Calling the first Battalion Wars an anti-climatic experience wouldn’t be too far off the mark: the spin-off from the highly acclaimed Advance Wars series was expected to be a smash hit success. Unfortunately, the distinct lack of tactical depth brought the game short of the mark in many people's eyes. Battalion Wars Wii was a chance for Nintendo to redeem the series and prove the game could be just as good as its DS counterpart. Regrettably, this hasn’t been the case, and we’re presented with a sequel that once again falls short of the high standards expected from Nintendo.
The story to BWii starts out a couple of centauries ago: the Iron Legion – lead by Lord Ferrok (a man with a head shaped like a novelty, er, well…) – had decided that it would be rather nice to take over the world. Fortunately, the Solar Empire withstood the Iron Legion’s onslaught, and managed to launch a last-ditch attack, where they used a staff of immense power to deal a fatal blow to Lord Ferrok’s forces. Skip forward a couple of hundred years to the present day, and war has broken loose again. This time, the catalyst appears to be the tea-sipping gents of the Anglo Isles – attacking the Solar Empire in belief they have a weapon of devastating power (how topical!). However, things are not all as they seem on the surface; there is a far more sinister plot developing in the background.
From the outset it is clear that BWii is a light-hearted title. Although war is the name of the game, the cartoon-like appearance and flamboyant characters detract from any possible sense of realism. This is not really a bad thing for those looking for a bit of casual fun, but for anyone wanting a ‘proper’ war game, this isn’t it. What there is of the story is quite weak too: each country is involved in the war in some fashion or another, and it’s the player's job to wage war on behalf of these fictitious – yet somewhat stereotypical – nations. It’s certainly not one of the most gripping of narratives, which ultimately means you care very little for the characters. In fairness, it’s a bit harsh judging the game on its storytelling and plotlines when the core focus is on gameplay.
The story being blithe and somewhat lacking actually fits in well to the pick-up-and-play mentality the game has adopted: short, simple, accessible, and not overly engaging. You play as a commander of a battalion (a hodgepodge of whatever units are available) and it’s your duty to defeat the enemies and capture their bases and production lines while at the same time defending your own: you use to move – shaking it to dive out of the way of fire, to lock-on to targets, to shoot, and to command other units, while pointing the Wiimote will control the camera direction and pressing provides different viewing angles.
In the early levels you play as the basic ‘grunts’ (foot infantry), but fairly soon you gain access to a wider selection of other soldiers, tanks, airborne vehicles, and sea-based weaponry. The real nifty part here is that you have the ability to switch between which unit to control: using and , players can elect to play as whichever unit they desire within their current battalion. Being able to control one of several units at your whim really provides a diverse way to play the game: you could opt to stay out of close combat in a bombship – preferring to command from a safer distance – or decide to get up close and personal with the enemy as an infantry grunt. The range of units is well thought out too, with each type having their own strengths and weaknesses – e.g. tanks can decimate assault infantry, assault infantry can avoid bazooka infantry fire, and bazooka infantry make short work of tanks. In many situations you’ll need to use tactics and send in specific units to destroy enemies that would otherwise make light work of your company.
On paper this sounds like quite a sophisticated system, but in actuality it becomes the downfall of BWii. When playing, you’re constantly encouraged to send specific units to engage in combat with particular enemies. To do this you lock-on to the target with , use the to select a unit, and then press to get them to attack. When you have several enemies attacking you at once it becomes impossible to play this way, and, instead, you end up commanding all the units at once – negating any real tactics. Furthering the tactical system’s deficiencies is the awkwardness involved when attempting to manage troops in more than one location – it’s practically impossible. In a nutshell, all these problems stem from the fact that the Wii control setup is not sufficient to cope with how the game should be played – a major letdown.
Visually, BWii looks nice, if a bit too cutesy for the people who prefer realism. There’s real variety in the terrain and very few drab colours. The soundtrack blends in well and, with the visuals, helps give the game the expected sheen of Nintendo polish.
Difficulty wise, the game is quite a breeze: you’ll have a few moments when a real challenge is presented, but otherwise you’ll be ploughing through the story at a quick rate, easily completing it within 8 hours. Each mission is ranked, and attaining certain ranks unlocks extra content – bonus material in the form of unit dossiers and concept art. With no option for local multiplayer, the only real factor that may draw you back to this is the online mode where you can play co-operative missions, fight against someone to capture bases, or just engage in a general fragfest. The co-op missions may well keep you entertained longer than the main game will – the tactical depth here is greater as the units are divided up between the players, making teamwork essential and tactical deployment a possibility. However, the player versus player modes are pretty lacking due to the restrictions imposed by the control system.
Battalion Wars Wii is ultimately a sequel that doesn’t do enough to make a good series great. The visuals are nice, missions are the right length, and there have been a couple of enhancements in the form of extra units and an online multiplayer mode. However, the distinct lack of offline multiplayer is a significant downside, and disjointed gameplay mechanics makes its description as a 'tactical' action game fit like a pair of clown pants on a size zero model.
If you played and enjoyed the first game, you’ll undoubtedly like BWii. If you’ve never played the series before, try before you buy – this one’s not for everyone.