With the first Advance Wars being a hit on the GBA not long after the system launched, it was no wonder that a sequel would eventually follow. Released about two years later, Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising feels very much like an expansion pack, but one that is still more than worth the price of admission.
Advance Wars 2 still offers a plethora of different modes, just like its predecessor, but the main focus is once more on the campaign. Taking place some time after the first game, the Orange Star, Blue Moon, Green Earth and Yellow Comet armies have all made amends after driving away the Black Hole army, and are living in peace. Unfortunately - like in most games - that doesn't last very long, because Black Hole soon returns, attacking everyone once more.
While the campaign in the first game limited you to the three main Orange Star COs until the very last mission, Advance Wars 2 mixes it up by allowing you to play as all four of the 'good' armies. Missions are divided into territories belonging to each army, and as such you'll take control of COs belonging to the corresponding region's forces. Pick a Blue Moon mission, for example, and you'll get to play as Olaf, Grit or newcomer Colin. While some missions force you to play as one specific CO, there's also a decent amount that allow you to pick any of the three, allowing for different strategies.
The campaign's missions are nicely divided among all armies, with eight for each region (and two final stages). You'll have to do a bit of searching if you want to actually play them all, however. While seven of the missions in each area can be played normally, there is also a secret stage for each army to find by capturing a specific city in one of the other missions in their territory. Doing this is highly recommended, as clearing the secret mission will allow that army to build Neotanks in subsequent missions. These are the only new units in Advance Wars 2, but they're incredibly strong, completely eclipsing Medium Tanks in sheer power on top of being more mobile. They are fairly costly as a result, however!
Aside from Neotanks, there's also a host of other new features. The most obvious of these is the set of eight new COs, with one for each of the main armies and four for Black Hole. To name a few, Blue Moon's Colin is essentially the opposite of Kanbei with cheaper but weaker units, Yellow Comet's Sensei specializes in infantry units, battle copters and transport vehicles, Green Earth's Jess has stronger vehicles but weaker infantry units, and the strength of Black Hole's Lash's units depends on the defence rating of the terrain they attack from. Despite not being playable in the campaign, all Black Hole COs can naturally still be unlocked for use in the other modes.
There's also two new types of terrain which you'll see quite frequently, as well as some campaign-exclusive obstacles. Missile silos allow any infantry units that interact with them to launch a single targeted missile strike at a cluster of enemies, hitting any unit in range (including friendly ones!) for three damage. Pipelines are essentially impenetrable walls acting as a barrier - however, you may be able to locate a seam, which can be destroyed to create an passage. Black Hole also has access to some special buildings in certain missions, such as cannons which will automatically fire at any unit in range, but can be destroyed.
Far and away the most important new feature, however, is the addition of Super CO Powers. While attacking and being attacked will still allow you to unleash a regular CO Power, just like before, you also have the option of waiting even longer to fill a bigger meter and unleash an even stronger power, which of course means that all the returning COs now have a completely new additional power as well.
Some of these Super CO Powers are simply stronger versions of the regular power, such as Drake's, which deals 2 damage to all enemy units instead of 1, but others have some pretty crazy effects. Sami's, for example, allows any of her infantry units to capture any building in a single turn, in addition to increasing their movement range. If the enemy's HQ is in range of one of her infantry units and she's got her super power ready, they're done for! These Super CO Powers add a nice additional strategic element to the game - do you use your normal power as soon as it's available, or wait until you can use your super, but risk not being able to put it to use by the time you get it?
Of course, the campaign is really just a fraction of the content available in the game. All others modes from the previous title make their return - Design Maps lets you make your own maps, Battle Maps lets you buy additional maps and COs, Vs. Mode lets you play against a friend or the AI on any map; War Room also lets you try and get a good rank across various special maps, most of which are the same as before with some new additions thrown in. Again, there is a useless Link Mode option, which originally allowed multiplayer via the GBA Link Cable, but this is unnecessary considering you can just use Vs. Mode and pass the controller around instead. Like before, there's also an Advance Campaign to unlock, which makes the campaign much, much harder, but has a neat reward for anyone who can successfully make it through.
There's not much to say about the game's graphics and music, as they haven't changed a bit - they are literally exactly the same as in the previous game. It must be said that the new COs have themes that are just as catchy as the rest, however!
It might not shake up things a whole lot, but Advance Wars 2 offers a slew of nice new additions, as well as a fun new campaign to work your way through. Certain COs have even been tweaked to be less overpowered (Max, anyone?) making this perhaps an even more balanced game than its predecessor. If you want more Wars World goodness, you can't go wrong here!