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Review – Advance Wars: Days of Ruin

posted on February 27th, 2008 by jay

Sequels are usually a bad thing. For every one that changes game mechanics enough to make the new series entry fresh, there are five that tweak the graphics slightly, add a new combo counter and a new character or two. A sequel should not replace the original game; simple expansions of themes and mechanics should not cost full retail price. Instead, gamers deserve sequels that coexist with the originals. Super Mario 2 did not replace Super Mario 1, nor did 3 replace 2 – all of them were different enough to warrant keeping the older titles around. This is how sequels should be handled (someone inform EA, please).

By “somewhat powerful” it means “very weak”.

Luckily for me, my ludicrous idealism is not applied uniformly. Certain series are built on such solid foundations that to demand they entirely reinvent themselves with each entry is unreasonable. This chink in my armor of hatred for boring sequels (it’s the sexy but useless kind of armor that barely covers my nipples) is where all my enemies will strike – of course we can all agree that “boring” sequels suck and the real debate is simply on which series have classic gameplay that should be rehashed ad nauseum. We will still disagree, but I’d say Mega Man XXVI is not worthwhile while Culdcept 3 is. This is because Culdcept is as infinitely replayable as chess or poker. Give me new maps and new cards and I will keep buying sequels.

Advance Wars is another series that already bears so much resemblance to a classic board game that it would likely be detrimental to make significant changes. Advance Wars is so finely tuned that any change needs to be precisely balanced – wild innovations are more likely to break the game than improve it. The series takes the rock-paper- scissors model and expands it, possibly to rock-paper-scissors-glue stick-tooth pick-garden hose. On land, foot soldiers are necessary to capture buildings but are the weakest units. Mercs are foot soldiers who can put up a fight against heavily armored vehicles but have horrendous movement range. Tanks kill most ground units but are weak against Anti-tanks and defending against Mercs; the long range weapons are excellent in destroying most anything but then are vulnerable at point blank range.

There is more to land combat, and then there is also air and sea combat. Fighters own the sky; Bombers are fatal to any ground unit and can even put up a fight against Anti-air units. Subs can take out most sea vehicles but run out of fuel quickly and cannot harm air or land units. The Battleship is awesome and can destroy land targets but should fear Subs, and Subs need to fear Cruisers. Each battleground has a setup more complex than rock-paper-scissors and each battleground interacts with the other in complex ways.

Advance Wars is very similar to designer Intelligent Systems other long running series, Fire Emblem. Oddly enough, it is the differences between the two series that make both worth playing. Fire Emblem offers developed characters and stat based gameplay. There is an element of rock-paper-scissors in the weapon triangle, but ultimately a high level character can power through any enemy. This satisfies the RPG nut in me, but the strategy fan feels slighted. Advance Wars fills this void by making all units worthwhile in some situations and useless in others. Simply leveling the crap out of a tank, which is a new feature in Days of Ruin, does not change the overall balance very much.

A meteor hitting Earth is hard to believe. Ten at once, on the other hand, seems possible if not probable.

Intelligent Systems has subtracted elements from Days of Ruin that were in the previous game. They decided they either need to continue adding, or parse the game down to its bare mechanics. Luckily for us, they mostly cut things – too much bloat would surely rob the series of my patented “classic gameplay…you know, like chess” award. The once potent CO powers have been scaled back severely, and there are no more dual screen battles. This upset me briefly but then I realized that despite creating gameplay I will always buy more of, Intelligent Systems also managed to make a sequel that doesn’t replace the previous entry. If I want dual screen battles and hugely powerful CO powers, I can just pop in Dual Strike. It’s like Chess 2: Revenge of the Pawns just came out and is as awesome and replayable as Chess 1.

Much has been said about Days of Ruin’s new, darker style and storyline. It is still very Japanese looking, so anyone worried Nintendo stuck bald space-Marines in their favorite series have no reason to lose sleep. If anything, the darker story fits the theme of the game much better than the sassy one-liners of Andy in the last few Advance Wars. War is depressing and while some feel the plotline of Days of Ruin is too wordy and full of forced moral quandaries, I appreciate the effort. If an enemy truly is insane and will not compromise, is it our duty to fight? Can we really be sure such insanity exists, or do such madmen only exist in video games, cartoons and Republican speeches? Days of Ruin made me think, and it even shocked me by being very anti-Japanese in ideology. There is a very strong current of individualism and the value of one person’s life over the safety of the group.

My ideological issue with the game (not the sequels issue, I have a second, separate ideological issue to discuss – I’m a lot of fun at parties) is that in between bits of plot, the game is damned fun, and when people partake in war they should be depressed, miserable, or dead, but certainly not entertained. My girlfriend recently asked me how I can play violent video games if I am a pacifist. I punched her in the face and told her that I don’t believe in real violence, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy violence in books, games, movies, and thoughts. Maybe I’m imposing the same sort of stupid moral complaint when I wonder how Intelligent Systems could make Advance Wars less fun for the sake of truly expressing the horrors of war. Or maybe video games are too narrowly focused and should strive to appeal to more than our senses of fun. Full Metal Jacket is not fun, yet it’s still enjoyable. Can a game somehow do the same?

3 Comments

  1. GJ said on February 27, 2008:

    I thought your armor covered everything BUT your nipples.

  2. AK said on February 28, 2008:

    I don’t know which is more enjoyable: (a) shoving large objects into a small orifice, or (b) paying money for a game sequel that is so similar to the original. Both feel the same to me, even when lubricant is used.

  3. Shota said on February 28, 2008:

    AK, there are lot’s of people who enjoy shoving large objects into small orifices. (have you seen the interweb lately?) So, i’d say it entirely unclear if you meant your comment as a positive or a negative.

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