirs. Drake, for instance, has the rather annoying ability to cause tidal waves that knock off a few HP off every unit of yours. Andy, on the other hand, has the handy ability to repair a few HP on every unit of yours.

If you’re up against Grit, a long-range specialist, and you choose Max, a short-range specialist, and Grit builds up his power bar and initializes it, if you’re in range you’ve either got to scamper or attack with all you’ve got. And since with Max your movement and range is limited, you’ve got to make your decision to attack in preparation of Grit’s long range assault because it can, in one sweeping move, eliminate every unit of yours and leave you weeping. The War Room level Ridge Island was designed for brilliant tactical games of cat and mouse.

What the game doesn’t do is warn you of the A.I.’s power bar level on your turn, so you’ve got to be aware of it on its turn and make an educated guess of when it’ll fill up so you can, in the case of facing against Grit, make the decision to attack or keep your distance. There are other niggling faults too, such as how the option to ‘delete unit’ serves no purpose, since doing so will not earn you back a fraction of the what it cost to acquire the unit, nor will it avoid hampering your rank at the end of the level, which factors in how many units you lost. There is also the matter of whenever you build a unit you have to wait until your next turn to be able to use it. It’s a problem when you’re being overwrought with enemy tanks from all angles and can’t escape the constant battering you’re taking. Build and be endlessly killed. But all this really means is, like every problem the A.I. throws at you, you deal with it. You plan ahead. But 2 player vs. games can be never-ending if your winning opponent decides to prolong the misery by slowly taking over your buildings, thus limiting the money you bring in, while destroying all your expensive units. He’ll consider it as him giving you a chance to come back; you’ll know he’s being an arrogant patronising swine taking unrepentant bliss in your suffering.

Suffering is not a fiitting word to end this review on. Advance Wars is a joy - one of the most endlessly challenging games around; one whose perfected and well-balanced rule set will seep into your subconscious. It’s not just a classic example of how absorbing the simple playability of videogames can be: its genius.


All comments and feedback welcome. Thank you.

Last edited by A.I. on Thu Sep 18, 2008 5:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Clarkman
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PostRe: [GRWC8] Advance Wars [Review]
by Clarkman » Mon Sep 15, 2008 8:11 pm

It's not really a review is it? It's a homage to a genuinely fantastic game. The passion comes through, and you explain why you love it, but justifying that through the 'simple complexity' doesn't sell a game.

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Captain Kinopio
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PostRe: [GRWC8] Advance Wars [Review]
by Captain Kinopio » Mon Sep 15, 2008 8:46 pm

Yeah I was going to say what Clarkman said.

Not really a review, more of a love letter. Still it is a good one.

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Kinetic
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PostRe: [GRWC8] Advance Wars [Review]
by Kinetic » Tue Sep 16, 2008 6:24 am

A well-written and enjoyable entry but the fact that it's neither here nor there is going to hamper it in the voting stages. It certainly isn't a review and whilst it would (I think) be better placed in the 'articles' category, it just isn't there yet either.

I'm not really sure what to offer in terms of constructive criticism, it's not a competition-winning piece, but then again there's nothing really wrong with the way it's written. A difficult one to place to be sure, hopefully HoC and Eight can offer some more illuminating comments than mine!

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Eighthours
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PostRe: [GRWC8] Advance Wars [Review]
by Eighthours » Tue Sep 16, 2008 10:48 am

ITS.

Ahem. Right. Moving swiftly on...

First paragraph: what on Earth is going on with the punctuation? Make your mind up! You've got a large grouping of "linked" comments, for which you're using an interesting selection of commas, semicolons and full stops. Now, I can see what you're trying to do here, and you've nearly pulled it off, but the problem is that you're linking some bits with semi-colons that aren't as strong as other bits that you haven't linked: for example, the dinner table/film sentence. It just lacks a bit of consistency. I do like the actual content of the paragraph, though.

Second paragraph: lose the tense change for the "thumb" section. And maybe add an "only" before inherently, as I think the point you're trying to make is that you originally thought videogames were only addictive if they belonged to the PES/Hawk model of control. That point just isn't there because of the loss of one word!

The next para's great.

Next para: first semicolon's good, but the second semicolon's wrong and should either be a colon or one of those lovely dash things that Canton and I love. The content of the paragraph, though, is again very good.

Next para: ITS. Apart from that, the piece goes through the next couple of paras to its conclusion okay. But there's definitely something missing. I think it's wrapped up too quickly without reaching a finishing peak, as if you thought of everything you really wanted to say earlier and couldn't quite think of a way to wrap it up. It's noticeable. That's a structural issue.

In general, though, it's one of the better written entries. The content is good until it runs out of steam. The biggest problem is probably a pretty fundamental one that has already been identified by others: the piece is simply mislabelled. It's not a review. If you'd entitled it "Love Letters: Advance Wars", people wouldn't be expecting something they didn't get. And so we come to a writing tip - always think about exactly how you label up your articles, as something seemingly insignificant can often turn out to be important from the get-go in terms of what people think when they come away from the piece.

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Hero of Canton
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PostRe: [GRWC8] Advance Wars [Review]
by Hero of Canton » Tue Sep 16, 2008 3:20 pm

The swears are a bit incongruous, particularly the 'wank and repeat' bit which made me wince a little bit.

That said, this is generally a very well-written love letter to Advance Wars, which should really be in the Articles section as it's not really a review. A couple of subbing tweaks, and this would stand a chance of nabbing one of my votes (depends how many we get, I guess).

DML wrote:F'NARR!
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Pilch
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PostRe: [GRWC8] Advance Wars [Review]
by Pilch » Wed Sep 17, 2008 2:36 am

This is nicely written and really makes me want to go back to Advance Wars and try a bit harder. I especially like the paragraph about the learning curve - that's very nicely done. I hardly need to repeat again that it's not really a review, but that is the first thing that I thought when I finished reading it. Still, there's good stuff here but I'm not sure whether it qualifies for a vote or not given its lack of categorical focus. I'm coining that phrase.

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A.I.
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PostRe: [GRWC8] Advance Wars [Review]
by A.I. » Thu Sep 18, 2008 5:45 pm

Edited on request of author.


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