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Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp review: great GBA remakes bring back warm memories

Advance Wars 1+2 Reboot Camp
Advance Wars 1+2 Reboot Camp
MSRP $59.99
“Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp feels like catching up with an old friend and finding out that their best qualities remained intact over the years.”
  • Engaging tactics
  • Charming characters
  • Great presentation and music
  • Cute visual upgrade
  • Stories lack tension
  • Long loading times

As I play Advance Wars 1+2: Reboot Camp, I flash back to playing the first Advance Wars game on my Game Boy Advance during my trips on the school bus as a kid. Being the child that I was, I didn’t really have a grasp on its turn-based strategy gameplay and would often lose during battles. The only other game I had played at that point in my life was Pokémon, so Advance Wars was a completely foreign experience. I hopelessly sent wave after wave of puny infantry units to try and take out a large fleet of tanks, only to see my troops get decimated one right after the other. After all, over-leveling your starting partner in Pokémon squashes most opponents. Why not in Advance Wars? Looking back, I’m surprised I even knew how to call in more units.

Now, more than two decades later, Advance Wars and Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising have been remade for Nintendo Switch and packaged as Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp. The new versions don’t retool much about the originals, but something else fundamentally has changed: myself. With multiple years of gaming under my belt now, I was finally able to complete two games that my 8-year-old self couldn’t back then and gain a greater appreciation for the deep tactical systems that would shape an entire genre.

Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp is exactly like I remember playing the originals back in 2001, but with updated graphics that breathe new life into the experience. The strategy gameplay has aged gracefully, creating a tactics experience that’s welcoming to newcomers while still letting series veterans live out their old war stories.

World at war

Neither of the games included here is too narratively engrossing. The story of Advance Wars is relatively simple: The nation of Orange Star goes to war with the Blue Moon nation. But then two other nations, Gold Comet, and Green Earth, become involved when the new Orange Star Commanding Officer (CO), Andy, is accused of attacking them unprovoked. Along with Max and Sami, Andy and Orange Star must fight their way across the different continents to figure out who’s really pulling the strings in this global conflict. The story isn’t the main focus here, as it just provides a backdrop for the strategy gameplay and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

What really makes Advance Wars so charming is its characters.

Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising’s story retains the same tone, with all of the COs from the different nations banding together to take down a common threat. Whereas only the three Orange Star COs were playable in the first game’s story, however, you can play as the COs from the other nations as well. This provides a sense of unity and camaraderie among all the characters, as well as much more diverse gameplay.

What really makes Advance Wars so charming is its characters. Take the first game’s cast, for instance. Andy is a young CO whose amateur tendencies make him the perfect protagonist. Max is the kindhearted meathead of the group, while Sami is the level-headed one. The COs from the other nations also have distinct personalities. Eagle from Green Earth is an ace pilot with sky-high confidence and Sonja from Gold Comet is analytic and steadfast. Despite being at war with each other, the COs always treat each other with respect and engage in playful banter.

Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising
Image used with permission by copyright holder

There’s never really any sense of tension within the story, even when the stakes are raised toward the end. This isn’t necessarily bad, though. All of these aspects contribute to Advance Wars’ overall laid-back tone — it makes you feel like sending nameless troops to their doom is all just fun and games!

March on

The core tactics gameplay in both Advance Wars games is very straightforward. Most of the time, the keys to winning a battle are to either wipe out an opponent’s forces or use an infantry unit to capture their headquarters. Each turn, players receive a set amount of money based on the number of cities they’ve captured and can use that to build more units, including vehicles like tanks, recon cars, and missile carriers, as well as planes and battleships.

Every type of unit has its own firepower, movement range, and attack range. There are so many options that let players take on the opponent however they like. Even playing the same campaign missions again didn’t get stale for me as it encouraged me to perfect my strategy to achieve that coveted S ranking. The higher the ranking, the more points players receive. Those points can be used to unlock COs for multiplayer or new maps for the free battle mode, adding a clean progression loop that weaves between all its different modes.

Advance Wars 1+2 Reboot Camp Battles
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Terrain plays a big role in battle too. While infantry units can travel across mountain tiles, vehicles cannot. Air units such as battle copters and bombers don’t have terrain restrictions either. While they’re free to cross over mountains, they also don’t receive terrain bonuses like the defense boost infantry units do when crossing mountains. This makes sure that every unit is balanced and important in the battle; a simple infantry unit has just as much utility as a fighter jet.

The COs have special abilities based on their personalities, which adds an additional layer of strategy when planning a mission. Max, for instance, specializes in close-range combat, so his tanks will naturally hit harder than usual. However, Max isn’t as competent with long-range units, so his vehicles, like artillery and missile carriers, are weaker than most COs’. Some missions revolve around a specific CO, but the ones that let players pick their unit really spotlight character depth.

Multiple elements make for a deep strategy gameplay loop where every decision matters.

Sami specializes in infantry units, so her ground units will capture bases and cities faster. In one mission with Sami, I found myself eventually overwhelmed by the number of enemy units on the battlefield. So I restarted the mission with Max and found that a direct firepower approach worked better for that map, completely wiping out the enemy instead of focusing on capturing the HQ.

Don’t let the cartoon art style and charming characters fool you into thinking that this game is a walk in the park; there’s real complexity and depth. Map layouts and starting units are different from battle to battle, and the enemy can completely flip the table in one turn if you’re not careful. Make one wrong move, and the next thing you know, all of your tanks get destroyed because the enemy outmaneuvered you and there aren’t enough funds to build more.

Advance Wars 1+2 Reboot Camp CO Power
Image used with permission by copyright holder

All of these elements make for a deep strategy gameplay loop where every decision matters. Is it worth it to capture the city first to receive more money on the next turn? Or should I capture the base first so I have a new place to build more units? A new unit can’t move on the same turn it was built, so there’s a risk of a nearby enemy unit coming around the corner to weaken it or destroy it before it can even act, therefore wasting my funds. All of these factors forced me to think strategically about my next move.

A quick tune-up

While the tactical combat is largely unchanged from the series’ GBA days, Re-Boot Camp makes some major presentation changes. The graphics have been upgraded from the original’s sprite-based models, with more of a more modern toy soldier look. It features new character portraits and newly added voice acting, both of which bring a lot more personality to the game. Whenever a CO uses their ultimate ability, for instance, a special animated cut-in appears. In the original games, the cut-in would just be the character’s sprite and then the name of their CO Power. In Re-Boot Camp, for example, Blue Moon CO Grit will tip his hat and point at the screen with finger guns when activating his Snipe Attack ability.

Units fight in Advance Wars 1+2: Reboot Camp.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Similar to the original games, there are various ways to engage in multiplayer in the Switch remakes. Up to four players can battle in one match, and the Single Console mode actually allows players to pass around one single Switch as they take their turns. If multiple Switch consoles are available, players can also battle via local communication. New with Re-Boot Camp is the online multiplayer component, which allows players to face off with each other around the world (gone are the days when Game Boy Advance games with multiplayer required a link cable!).

Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp doesn’t drastically change the core gameplay from the original, but it didn’t need to. Back in 2001, Advance Wars played beautifully. A simple concept paired with deep systems allowed the series to withstand the test of time — something that’s even clearer with a modern Switch version. Playing Re-Boot Camp feels like revisiting an old friend and finding out their best qualities remained intact over the years. For those visiting for the first time on Switch, prepare for a new lifelong friendship.

Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp was reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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George Yang
George Yang is a freelance games writer for Digital Trends. He has written for places such as IGN, GameSpot, The Washington…
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