Turn-Based Strategy Players:
E10 (Everyone 10 and up)Release Date:
January 21, 2008Screenshots: Link!Amazon: Buy Now!Written By:
For the uninitiated, Advance Wars is a turn-based strategy series that is a part of Nin-tendo’s Wars franchise. Developed by Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo, Advance Wars: Days of Ruin is the latest installment in the series. Advance Wars: Days of Ruin is shaking things up a bit in the series by shedding the light-hearted, over-the-top, cartoon attitude that the series is known for in favor of a grittier and more violent war story that is considerably darker in tone.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world devastated by a meteor shower, there isn’t a whole lot of room left for the cute quirkiness that the series may have been known for in the past. All of that is gone for a more mature story of survival and war. Most of the time, the more mature plot works to great effect. Marauding bandits prey on helpless civilians, opportunistic generals with no nations left to fight for continue to wage war in their own interests, characters are hunted down and assassinated, a grotesque disease threatens to wipe out what little is left of humanity, and through it all a mysterious arms dealer fan the flames. The plot is interesting and sets the stage for the turn-based battles that make up the actual gameplay. Unfortunately, there are places where the maturity of the plot falters.
The maturity of the story is as much of a jump as it can be considering the rating only went from a standard ‘E’ to ‘E 10 and up.’ It is not ‘adult’ by any means, but then again, ‘mature’ and ‘adult’ are not the same thing. The mature tone of the story functions well, dealing with issues of patriotism, survival, pacifism and war. The main protagonist, Will, grows quite a bit over the course of the game, and the plot never pretends this inexperienced cadet will single-handedly save the day, and the world that it presents is bleak and dangerous. The dialogue, unfortunately, is rarely able to carry the mature tone and can occasionally even contradict it. Characters will spout out one-liners that would make the writers of a bad Saturday-morning action cartoon cringe, and many characters just come off as flat. Will’s mentor, Brenner, is a righteous paladin of a man, defender of the weak, and showcases almost no faults at all. Likewise, several villains come off as parodies of themselves, fighting for no reasons other than straight-up super-villainy or pure lust for “power” (which is never really defined in the context of a completely ruined world). Certain elements of the plot also fail to hold up the overall tone. Japanese game story tropes abound, complete with the mysterious amnesiac girl who serves as a walking deus-ex-machina and predictable love interest for the plucky young hero. You have the always-loyal soldier, the quiet, brooding pretty-boy with the emo haircut, and the list goes on. However, it is a testament to the plot that it generally holds up well in spite of these elements. At the end of the day, it’s a more mature telling of a war story than we’re usually used to in videogames, if it is at times clichéd, flat, or outright cheesy.
The art style is kind of cartoony, in the “smashed tanks” sense -- vehicles are kind of squashed and deformed, infantry are little, faceless, sprites -- however it’s all colored with more grey, muted tones, which reinforces the overall feel of the game. It strikes an effective middle-ground between the tone of past entries in the series and the new tone of Days of Ruin.
The gameplay is generally what you’d expect from a turn-based strategy game. Units battle it out rock-paper-scissors style across grid-based land, sea, and air in an elabo-rate game of chess. It works well and the gameplay usually makes sense. For exam-ple, the massive rounds fired by an AA gun are equally effective against infantry as they are against aircraft, as one might expect. Because it usually makes sense, the number of different units, and their various strengths and weaknesses, never seems overwhelming. Even when it does, all the information for a selected unit is just a click away on the upper screen.
There are some pacing issues in the main campaign. It gets off to a pretty slow start and puts you through many bite-sized tutorials in fairly simple and easy missions for longer than it probably should. On the other hand, the difficulty, as well as the plot, seem to ramp up almost instantaneously at the halfway point. You start to find yourself in a new disadvantage at the start of every new level, a slew of new strategies open up, maps become significantly larger, and you have many more units to manage. It’s jarring at first, but just as the game lulled into beginner mode for the first half, it finds another niche in the difficulty of the second half, and once you get used to it, it becomes apparent that the “real” game has started, and levels begin to become more varied. puzzle levels.
The enemy AI is good but not great, by any means. For the most part it only presents a significant challenge in the levels that give it an advantage from the start, whether it’s in the form of more units, production buildings, or resources/money. It generally makes smart moves; it knows to hold air units back when you’re well-defended with anti-air units, for example, and can even outmaneuver you on occasion. However, it rarely reacts this intelligently when playing defensively, making feeble attempts to rush you with inferior units instead of biding its time and strengthening its defense. Essentially, this boils down to so-called “zerg-rushing” (spamming a large force of cheap units with which to blitz the enemy’s defenses) becoming a perfectly viable, and often preferred, strategy in the larger maps. More advanced and complex strategies certainly open up in multiplayer, however, and the elaborate chess game has rarely been more engaging.
In the end, the Advance Wars series has always been casual-friendly and this remains true for Days of Ruin. The lauded “maturity” has been a bit overblown, and it’s noticea-bly jarring when the game’s plot and characters contradict that maturity, but overall it’s more than you get from many games about war. It’s a testament to the history of the series that the game manages to blend reasonably complex strategy gameplay with a very slim barrier to entry. All-in-all, Days of Ruin is a competent strategy game that maintains its accessibility.8.5/
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