Pining for sequels to beloved franchises is one of those rights of passage that all gamers must endure. Dragon’s Dogma fans have been waiting over a decade for a second instalment; Half-Life 2 (episodic intermissions aside) is heading towards its 20th anniversary without even so much as a hint that a conclusion to the ‘trilogy’ is in the works.
And don’t even get me started on the need for Bloodborne 2.
Still, there are times when all that yearning pays off in the most lateral of ways. Whilst the well of ideas might have run dry on how best to take a franchise forward, developers are only ever one half-measure away from a little crowd-pleasing fan service. The remake, the reboot, the remaster, call it what you will. Dragging an old favourite kicking and screaming into the modern age with a lick of paint here and a quality-of-life improvement there often brings with it a case of the ‘That’ll do nicely’s,’ severe enough to settle the nerves of the most ardent fanboy.
Nintendo’s decision, then, to bring not one but two classic games to the Nintendo Switch in the form of Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp felt like one of those no-brainers so mind-bogglingly obvious that one wonders why we had to wait so long for it to bear fruit. Some games find themselves the subject of long-drawn conversations, the product of hushed whispers by the water cooler. Some games are subject to the wide-eyed reminiscences of rose-scented verisimilitude. Games come, and games go, but those moments, those fixed points in the time/space continuum where the zeitgeist fades to grey, and the all-consuming passion of the next ‘best thing ever’ takes hold? Such moments are precious. Advance Wars was precious.
Released for the Game Boy Advance in 2001 and developed by Intelligent Systems, Advance Wars took its cues from many of the popular RTS games of the day but turned them on their head, slowing everything to a turn-based strategy game interspersed with JRPG story tropes. Between-battle dialogues narrated the story of Orange Star, a military nation locked in a vicious war with its neighbouring countries. Players took on the role of a cast of commanding officers – all loaded with strengths, weaknesses, and colourful personalities -- as they manoeuvred their armies in turn-based battles across a grid-based map. Its strategic gameplay, vibrant sprite-based graphics, and engaging storyline quickly earned it a dedicated fanbase.
A sequel, "Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising," was released in 2003 -- also for the Game Boy Advance -- and continued the story of Orange Star's battles, this time against the ‘Black Hole Army’, a mysterious enemy hellbent on (you guessed it) world conquest. The game added new units, COs, and gameplay mechanics, and the added complexity further expanded its appeal.
Both Advance Wars 1 and 2 received critical acclaim for their engaging gameplay, charming characters, and addictive multiplayer modes. The series inspired multiple sequels and spin-offs, solidifying its place as one of Nintendo's most beloved tactical game franchises.
Any Old Reboot
Nintendo were fairly open about what was on offer here; indeed, the clue is in the title. Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp is not a remake; nobody is trying to reinvent the wheel here. Instead, Nintendo decided to treat us to a game that acts more like an overlay to the original’s brilliance. The graphics have been overhauled, of course, so gone are the dimensionally challenged sprites, replaced with 3D brethren that (almost) manage to recapture the charm of the original 2D art style. Commanding officers – the main protagonists of the game’s storyline- receive new animations and (limited) spoken word dialogue alongside the addition of cool cut scenes that fire off whenever they use their ‘CO power’ during a battle. The game runs at a higher resolution and a more consistent frame rate, and the aspect ratio has been altered to accommodate the larger screen size present in the Nintendo Switch. And that, well, that’s about the long and short of it. Story beats and gameplay mechanics remain unaltered from the original titles.
Not that that is a bad thing.
Modern War Fair
Nor is it the end of the story regarding new features. Whereas the original game allowed you to design your own maps and transfer them to another Gameboy via a physical cable, Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp comes with full online play for those subscribed to the Nintendo Switch Online service. The ability to play against others online on custom-built maps opens up worlds of possibilities and ensures that this reboot will have legs years down the road.
Nostalgia porn is of course present here. Those gamers looking to recapture the glory days of their youth are well served as long as they pay attention to the obvious caveat. This is the same two games of old; it contains no new surprises, and new challenges -- aside from the increased accessibility of online matches – will not be forthcoming. Still, the game is simply begging gamers to go through it one more time, and with so much content on offer, the chances that you remember the twists and turns of every story beat and the intricacies of each map are slim.
New players have little to complain about, either. There is a reason why these games are considered classics, and with the originals not increasingly hard to get hold of, Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp remains the definitive way to enjoy them. The tutorial is robust if slightly annoying for veterans of the series, but the battles remain just as exciting as they ever were, drawing you in, producing literal winces as mistakes are made and always…
Always, that desire for just one more turn takes hold.