Inside Pulse 12

Review: Advance Wars: Days of Ruin (Nintendo DS)

Advance Wars: A series well known for its long standing quality. Odds are if you’ve bought one you’re in for a treasure trove of Turn-Based Tactical goodness. But, uh oh, what’s this? Things have changed, in some ways drastically. Did the gambles pay off or did Nintendo royally screw up one of its most respected intellectual properties?

AdvanceWarsCoverAdvance Wars: Days of Ruin
Genre: Turn-Based Tactics
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 01/21/08

I love Tactics games. I prefer Tactical RPGs ala Shining Force and Fire Emblem but when there’s a drought on those fronts their straight-forward genre cousin works out just fine. All of the strategy involved just captivates me. Thus needless to say (so why am I saying it?), past Advance Wars games were dear to my heart.

So. Days of Ruin. This is the fourth Advance Wars game to come our way, but the series has roots far, far, beyond that. For those not in the know, this series is a sub-set of Nintendo Wars. Waaaay back in 1988 Intelligent Systems developed the first Nintendo Wars game, Famicon Wars for the NES, which was created even before the Fire Emblem series came into existence. As of today the franchise has been active for nearly 20 years. So yeah, Intelligent Systems has some minor experience in the genre.

For Days of Ruin they made some major and minor changes that alter what fans have come to expect. But it’ll be fine because Intelligent Systems knows what they’re doing, right? All of those 20 years of experience has paid off, right? Right?? We shall see. Or at least you shall see. I already know.

Let us review.


1. STORY

AdvanceWars03Whoa! What happened to my Advance Wars?! Days of Ruin is dark. The series takes a serious turn moving away from the lightheartedness fans are used to. Basically, Armageddon went down. Giant meteorite balls of fire fell from the sky and the world is dead. The planet is straight up jacked up, and almost all of humanity is wiped out. Total devastation. Once prominent cities are distant memories. Dust covers the Earth blotting out the sun. All of the Cinnabons are GONE. Yup, this tale isn’t your happy go lucky fun-time-jamboree.

Needless to say amid the destruction there is hope. There’d have to be, right? Otherwise no game. You’ll follow the adventures of Commander Brenner, Lieutenant Lin, and new recruit Will, members of Rubinelle’s 12th Battalion (nicknamed “Brenner’s Wolves”), as they scour what’s left of the planet looking for survivors and offering refuge. Of course the best way to accomplish this is through massive amounts of bloodshed and unnecessary death.

The story is respectable. Not great. But it adequately moves things along so you can get to your next battle without feeling completely devoid of motivation. I have always liked the fact that there isn’t a single all encompassing army you have to face but rather several different protagonists throughout the game. These confrontations are purposeful and story arcs do exist so that it isn’t just a bunch of random disgruntled guys with tanks running around. I also like how morally not everything is black and white. There is black. There is white. But also shades of gray. That makes sense. The world is DEAD. Society has broken down. Different people will find different ways to cope that may not fit into the, “let’s save everyone,” or the “let’s kill everybody” mold.

Sure there are glimmers of the series’ past cuteness, but in the end I am disappointed Nintendo chose to lose the majority of that cartoony lovable appeal. Without it the so-so writing is exposed making the story not nearly as enjoyable. I loved and will miss how in previous games after massive amounts of death and chaos everyone acted as though they had just been to the malt shop and were gearing up to go to Disney World.

Story Rating: DECENT


2. GRAPHICS

Good. I do love the character art. Especially the cut-scenes. Beautifully drawn and designed. A feast for the eyes.

The actual battles, though? Eh, nothing amazing. But how much do you need? Sprites look like the weapons and vehicles they propose to be. Your units, your enemy’s units, and the terrain are all clear and discernible. That’s what is most important to this type of genre.

So collectively is it stunning? No. Is it ugly? Certainly no. Where it seems as though they could put in some effort, they did. Where it seems like the simple would work, they went with the simple. It’s good for what it is and serves the purpose.

Graphics Rating: ABOVE AVERAGE


3. SOUND

Oh wow. Splendid. For a good while this was my favorite part of the game. I’m in love with this game’s amalgam of rock and techno “gritty solider” music. I caught myself humming a few of the battle themes and the select screen music while not even playing. For the first few hours in I would come back to the game just to hear the tunes. That saying a lot from me.

As for everything else, while not as impressive, the sound effects are the usual booms and blasts you would expect from a war game such as this. Competent job in this aspect.

Great, great stuff overall.

Sound Rating: GREAT


4. CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY

Yeah. Now THIS is why the series is so popular.

As mentioned the Advance Wars series is a turn-based strategy game. Meaning, you have an army and your opponent(s) have an army and each takes a turn sending them into battle to their probable doom. There are tanks, foot soldiers, planes, naval units, and all sorts of other fun toys. One unit is strong against another unit but that unit is weak against a different unit with the other strong against the first unit and so on and so forth, blah, dee, blah, dee, blah. It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it due to an intuitive tutorial that basically holds your hand if you need it.

AdvanceWars02Those are just the basics though. Gameplay is very deep. You will need to capture cities to produce funds for your army. You need to figure out which unit is most advantageous to build for which situation, effectively using your limited assets. Sometimes you need to take into consideration “Fog of War” meaning you’ll have limited visibility in some battles. In such cases you can create a Flare Gun unit and shoot into the darkness revealing enemy forces. Or you could send a solider up into mountain terrain to increase their visual range. Or you could take advantage of the fact that due to the world’s devastation there are some areas eternally ablaze which provide illumination in the immediate area. There are some units that can only attack when stationary during that turn. You have to worry about fuel constraints on units requiring it. Lots of variables to consider here.

Additions to the franchise include units with the ability to build other units and structures such as a temporary airport base. We’ve got new terrain types. We’ve got new vehicles. There are a ton of subtle gameplay tweaks that fans of the franchise will both appreciate… but also be slightly disappointed in. Many will compare this game to the last in the franchise, Dual Strike. Certain popular vehicles are gone. The Shop feature is gone (where you could use points accumulated to unlock new maps and characters). The Commanding Officer system is also revamped. But some of these changes were for the best and Nintendo added in the same quantity they took away. Bottom line is if you enjoy the franchise and tactics games in general, you’ll be in heaven here.

As for the controls, they aren’t so easy to jump into but only depending on how you go about it. The stylus? Useless. Ok, not useless. But clunky and unneeded. Everything you can control using the d-pad and the button layout and this is the way to go. If so, controlling your units and resources is a snap. Also, the dual screen feature is only really used as on overview of your map in most situations with the exception of cutscenes. In all truth in these respects this game could be on the Game Boy Advance and be practically the same. That sounds worrisome until you remember the games controlled incredibly well on the GBA to begin with.

So… let’s review: It plays well. It’s deep. It’s definitely fun. It’s the tried and true quality gameplay fans have come to expect from the series. Wonderful. Eat it on up.

Control & Gameplay Rating: GREAT


5. REPLAYABLITY

Wow. Infinite. Over 150(!) maps. The ability to stray off from the main Campaign and attempt hard as nails Trial battles putting your tactical skills to the test. The ability to build and design your own maps and then share them with your friends. You’ve got the standard pass around the cartridge multiplayer options, but for the first time the series is online via Wi-Fi Connection and lemme tell ya,… awesome. Online play adds tremendously to the replay value. This is the first time I’ve played a tactical strategy game online and the feeling of kicking random shmucks’ behinds is priceless. Then we have 2-4 multiplayer battles via wireless connect. Not to mention of the main Campaign itself is long and satisfying. Great amount of content here. I’ll be playing this randomly for months.

Replayablity Rating: UNPARALLELED


6. BALANCE

Great again! Gameplay balance is even better than past games. For example in the previous DS installment of Advance Wars, Commanding Officers had an experience system where the player could level up throughout the game and many times the C.O.s would have a drastic, battle altering effect on the field. Well, that’s gone. It will be missed because it was so blasted fun, but this provides an overall better balanced experience. Now different Generals provide various stat bonuses making things even more strategic. Even without the changes however, this franchise has always been great in keeping gameplay balanced. Each unit fills a role and once you figure out how to effectively use them it’s all too rewarding. Things are a little easy in Campaign mode (I didn’t lose a single battle until 14 in), but it gets challenging much later on. Good stuff in these respects.

Also, as mentioned you get tons of bangs for your buck. Days of Ruin is content heavy without a ton of meaningless filler trying to artificially pad up the experience.

Balance Rating: CLASSIC


7. ORIGINALITY

Hmm. There’s a tweak here. A minor addition there. Some units are different. The addition of online Wi-Fi play is a huge step forward. But other than those and the series moving to a darker time and place this is the same exact game fans have been playing for years. Sure, that’s not a bad thing. Ain’t broke, don’t fix and all that clicheness, right? But there’s nothing that really “advances” (pun totally not intended there; well ok maybe) the genre forward in a significant or meaningful way. There really is nothing that people will look at and say, “Wow! I’ve never done anything like that before!”, unless you’re a total newcomer to the genre.

But again, online play? Worth mentioning because that is a big deal. Everything else is pretty much standard fare.

Originality Rating: MEDIOCRE


8. ADDICTIVENESS

It’s weird. Normally you couldn’t tear me away from this series, but now? Eh…

Oh, “Eh”, isn’t too specific. Let me clarify. Over the span of one sitting, I’d play through at least 3 battles at a time, being happy to do so. Sounds fine, right? In past Advance Wars though, I’d play 5 – 8 battles at a time. What happened? Maybe it’s because the game moved to a darker place and it’s somehow lost its fascination on me. Maybe it’s because I’m tired of playing the same game over and over again. Whatever it is, that spark, that factor that makes me clamor for a game like a crack addict, is missing.

It shows how good the core gameplay of this franchise is however that even when the “indefinable” is gone the game still holds up. When the story and originality fail, the play mechanics, the replay value and sound pick it up. I’m not as insane over it as I used to be, but I still love it.

Addictiveness Rating: ABOVE AVERAGE


9. APPEAL FACTOR

It’s a long standing brand name that has endured both in following and in quality. You want tactical goodness on a handheld? Advance Wars is where it’s at, baby. So the target audience will be more than appeased and it’s great in that respect.

But let’s be honest… this is a little bit of a niche. So if you weren’t a fan of the genre or franchise before now, there’s little here to change your mind or perspective. If you loved it? You’ll still love it. If you didn’t? It’s the same as it was when you didn’t love it, so you still won’t.

Appeal Factor Rating: ABOVE AVERAGE


10. MISCELLANEOUS

Days of Ruin made some great design and gameplay choices over its DS predecessor making it an even more strategic and well balanced experience. However in the process the game has lost some of its charm and subsequent fun. Games don’t always have to be “perfectly” balanced to be fun. Take the Super Smash Bro. series. Balanced? HA! Though the game has a competitive gaming league following, even those players avoid certain characters for fairness sake. But millions of gamers ignore all that and have a blast playing. This feels weird to say, but sometimes the most sensible design choices aren’t always the funnest. That makes sense? Regardless, Days of Ruin is a very enjoyable game and the only reason for slight disappointment in this regard is because of how high the series has already set the bar for itself. A testament to the franchise really.

Miscellaneous Rating: ENJOYABLE


The Scores:
Story Rating: DECENT
Graphics Rating: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound Rating: GREAT
Control & Gameplay Rating: GREAT
Replayablity Rating: UNPARALLELED
Balance Rating: CLASSIC
Originality Rating: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness Rating: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal Factor Rating: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous Rating: ENJOYABLE
FINAL RATING: GOOD!

Short Attention Span Summary
bebstopstory.JPGYou didn’t read the review, did you? You just bypassed everything I’ve just written and scrolled down here to see the final word, didn’t you? If so, I hate you; leave the site, never come back, and die it’s understandable that sometimes you just want the bottom line. So here it is. Limited appeal and feelings of dejavu are the only things really holding Days of Ruin back because the issues of shifting narrative to a mature setting and certain minor gameplay changes are subjective. The sound is great. The play mechanics are classic. It’s perfectly balanced. The replay value is insane. If you love this series it’s a no-brainer, kids: Must buy. It’s not better than its DS predecessor mind you, but Intelligent Systems continues to provide the very best the genre has to offer. Long live Nintendo Wars!