Preview: Advance Wars: Under Fire (Nintendo Gamecube)

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Kuju Enter. / Genre: Strategy / Release Date: 06-01-05

It’s daybreak. The sky is a brilliant palette of pink, blue, and orange overhead — a striking contrast to the darkened, gauge-filled area around you. The ground beneath you, a blur of dirt and grass, does not matter. Neither does the vegetation, though it strikes you as something suited for a picture postcard rather than here in no man’s land. Here, engulfed by the eerie silence of dawn, you are terrified. You know not what is awaiting you on the other side of the sand dune that looms ahead. You stop and strain your ears to listen…nothing. Nothing but the distant crash of waves hitting the shore, the mighty hum of your engine, and maybe the occasional cry of a gull. At this point, you can no longer tell what is real and what is your imagination. All you know is that you have to be ready. Taking a deep breath and reminding yourself that you’re a soldier — a damn good one — you put your vehicle into gear, throw a sidelong glance at the soldier on your right, and climb the sand dune in search of your enemies.

If the preceding paragraph made you feel funnier than when you played Sexy Beach 2, my psychic powers tell me that you like war games (whoo hoo, stating of the obvious!). An upcoming game in this genre is one that is sparking tons of opposition from the gaming community — Advance Wars: Under Fire (which will be released in 2005). The game’s predecessors (for GBA) rank highly among players, but this time…well, the same loyal fans consider the move to GameCube a major faux pas on the behalf of Kuju Entertainment Ltd., the franchise’s developer. In the move from GBA to GameCube, Kuju completely renovated the title (as you will see momentarily). However, before I launch into the list of differences, it is important to acknowledge that the game is meant to stand on its own rather than be just another sequel.

The largest and most controversial difference the player will see in Advance Wars: Under Fire is the deliberate dispensing of the franchise’s traditional gameplay — turn-based strategy — in favor of real-time battles. Despite this, the game boasts features that will fully immerse the player. For example, players have the ability to lead a group of soldiers into battle — either the entire battalion or just a certain group. If the player is commanding only a small squad, the rest of the soldiers automatically protect their areas from enemy attack. Players may also go into battle in a variety of ways, such as on foot in all their glory; in a ground vehicle (i.e. a tank), which can be obtained when the player is in foot soldier mode; or fly into the action. Furthermore, players will likely be able to control machinery such as the aforementioned armored tanks, as well as transport choppers, zeppelins, and fighter planes (oh my!). There will also be groups within the battalion that specialize in certain maneuvers like flamethrowing or machine guns. Despite the fact that the game feels very action-oriented, it requires a surprising amount of strategy to complete the missions. In addition, when soldiers survive a mission, they gain experience and, eventually, have the opportunity to acquire more abilities.

In terms of story… okay, there really isn’t much of an intricate story. It’s wartime…you and your fellow soldiers must fight the enemy, like every other war game.

Graphics, on the other hand, have been transformed into 3-D for the big GameCube debut. While they’re not the most advanced, they certainly contrast the graphics of earlier Advance Wars games. For the most part, the game is set in a tropical environment — filled with sand dunes, palm trees, and beaches (though I suspect that these beaches will be severely lacking in the obligatory bikini-clad sunbathers).

Not much is known about the audio in the game at this time, nor the actual variety of the characters the player will encounter in the game, aside from “Betty”, who will give mission briefings, objective updates, and various information as the game is played.

Though Advance Wars: Under Fire is not what fans of the franchise will expect, the game boasts new features and a new format that certainly sets it apart from its predecessors. Check back here for future updates.