ADVANCE WARS 2 / Nintendo / Gameboy Advance

After seeing C. M0use's favorable but highly unpatriotic review of the first Advance Wars I game, I feel I have to step in and give it to you soldiers straight about this one. First of all, all this nonsense about this game making war look cute and brainwashing Pokemon kids or whatever. Come on! First of all, the next generation needs to learn about war as quick as we can teach 'em. We've got serious battles on our hands with terrorists, the Russkies and Chinese are always up to something sneaky, and who knows when aliens will attack. The only reason liberal wussbags have the luxury to complain about the military, is because some trooper gave his life knee-deep in alien guts blasting away at weird alien maggot larvae things to protect their asses! Anyway, if it gets these kids away from their little bullshit world of Myspace and Inuyasha and teaches them the importance of flanking manuevers and artillery deployments, it's all good in my book. Can't get enough of it!

Now, on to the game. It's pretty much identical to the first one, but they've sharpened the presentation somewhat. In-game sprites, maps and combat look identical to the first one, but the character portraits have been redrawn in a new style and the menus and such have a slicker look to them. The game also plays the same way and has all the same unit types, exception of one new addition - the NeoTanks, which have to be "unlocked" in campaign mode by finding a map hidden in some random city somewhere that opens up an optional timed battle. These things are slightly more powerful than a Md. Tank, move slightly farther, and are a few thousand bucks more expensive.

The only major difference in gameplay is that there are now two levels of "CO Power". The lower level is generally the move they used to have in the previous game, with the higher level being something entirely more devastating. Obviously, it takes less time to charge the lower level power, and you can potentially use it in back-to-back turns if your CO meter is full.

All the COs from the previous game return, and each one of the four countries (exception of Orange Star) gets a new CO to round their roster out to three apeice. The campaign mode is structured so that you are fighting Black Hole from the beginning, and you get to use each country's COs as they fight to reclaim their homelands. Blue Moon adds Colin, a little rich kid who gets a stats penalty to all his units but can buy them cheaper than anyone else, and his CO Power amplifies his stats based on how much money he has in the bank when it is used. Yellow Comet adds Sensei, an aging paratrooper who can make mechanized infantry appear in all his cities with his ultimate CO power. And Green Earth gets Jess, some butch chick who insists on carrying a huge artillery shell everywhere for some reason. Obviously, her tanks get a boost and her CO Powers make them move farther and boost their stats even more.

There are also four new Black Hole COs that you fight against throughout the game - Flak (a kind of inferior version of Max), Lash (bizarre Goth lolita who can pump her defense ridiculously with her special powers), Adder (another goth with Downs or something, who can use his power to increase movement range) and Hawke (cheap motherfucker whose power damages all your units a little bit while healing all of his own). The old COs haven't been tweaked much - Sami's ultimate power now allows her to capture cities in one turn with infantry units of any strength, Eagle's Lightning Strike has been moved back to the higher level (his lower level power just increases the strength of his air units), Olaf now can damage all enemies for 2 HP with his ultimate power as can Drake, and Kambei is still so ridiculously broken that I've never even used his ultimate power to see what it does.

The music has been improved somewhat. The CO themes from the old game have been retained in their original form, so Max and Kambei's themes can continue to act as deterrents from picking them and making the game too easy. However, apparently they got a new composer who redid all the other themes, and added the themes for the new COs. It sounds a whole lot better and uses the GBA sound chip to better effect, with a hard rock/industrial style.

I'd say Campaign mode is both better and worse than the campaign of the first game. The first 3/4 or so of it are better -- lots of inventive maps that are tightly focused, they introduce some new terrain hazards and enemy weapons like lasers that fire in four directions across the whole screen, and you get to play as a much broader range of COs than you did the first time around. The downside is that it's a little easier, and some of the maps seem almost too easy. If you've played the first game, you'll probably be surprised by the ease with which you whip through each map and the number of S rankings that you tally up on the first try.

The last 1/4 of the game, while not really more difficult, turns into a really tedious slog. It's a lot of huge maps, where they start you on one end and the enemy on the other with a couple of bases and nothing else, and it basically turns into huge war of attrition that lasts for upwards of thirty or even fourty game days. Even though the first game's campaign was a little tougher, I saw that one through to the end. I quit on Green Earth's final mission in this one, not because I couldn't beat it, but just because I didn't have the patience to plow through the horde of enemies that the computer is able to continually spew out before you can get over there to disable them.

Outside of Campaign mode, you have basically identical options to what you had in the first game. There's still the War Room for solo or multiplayer action. You have to unlock new COs by playing far enough into campaign mode or meeting certain requirements, and then purchasing them with coins won in all types of maps. You can also purchase a shit ton of new maps like in the first game, and you can also purchase the ability to edit each CO's colors (not really "edit" though, it just gives you seven different alternate color sets to choose from for each one). I was dissapointed by the fact that most of the maps you start out with in War Room are almost directly recycled from the first game. Also, map creation is back, but it hasn't really been spruced up any from what it was in the first game.

I can't say that this is the "better" of the first two Advance Wars games. It does some things better, definitely has a more appealing visual and aural presentation, and the wider range of COs is nice. A good quantity of it is recycled however, and I felt campaign mode started strong but crapped out towards the end. Anyway, it's still good, and between this and the prequel you've got quite a few hours of tactical goth terrorist eradication on your hands.

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