Love/Hate: Advance Wars
If there's one sacred franchise around Modojo, it's Advance Wars. Cavin Smith has been fired for writing this Love/Hate column, instead of writing it as Love/Love, as he was instructed...
[subhead]LOVE: It's a lot like chess![/subhead]
Advance Wars is a turn-based strategy series that isn't afraid to turn its nose up at all those silly RPG elements other games like to shove down our mighty, neck-bearded gullets. Who needs complicated things like stats, experience and skilltrees, when a perfectly reasonable hit point system and rock-paper-scissors gameplay model will suffice? It's amazing that, even to this day, few tactical titles have truly attempted to emulate the simplicity of age-old stand-bys such as Chess or Go, except for, well, those that are directly emulating Chess or Go.
[subhead]HATE: It's too much like chess![/subhead]
Let's face it, Advance Wars' classic gameplay is best left to a flat slab of checkered wood or marble, and it's got the graphics to match. Where's the pomp, the circumstance? Videogamers demand a little bit of flash and bang in their visuals! When your Lilliputian soldiers have been firing pea shooters since Famicom Wars and your COs' special abilities fizzle on the screen like a pack of wet firecrackers, you know that it's time for an upgrade. Intelligent Systems should take a cue from fellow Nintendo alum, Smash Bros., and jazz up each skirmish with some over-the-top moves. Even sister property Fire Emblem features a little bit of panache when pitting units against each other. As it stands, Wars' tiny warriors stand diametrically opposed to each other as if they're still fighting the American Civil War, and where's the fun in that?
[subhead]LOVE: Character designs are awesome![/subhead]
Whether their the blushing, baby-faced COs of the past or grizzly, scar-addled warriors from Days of Ruin, Advance Wars' character designs are shining examples of keen style. Simple, yet dignified. Unique, yet intrinsically familiar. Featuring clean lines, yet remaining colorfully dynamic. Best of all, they manage to squeeze themselves into that tiny space between Western realism and Eastern cartooniness -- an achievement that should be enviable for any video game artist.
[subhead]HATE: The plot sucks![/subhead]
As cool as the various COs might actually be, their charisma is quickly piddled away on a story cobbled together from the shredded remains of the drafts George Lucas rejected before settling on what would eventually becomes the Star Wars saga. The "plucky heroes versus evil empire" trope has never been so firmly driven into the ground as it is in the Advance Wars series. Days of Ruin's plot may be the series' saving grace, stumbling awkwardly away from stereotypical Black Hole Army shenanigans, but the fact that its "grittier storyline" is one of the game's bullet points proves an even more damning annoyance.
[subhead]LOVE: It keeps on giving![/subhead]
Advance Wars has always been deeply replayable, with its expansive and clever multiplayer options, non-campaign matchups, and the ability to create custom maps. Days of Ruin pushes that even farther with its online, voice-chat enabled escapades, even despite the frustrations of random match-making and their only alternative, Friend Codes. With a strong community, you can easily play one Advance Wars game straight through to the release of the next.
[subhead]HATE: It spawned Battalion Wars![/subhead]
Sometimes a good idea is merely that, a good idea. I'm not entirely sure what it is that marks the strategy-game-turned-action-game genre with such an unmistakable taint, but I know it exists. Command and Conquer: Renegade? Crap. Starcraft: Ghost? Unceremoniously canceled. Battalion Wars? Weeeellll... OK, it's not horrible, but there's no doubt that it carries little of the razor-sharp gameplay or charm of the Advance Wars series. This red-headed step-child should never be allowed to sit at the table with the rest of the family. It leaves me wondering why Nintendo dropped the series proper from its console line-up after Super Famicom Wars.