Advance Wars: Days of Ruin
Having somehow never played the GameBoy Advance version of Advance Wars, I found Advance Wars: Dual Strike a refreshing change when it came out on the DS in 2005. It offered what at first seemed like a simple strategy game but became deceptively in-depth, and best of all I could take it with me on the train or the bus and simply dip in and out of it when I wanted. The game being turn-based meant you could stop and start if need be, it was all down to thinking things through rather than fast reactions, a genre that is quite a step away from what I'd often play but it was still extremely enjoyable. As the game progressed there would be a multitude of different types of units I could use, ranging from basic infantry units to fighter jets and megatanks. Dual Strike, despite sounding extremely violent, managed to still capture a cute persona with its bright red units and colourful backgrounds. The graphics didn't really feel like they pushing the DS in anyway, but they were perfectly functional and that was all that was needed. This time round, Intelligent Systems have decided to make a sequel to the NES game Famicom Wars, rather than follow the story arc offered by Dual Strike.
Because of this, Dark Conflict (or Days of Ruin, if you prefer) has decided to cast aside its shiny bright images and to turn 'emo' with its bleak, depressing surroundings that are there for all your battles. War has suddenly become very real in the world of Advance Wars... well nearly. The bonus to the quite drastic graphical change is that the graphics have all been redrawn and are much more detailed than previously. The game actually feels specifically designed for the DS now, rather than feeling like a GBA conversion. One let down with the graphical change however is the story. It manages to be quite drab and doesn't really engage the player at all, it's simply something to get you from one mission to the next, it's a pity it couldn't have been more detailed or engrossing.
Of course, despite the gritty change in graphics and the not overly compelling story, the game is still the same old Advance Wars we all know and love, with a few additions. Initially fans may find themselves a bit bored, as there is no separate tutorial, instead they are integrated within the first few missions to the story mode of the game, meaning that it can be very slow going at first if you know what you're doing, and also confusing if you don't know what you're doing. But don't worry fans of the series, once it picks up, so does the difficulty level and you'll find a much more challenging game underneath its grim surface. There are also additional new units in the game so the early game does help you understand those, these range from flare units (to help dispel the fog of war in some maps) as well as war tank and antitank units. Each unit can also now gain ranks throughout battle, gained by destroying enemy units, these ranks improve the potency of the unit making them much more effective at their job.
Once every single new element of the game has been introduced, including the rather pointless zoom feature, you will find yourself already half way through the main campaign, however this doesn't mean you're nearly done. The missions after this point become a lot harder as well as longer lasting. It can get extremely frustrating when one wrong move early on in the battle completely wrecks your chances of winning. However, despite this, it is still for the most part, extremely engrossing and the hours can fly by before you know it. Overall the single player campaign has 26 missions of varying length, and a number of optional missions are available to you that can help you hone your skills on the battlefield. The optional missions can often be a lot harder than the campaign missions, but also more satisfying. They certainly help extend the already quite reasonable longevity that the game offers, and are worth returning to once you've finished the storyline.
Of course, I haven't yet mentioned the main new feature that has excited fans of the series: the online multiplayer. Fans will be very pleased to hear that this works well. There is voice communication using the microphone which actually does a very good job, and the game includes a brief test for the microphone so you can ensure you're speaking at the correct volume. And with 150 maps within the game available, as well as a map design mode, there are plenty of maps to beat your friends on. There's not even much lag. Its good to see Advance Wars finally offering more than just local multiplayer. Hopefully this will spawn a growing community of players as the strategy involved in the game is even more intense and complex when playing against real people. Nothing can beat the satisfaction of a well played tactic paying off and hearing your opponent's disappointment.
Overall Intelligent Systems have produced an extremely enjoyable addition to the Advance Wars series. The only thing I can really find at fault is it seems to have lost some soul and character as a result of the new graphics, it's hard to put your finger on, but it doesn't quite manage the same finesse that Dual Strike had. It's just not quite as accessible to a new player as it was before. Also the control system still hasn't been hugely improved so I still find it much easier to use the D Pad than the stylus, which feels like a waste of an innovation. However despite these niggles, underneath the shell is still the same old Advance Wars so fans of the series will no doubt enjoy it greatly. Just be warned though, don't expect it to be an easy ride at all. War is hell, especially in Dark Conflict's case. If you're new to the series then maybe start with Dual Strike for a friendlier introduction.