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Advance Wars: Dual Strike Review

Advance Wars: Dual Strike significantly broadens the scope of this very deep and incredibly fun strategy series while not messing with the fundamentals that made it so great.

The Video Review

GameSpot editor Greg Kasavin explains what makes Advance Wars: Dual Strike so special in our exclusive video review.

The Good

  • Perfectly tuned, incredibly deep, addictive, and approachable strategic gameplay  
  • Tons of different gameplay options make for almost limitless variety  
  • Excellent presentation makes marathon gameplay sessions easy on the senses  
  • Great artificial intelligence for solo play, plus tons of Wi-Fi multiplayer options  
  • Memorable cast of characters and a good story-driven campaign.

The Bad

  • Campaign is a little easy for series fans (though a hard mode is unlockable)  
  • Underlying gameplay elements and visuals recycled from past entries.

The brilliantly designed, addictive Advance Wars series of strategy games has found itself a comfortable new home on the Nintendo DS, and it couldn't be more welcome. Originally created for the Game Boy Advance back in 2001, Advance Wars now is on to its third installment, which significantly broadens the scope of this very deep and incredibly fun series while not messing with the fundamentals that made it so great. The result is Advance Wars: Dual Strike, the biggest and in many ways best game in the series yet. It offers a tremendous value and is sure to provide you with hour after hour of fun-filled, surprisingly brisk turn-based gameplay. A terrific presentation and tons of different modes of play, in addition to some great Wi-Fi multiplayer support, put this one way over the top. It's arguably the first must-have game for the Nintendo DS, and it's a perfect excuse to get the system if you haven't already.

Fans of the previous Advance Wars games will be in for a comfortably familiar experience with this installment, though it adds a slew of new features, characters, twists, and tweaks--considerably more than Advance Wars 2 did. Still, all this new content isn't evident at first, and it isn't forced on you. So those who've already spent a ton of time playing previous versions of Advance Wars might be a little put off when they first begin playing the campaign mode of this game. The brand-new campaign assumes no previous experience, starting you off gently and teaching you the ropes of how to marshal your diverse military forces (even if you already know the drill). This is done through some story-driven missions that do a great job of quickly getting you interested in the game's colorful cast of characters. However, if you're an Advance Wars veteran, the early missions of the campaign--and indeed the subsequent two-dozen-or-so missions leading up to the climactic conclusion--will seem quite easy. Regardless of your experience level, though, you'll appreciate the diversity and surprises that Advance Wars: Dual Strike's campaign delivers from one mission to the next. There's some sort of a unique twist or angle to just about every one, so you realize during the course of the dozens of missions that this game has a whole lot to it.

The campaign's two main characters are both new to the series. The male lead, Jake, can take some getting used to, thanks to his knack for leaning on overused Internet slang ("Owned!"). Still, the otherwise-well-written dialogue and endearing characters shine through, and in the end, even Jake turns out to be likable. Advance Wars has always had a unique style to it, and this latest game carries it forward, once again deftly accomplishing the seemingly impossible and ridiculous task of making modern military warfare kid-friendly. For what it's worth, the story of this game pushes farther into the realm of science fiction than its predecessors, distancing the subject matter of Advance Wars: Dual Strike from anything resembling real-world conflict. That's probably for the best, since what's left is a great mix of new and old characters all wrapped up in an interesting storyline that hits some serious themes while still being fit for all ages. You must help the commanding officers of the Allied Nations in their attempt to thwart the wicked schemes of the Black Hole Army, which has mysteriously recovered its military might and seems to be draining the land of its very life.

At its core, the gameplay of Advance Wars: Dual Strike is much like that of the previous games. You take turns with your opponent maneuvering your various military units about a tactical map, trading hits with opposing forces, capturing factories and other buildings, and ultimately attempting to either destroy all the enemy forces or capture the enemy headquarters. At your disposal are all the different types of military units you can imagine: infantry, tanks, armored personnel carriers, helicopters, battleships, submarines, fighter jets, and more. Advance Wars: Dual Strike features every unit from the previous games and makes a number of key additions, such as stealth fighters, aircraft carriers, and the appropriately named megatank--the biggest and toughest Advance Wars unit yet, but one whose firepower is tempered by a steep cost, slow movement, and limited ammunition. Perfectly tuned balance is the key to this series, after all, so there isn't a single unstoppable unit in the lineup. Each has a valuable purpose, but none can help you outsmart your foe. Many of the units are elegantly simple and yet very interesting in their own rights, like chess pieces packing unique weapons and defensive properties. Since most units can automatically retaliate when hit, you're constantly having to consider the possible repercussions of your every move.

There's an impressive array of different units available, but when multiplied by all the different commanding officers in the game--each of whom has his or her own unique specialties--the variety becomes incredible. Besides being memorable characters, the various COs of Advance Wars can have a significant impact on how you play. For instance, Advance Wars fans will recall that the laid-back gunslinger, Grit, is an expert with long-range combat units like rocket launchers and battleships. However, he's relatively weak with direct-fire units like tanks. The new COs are equally as interesting. For example, one of the new Black Hole COs, Kindle, is a snobbish socialite whose units fight more fiercely than ever when stationed in cities--and her superpower lets her cripple enemies recovering in their own cities. Each CO has two different superpowers that can be used every several turns, once the CO has gathered enough energy.

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