Advance Wars Switch

Review: Advance Wars 1+2: Reboot Camp (Nintendo Switch)

Sometimes it's best not to mess with the classics.

9 mins read

A simple re-release on the Nintendo Switch GBA platform would have been better than Advance Wars 1+2: Reboot Camp. Nintendo and developer, WayForward, did two things of substance for this “remake”: They gave the game a graphical overhaul, and added native online play. Neither of which justifies this project in lieu of a simple re-release on the “virtual console.”

The graphical overhaul leaves the game in an inferior state to the two GBA originals that have been remade. Those two GBA titles had the most stunning sprite work. Playing the originals in parallel to this remake, I very much found myself preferring that to the cheap-ish 3D models that WayForward have created. That’s not to say there aren’t little touches that I did like. Each of the game’s factions has slightly different visual designs that help to reinforce their respective personalities, and that is something that the GBA titles largely lacked. However, for a developer of WayForward’s calibre, I would never have expected that I would find the game this unpleasant on the eyes after getting deep into it.

Meanwhile, online play is great, and the ability to challenge buddies around the world to something as tactically taut as Advance Wars is going to go down a treat. There are so many maps to play across, too, and while not all of them are balanced, there is enough here to sustain armchair generals for a very, very long time. However, the GBA “virtual console” platform can emulate link cable connectivity, so that would have been a feature of dropping these games onto that platform anyway. There are some very slight other differences that WayForward have done to the remake, but you’d need to play the original and this side-by-side to even notice them. Nothing substantial has been done to the experience, beyond what I’ve outlined above.

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Now, getting all the above out of the way, Advance Wars and its sequel are both true classics of tactical strategy. Because WayForward has done so little to them, they remain excellent games today. Given the hoops you have to go through to play those originals online in 2023, having them on the Switch is a fundamentally good thing.

It’s easy to understand why Nintendo was hesitant to release them last year, given that Russia had just begun its invasion of Ukraine. Technically, Advance Wars doesn’t depict a parallel conflict. However, it does kick things off with a Russian-coded faction invading another nation, and you just know that had Nintendo released it at the point it originally planned, comments would have been made.

This segues into a point I would like to make about Advance Wars: it is worth considering the way it takes some very serious material, and makes it way, way too cheerful. Armies invade and commanders giggle at each other as they send soldiers in to blast holes into each other. An existential threat appears and all sides cast away their animosity to become BFFs. When you actually sit down to think about the death counts involved by the end of the campaign, you realise that these should have been a pretty sobering reflection on warfare, and yet the series glosses over it all in a way that would make the Marvel films and their destructive tendencies blush.

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To be clear, I’m not suggesting that games about war can’t have a colourful aesthetic. There are so many action games out there that use various conflicts as the base material, but are so ridiculous and over the top that you laugh along with them. Meanwhile, something like Cannon Fodder uses the cartoon aesthetic to make a very anti-war point. The issue with Advance Wars is that it actually has a pretty serious, sober narrative running underneath its breezily cheerful surface, and it never actually addresses that disconnect. It’s not done for the purposes of subversion or critique. It’s just a juxtaposition that exists for no apparent meaningful reason. I’m not necessarily criticising it for this. I just wonder if this is why Nintendo and Intelligent Systems have, over the years, focused their energies more on the Fire Emblem series. With Fire Emblem, the high fantasy removes any potential complications with real-world associations. With Advance Wars, though… well, one of the factions in this game is very explicitly coded after the Nazis. It’s so explicit, in fact, that it stops just short of the point that would make people furious… and yet boy are they some colourful Nazis.

But again, I’m just musing there. Whether the games and series handle the theme of war well is very much a digression thought bubble. The main point of Advance Wars is that it is a taut tactical strategy game that, in a very simple and abstract but also effective manner, covers most of the real-world military battlefield considerations. Supply is an ever-persistent issue (tanks, planes and boats can run out of ammunition and fuel if there isn’t a supply line to preserve them). The terrain is a major consideration, too, with units getting advantages when fighting on mountains or in forests. Each commander has their own unique capabilities, and the main goal of the game is to capture cities (which provide resources), and use those resources to build up a stronger army than your opponent.

At its best, Advance Wars is a close contest of wits. The fine balance results in two players that really know their way around the strengths of their units in a near-stalemate situation, before one figures out how to achieve a tiny advantage and then capitalises on that. There are times when you’ll wish there was a bit more to it – defensive tactics aren’t really a thing in Advance Wars and once a player does get an advantage it’s very difficult to turn things around from behind. But, still, with a near-perfect balance of units and commanders, every player will develop their own tactical approach and play style over time.

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I find myself conflicted with Advance Wars 1+2: Reboot Camp. On the one hand, it is essential. To this day, these are two of the finest tactical games of all time. On the other hand, there is no reason for this remake to exist when a re-release would have been sufficient. If it’s Nintendo’s way of exploring a revival of the franchise, that’s fantastic, and I hope it sells a bucketload. I just wish WayForward’s talents had have been deployed better.

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Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

  • Didn’t later games in the series go for a more serious tone?
    I was surprise gifted the remake and I will enjoy playing the same game again, not messing with it and making the UI friendlier is all some games need. I’m guessing the boardgame aesthetic was put in there to lessen the war visuals.
    I am waiting for Warside though, they may rip off GBA games visually but are daring to experiment with the genre.

    • They took one swing at a serious-toned Advance Wars, which was Days of Ruin on the DS. That game was developed exclusively with the western market in mind (they actually didn’t originally release it in Japan), so it was a very different project to the rest of the series. Enough so that I consider it a separate entity.

      I am very much looking forward to Warside too. I love its look and what they’re promising with it.

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