Fans – and make no bones about it, there are fans out there – have been waiting for a new Advance Wars game. Even as Nintendo and Intelligent Systems have built Fire Emblem up to be one of their most cherished and beloved properties, Advance Wars, despite being reasonably similar in gameplay, has languished. Indeed, the last actual new one was right back on the Nintendo DS.
Advance Wars 1+2: Reboot Camp is not a new game. In fact, it’s such a light-touch “remake” that it’s seriously pushing the definition of that term. However, it might also be the first indication in quite some time that Nintendo is looking to revive this series. So I hope it does well. I love Advance Wars. I’m one of those fans.
Unfortunately, for this preview, I can’t talk about (nor have tested) the online mode, and this is ultimately where the real value of this package will lie. The original Advance Wars was a Game Boy Advance title, and therefore it naturally had no online features. However, it was a game that benefitted from linking up with another player. Where your impression of the in-game AI would eventually shift from being challenging, to static, and eventually predictable (hey, it was a GBA title), against a human mind, a battle across the many (many) highly balanced multiplayer maps was an intense test of tactics and clever play. Advance Wars was always a story of finding a way to take an initially even position, find a slight edge, and then slowly build on it, like a snowball rolling down a mountain. Two equally-skilled tacticians could spend hours attempting feints and shifts in seeking that advantage. Back in the day, when playing against one of my brothers, I once had a battle chew through an entire set of new batteries (thank the lord those days are over). That was a marathon session.
So I think online multiplayer is going to be a major drawcard and source of longevity for Reboot Camp… provided it works, of course. Otherwise, though, you get much of the same game, and I’ve got to be brutally honest here… even at the preview stage, this is disappointing. The story, levels, and general design of Reboot Camp is almost exactly the same as the original Advance Wars (unless my memory is completely failing me). I played so much of the original Advance Wars that the successful tactics have been burned into my brain. So I found myself rolling all those tricks against the AI here, too, and the AI responded exactly as my “muscle memory” was telling me they would.
The only major shift in this remake, aside from the implementation of online, is the art direction and graphics. Looking at it in isolation, I do like what the developer, WayForward, has come up with. The little characters move across the battlefield as though they were animated pieces on a playing board, and each level is surrounded by a “box-like” aesthetic that gives the field a diorama look. I also love the extra effort put into differentiating each faction. They might be small details, but the way the units have been coded to be approximations of Russian, German and etc military outfits helps to boost the personalities of each faction in kind. There’s certainly a debate around whether the overly cheerful and bright references are a bit too much like trivialisation in 2023 (especially with regards to certain forces), and I’ll probably talk about that in my review, as it is important to the analysis of Advance Wars as a piece of art. However, looking at this at a purely superficial level, the aesthetic is pleasant on the eyes.
Indeed, were this an original WayForward product, I would praise the art without qualification. The problem is, though, that there is nothing, whatsoever, wrong with how the GBA originals looked, and Nintendo just launched the GBA “virtual console” on its online service. It’s even bringing the GBA Fire Emblem to it (apparently implying that Lyn’s quest won’t be remade anytime soon). Advance Wars could have gone there too, and there it would have been possible to play online as well, via the simulated link cable. Given that the only other big change to this remake is the art style, I’m not sure that replacing amazing, gorgeous sprite art with fun, quirky, colourful 3D characters is the enough of a transformative experience. A sidestep that doesn’t go backwards, certainly, but is also not a step forward or improvement.
With that being said, the real takeaway here needs to be this: This is Advance Wars, and Advance Wars 1 and 2 are incredible games. Bringing them together in a package, and then making it easy to test your tactical brilliance against friends from around the world, is surely going to be valued by a sizable community. No doubt there will be quibbles around whether this remake does enough. However, ultimately, it is two of the finest tactics games of all time brought together, and I hope that this is what people keep in mind as they dive into it on release.