While the “Advance Wars” (or, more appropriately, the “Wars”) series has been going on for quite some time (20 years in Japan, 7 here in North America), it hasn’t changed a whole lot over that time.
Sure, new features, units, and gameplay elements have been added with every incarnation, generally making for a better game every time it appears, but the series has always maintained a certain level of “cuteness” factor. For a game about war, Advance Wars has always had very anime-styled characters, who seem to find themselves in funny or awkward situations almost as often as they find themselves on the battlefield. Couple that with upbeat music, and you had a somewhat odd – though extremely good and addictive – turn based strategy series.
That changes with “Advance Wars: Days of Ruin” on the DS. As the name implies, this game is much darker and much more serious. The art is still obviously from Japan, but it’s grittier, with a more mature look. The story is also much more serious, beginning immediately after a meteor shower throws the world into chaos. However, while the characters are, as a whole, more war hardened and grim, there are still many that have a great deal of humor and charm. It’s a pretty good balance, really.
As far as gameplay goes, there actually aren’t any earth-shattering changes. For those unfamiliar with the series, “Advance Wars” is a turn-based game that puts you in control of an army of units. Usually the battles tend to be one on one, but sometimes you’ll have three or four armies on the battlefield at once wreaking havoc. You can control them with either the buttons or the DS stylus (for curious fans, stylus control is very much improved over the last DS game, “Dual Strike”), leading them to either decimate the opposing forces or capture their headquarters.
Units are varied, but in the traditional strategy categories. You have ground units such as infantry and tanks, air units such as battle copters and bombers, and sea units such as battleships and submarines. You either start out with a selection of these units at your disposal, or more often, build them with factories, airports, and harbors. Units work in a sort of “rock, paper, scissors” fashion, with units like anti-air working best, unsurprisingly, against air units, but weak against units like tanks.
Aside from the new look, “Days of Ruin” introduces new terrain types, such as ruins, and new units, like the mammoth War Tank. In an extremely exciting move, Nintendo also added online play over the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. You can play against either strangers or friends, though if you play with friends you’re given the option of using voice chat.
Unfortunately, some old things were removed to make way for the new. The most disappointing loss for me personally is the Shop. In the past, you would receive money for playing the game, either through the campaign or skirmish matches against the AI. The better you did the more money you received. This money allowed you to buy characters, maps, and other things. The feature added a lot of replay value to the game, and I’m sorry to see it go.
CO Powers are also different here. In the past, the character you chose would have some affect on your army such as making your tanks stronger or making units cheaper for you to produce. They also had individual powers that would charge up as you both gave and received damage. When used, these powers would have a certain, temporary effect, like healing your units a bit or making them move further in a snowy environment.
Now, COs enter the battlefield themselves as opposed to watching from the sidelines. They piggyback with another unit, and have a certain field of influence in which they give their trademark bonuses.
All things said, this is another very solid entry in the “Advance Wars” series. For both fans and newcomers alike (provided they like strategy), it’s the kind of game that you can easily start playing at 8:00 at night, become engrossed in the tactics, then look at up the clock and realize that it’s 2AM, you have a class in six hours, and you say you’ll stop after just… one… more… turn.