‘Advance Wars’ is the perfect game for beginners to turn-based tactics

The simple but addictive game mechanics, vibrant art style, and engaging storyline make the series a great starting point

Sajid Khan
Published : 31 Jan 2024, 01:31 PM
Updated : 31 Jan 2024, 01:31 PM

What defines a tactics game?

Fans of the genre will typically say that a good tactics game should be exciting, fast-paced, and involve an interesting plot.

Advance Wars checks off all three boxes.

Released in 2001 for the Game Boy Advance, Advance Wars is the seventh game in the Wars series. The turn-based tactics games were largely confined to the Japanese market because Nintendo believed them to be too esoteric for an international audience.

But, with Advance Wars, they tried to broaden the appeal of the game to Western audiences with slick anime-inspired style and mechanics that were easier to grasp for newcomers.

It proved a huge success, catalysing the Japanese video game giant’s decision to bring other well-known franchises like Fire Emblem to the international stage.

So, what makes Advance Wars such an enjoyable and widely loved game?

The core appeal is the gameplay – simple to learn, difficult to master, and addictive all the way through.

The game kicks off with two rival nations – Orange Star and Blue Moon – who have been wrestling for control of a continent for a long time. The Blue Moon nation attacks and new Orange Star commanding officer Andy has to take control of his troops to defend his country. However, the war takes a turn when Andy is accused of assaulting the military of two other nations – Yellow Comet and Green Earth – threatening to spiral the situation into a worldwide conflict.

Players take control of Andy’s army on a grid-like game board. Think chess. The different units at play can be categorised into on-the-ground infantry, land vehicles, sea vessels, and aircraft, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Every turn, players can move their units according to their movement stat and attack if an enemy is within their range. Attacks can deal more or less damage depending on a number of factors – the types of units at play, their position, the terrain of their battle. Tanks have an easier time against infantry, for example, and positioning your troops in the woods gives them better defence.

Once your move ends, the enemy gets its own turn to move and attack.

The final major mechanic is CO power. Each of your commanding officers has their own unique style and ability that can be used to give your troops a defining edge in the battle. But your opposition has their own CO power as well. So balancing the timing and use of these moves is crucial to turning the tide.

The battles ebb and flow between offence and defence while being affected by terrain and even the weather. Over the course of its lengthy campaign, players must learn to adapt to two fascinating mechanisms – learning what constitutes a fair and acceptable loss and how to outwit opponents when both of you have equal chances of victory.

Objectives on the 115 maps in the game can vary, but are usually about eliminating enemy troops in the level or taking control of enemy headquarters.

The game has a 15-mission tutorial to ease newbies into the flow of things. These missions, though a bit slow and simple, provide the baseline necessary to tackle the meat of the campaign, showing off basic strategies for first timers. It’s an excellent starting point for anyone looking to dip their toe into the genre and see if it catches their attention.

Another useful gauge of progress is the mission grading system. Completion of any mission leads to a grade, determined by the three factors of speed, power, and technique. Speed depends on how quickly a player completes a level while power and technique evaluates the number of enemy troops eliminated and the number of allied troops you kept safe.

It’s a system that’s easy to pick up and play, but well-balanced enough to be difficult to master, which is the key to success for a great strategy game.

The vibrant and engaging anime-styled art is another factor in favour of Advance Wars. Tactics and strategy games have a tendency to look too imposing for newcomers, but the well-drawn sprites and charming boards add a lot of whimsy and character to the game.

Of particular note are the CO abilities which come straight out of an anime with their over-the-top splashy energy.

There’s also an admirable neat-and-tidiness to the art as well, making it easy for players to figure out exactly what’s going on in the midst of a heated battle thanks to the sharp silhouettes and clever distinctive touches. There’s very little clutter and things are instantly recognisable.

The upbeat colour scheme also reinforces the notion that this is about having fun instead of delving too deep into violence. In that way it’s a good starting point for younger gamers too.

If the game has a major drawback it’s the music. It’s not bad, by any means, and the pulsating percussion adds to the game’s energetic mood while fitting with the ongoing efforts on the battlefield. But there’s a forgettable quality to it and it can get fairly monotonous after the first few hours.

But, if you enjoy podcasts or audiobooks, it’s a perfect game to chip away at as you listen.

For a tactics game on the Game Boy Advance, Advance Wars is as good as it gets. While more thoughtful and slow than the other button-mashing, thumb-busting classics on the system, its system of moves and countermoves can get just as intense.

And, especially for a game in a genre with a steep learning curve, the tutorial is a thoughtful way to get more players excited about a smaller genre.

Advance Wars holds up well alongside your retro collection and is a shining example of how well-designed mechanics and a good understanding of the audience can help a game hold up decades after its initial release. 

Score: 8.5/10

Title: Advance Wars

Release year: 2001

Platforms: Game Boy Advance

Game length: 15–20 hours

This article is part of Stripe, bdnews24.com's special publication focusing on culture and society from a youth perspective.