Wayforward’s Advance Wars remake has been a long time coming. First announced in 2021 with a release scheduled for that December, the game was delayed until April 2022. By then, global events saw Nintendo delay the game indefinitely for sensitivity reasons, despite reports of the game being complete (and even one lucky person having their preload of the game unlock). Over a year later Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp has finally made landfall, giving a new coat of paint to a pair of classics and showing there is still some fighting spirit left in this veteran strategy franchise.
If you’ve never played either Advance Wars game on the Game Boy Advance, the premise is simple. Four color-coded countries preside over Cosmo Land/Macro Land: Orange Star, Blue Moon, Green Earth, and Yellow Comet. War breaks out when Blue Moon suddenly invades Orange Star’s territory for unknown reasons. The player takes control of the three Orange Star COs (Andy, Sami, and Max) to repel the invasion and embark on a globetrotting adventure to find the source of the conflict. Unlike the original developer Intelligent Systems’ other strategy series Fire Emblem, there is no melodrama or reflection on the horrors of war here. The banter between the COs is light and goofy, and the entire conflict feels like a big game rather than a real war with harsh consequences for the soldiers or civilian populace.
The story serves as little more than an excuse to get into the action, and the plot of Advance Wars 1 makes very little sense until the end. When the source of the conflict is finally revealed, it comes off as a bit absurd and underwhelming. Advance Wars 2 benefits from a more focused narrative with higher stakes, with the COs from all four countries teaming up to repel a new invasion from the villainous Black Hole army. What carries the story scenes is the eccentric and colorful cast of characters whose unique personalities inform their playstyles. I was always eager to see how the various COs would interact before missions, and my affection for these characters kept me engaged despite the lackluster plot.
If you’ve played turn-based strategy games before, you will feel right at home with Re-Boot Camp. Battles occur on grid-based maps, typically with the player army and the opposing army on opposite ends. Victory comes through defeating all the enemy units or capturing the opponent’s HQ. Missions feature pre-deployed units for the player and enemy forces or the ability to produce new units from specific buildings (factories, airports, and seaports). Units have three distinct terrain types (ground, air, and sea), and each unit type has various strengths and weaknesses against other units. These units range from infantry to rocket-launching trucks, tanks, planes, and ships. Each of these units boasts unique properties and abilities. For example, infantry units cost very little money to produce and are very weak, but they are the only unit that can capture buildings. On the other hand, fighter planes have a long movement range and are very powerful but can only attack other air units. Units are generic and don’t carry over between missions, so don’t expect any RPG progression systems, as you won’t find them here. Battles in Advance Wars function more like a tabletop game, where each player starts on roughly equal footing, and each battle is a different board with new pieces.
Your job as the player is to balance turn-by-turn tactical considerations (where units should move and how to attack) with the broader mission strategy of controlling capture points, managing daily funds, and choosing which units to produce. Missions also have varied objectives, sometimes requiring you to capture a certain number of cities or to survive a certain number of turns against an enemy onslaught. This variety keeps both campaigns fresh, even as you fight battle after battle. There are branching paths in the Advance Wars 1 campaign for added replay value, and the Advance Wars 2 campaign takes it a step further by letting you complete most missions in any order you like. This level of player choice feels rewarding and reduces frustration since you don’t need to replay the same mission continuously if you have difficulty with it.
COs also add a much-needed twist to the battles, as each character has a unique CO Power. A CO Power buffs your units, altering the battlefield or hindering your opponent. For example, Andy’s CO Power strengthens all of his units for one turn and heals all of his units for two points of health. On the other hand, Olaf calls down a massive snowstorm, damaging all enemy units on the map and reducing their movement range while strengthening his own. The Advance Wars 2 campaign introduces Super CO Powers, which take longer to charge up but have even more devastating effects on the battlefield. The threat of your opponent using their CO Power keeps you constantly on your toes, as a well-timed use can quickly turn the tides of battle.
For series veterans, I’m sure this all sounds incredibly familiar, as Re-Boot Camp keeps the mechanics and design of the original releases intact. The two biggest gameplay-related updates are the fog of war AI and the player’s map view. In the original games, the enemy AI essentially cheated on fog of war maps and could always see the location of player units. In Re-Boot Camp, enemy units now behave realistically in fog of war conditions, making those missions feel fairer than they did in the original games. Maps are now presented on a tabletop diorama with visible borders, and using the right stick you can zoom out to see the entire map at once. Now you no longer have to bring the cursor to the edge of the screen and scroll to the other side of the map, making large maps in particular much easier to play on.
The most substantial changes in Re-Boot Camp are to the presentation. The original titles were lauded for their impeccably detailed sprites, animation, and colorful, anime-influenced character designs. Re-Boot Camp uses 3D polygonal graphics for the battle maps and units, while the 2D character portraits now possess a more rounded, western cartoon style. While the new character portraits are animated, most lack detail and pale in comparison to the striking designs from the original games. The 3D graphics maintain the basic visual design of the units and terrain of the original games, and while they appear a bit sterile in screenshots, they look much better in motion. One nice new touch is how the soldier models incorporate racial diversity, which even extends to the generic soldier character portraits that appear in some dialogue scenes. Another new addition is the inclusion of partial voice acting and a handful of animated cinematics that play during key story moments. Overall I’m neutral on the visual overhaul, though I commend WayForward for trying to put their visual spin on the game.
Probably the biggest disappointment with this release is the online features. Coming into this remake, I assumed the addition of online play and map sharing would be the main selling point, introducing features technically impossible on the Game Boy Advance. Unfortunately, the online play options are a missed opportunity. For versus play, you have to play with another player on your friends list, and there isn’t any matchmaking. The process for sending match invites to friends is clunky, and online matches are limited to 1v1 maps. The online versus experience is functional and isn’t plagued by lag, but it’s so limited that I couldn’t recommend purchasing the game for the online features unless you have a dedicated group of friends to play with.
The other touted online feature is map sharing. Re-Boot Camp features a map editor just as the originals did, enabling you to share created maps with players on your friends list. This works asynchronously, so you can send maps to friends even if they are playing the campaign, and when they open the map menu your creation will be waiting for them. However, there is no platform for uploading, browsing, or downloading created maps as you would find in other games with user-generated content. You can only share maps directly with players on your friends list one at a time, and you can only download 50 maps. I can’t deny that it’s cool to finally send a map you worked hard on to a friend halfway across the country. However, considering indie games in the genre (such as Wargroove) have implemented both matchmaking and map-sharing platforms with fewer resources, it’s baffling that the online offerings are so barebones in Re-Boot Camp.
Ultimately Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is a fairly successful remake of the first two Advance Wars games. While appreciation of the new aesthetic may vary, the game retains the tightly designed strategic combat of the original duology while adding a few welcome tweaks. It’s a shame this remake doesn’t have a robust online experience to offer returning players. If you’ve never tried the series out and enjoy strategy games, this is the best way to experience the games for the first time. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough additions to make the remake a must-have if you’ve already poured hundreds of hours into the GBA games.