Review: Advance Wars: Days of Ruin (DS)

The stylus is mightier than the sword.

With a name like Advance Wars, one is likely to expect an action packed, heart pounding war game. Needless to say, the Advance Wars series is really none of those things. Rather, the franchise has focused on slower paced turn-oriented strategy gameplay that is not unlike a glorified game of chess. So what is the appeal? Would it be better to just pick up a checkerboard instead?

To be sure, this series is not about blood-pumping intensity, but it is perhaps one of the greatest experiences you can have in a video game. Most war games center around aiming and shooting, but this series sets itself apart by taking the emphasis off the trigger and providing a battle of wits. Brute strength won't win this war, it’s all about the tactics, and Days of Ruin provides more than enough tactical opportunity for even heavily seasoned strategists.

As mentioned above, the game has a distinct similarity to a game of chess. Well consider the strategy involved with that pastime, and multiply it one hundred times. Days of Ruin not only provides you with a large quantity of units to use (which vastly outnumber chess pieces, mind you), it also adds in elements such as weather and environment. But do not become overwhelmed, the game's single-player campaign has a great learning curve, which introduces all of the elements of the gameplay.

It doesn’t take long for the difficulty level to rise though, if not in the single player options then it almost certainly will against live human opponents. One of the major additions to Days of Ruin is a vast online mode, and if you plan on coming out on top, it’s going to take more than a little practice. In addition to this mode, the game also features a story campaign, a 'free play' mode for one or more players using a single DS, a multi-card option that plays similarly to online matches, a custom map editor with online features, and more. All of which round this title into a very nice package, and will keep you playing for a long time to come.

In a game of chess you’d never move a piece without thinking it through, and that is one of the major fundamentals of Advance Wars. Battles play out turn-based style, with each of your turns letting you move all of your units once. After you’ve finished, the enemy will do the same. When you get within range and command an attack, the game will go into an automated battle. This may seem at first to remove skill from the equation. Yet in reality it will quickly become clear that there are ways to ensure your victory, even without direct control. First off, the game has a 'rock paper scissors' formula (albeit much more complicated) that will make you think before throwing one unit at another. Secondly, unit health will have to be kept in mind, as it not only determines defensive strength, but also offensive strength. There are many more factors in addition to these that will need to be considered of course, insuring that victory will not be an easy matter.

In addition to conquering the enemy, you will have to take over the landscape. Placed throughout most maps are a variety of structures, the most common being cities and factories. By using your infantry, mech, or bike units you can move in and capture these areas. Doing so is absolutely crucial to winning, as factories produce more units, and cities bring in extra funds each turn. Being mindful of your turf also provides defense advantages. For instance, fighting from a forest will give your unit extra cover in battle. Obviously, you will have to be thinking very clearly if you wish to use such advantages, as the enemy is ever present.

One of the more convenient features of this game is that it can be played using either buttons or the touch screen. You can switch back and forth without changing any options, so feel free to use whichever suits you at a moments notice. The button control is ultimately more accurate, and as a result is the better choice. Still, it’s convenient to have more than one option, and some may prefer to command their army with the stylus.

In terms of audio the game delivers nicely; the sound quality is excellent, and music sets an epic tone for the experience. The rock style tracks are a bit of a departure from the music of the previous games, but it suits the subject material well. The game also takes a bold new direction with its graphical presentation; to coincide with the darker storyline, Days of Ruin features a grittier look than past Advance Wars titles, which have always been a little on the 'light hearted' side. Although the darker mood suits the on-screen carnage better, this aspect will likely hit longtime fans hard. Still, the game looks nice enough, although the battle animations sacrifice detail on the small DS screens when aiming for a more realistic design.

Conclusion

When all is said and done Advance Wars Days of Ruin is one of the best games available on the DS - it really is as simple as that. The system lends itself well to strategy titles, and Intelligent Systems has cut no corners while supporting that fact. Some may find the change in style unnerving, but additions like online play make the change more than worth bearing, and in all honesty the more sombre tone makes the message of the game - that war can destroy lives - a little easier to stomach. It’s also a difficult game, but the gratification you get when a battle is finally won after possibly hours of relentless toil is priceless. We really can't recommend this title enough.

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