Back in the middle of 2005, a little game by the name of Advance Wars: Dual Strike hit the Nintendo DS. Followers of the franchise's previous entries on the GBA (developed by Intelligent Systems) remember plenty of hours spent, knee-deep in combat with their GBA SP, its body soaking wet with the sweat from their palms. Advance Wars: Days of Ruin is an important entry in the series, perhaps more so than previous installments. For one, it's the first to be compatible with Nintendo Wi-Fi Connect, Nintendo's online matchmaking service for head-to-head battles (and custom map swapping). Another reason why it might be considered the most important installment in the series is the stark contrast in artistic style and game plot compared to past titles.



The single-player campaign begins after a freak meteor strike, where the planet is irrevocably changed and civilization becomes nothing more than a dream. Climbing out from beneath the rubble to find the world a wasteland, protagonist Will is soon picked up by a roving band of do-gooders, the Rubinelle 12th Battalion. They're the shining beacon of hope in what seems like a very mature and adult plot, which in the long run just asks you to read a ton of dialogue and keeps you from what you want to do most: play the game.

And playing the game is much the same as it has ever been, albeit with some tweaking to the in-game units. For those of you who aren't hip to the whole scenario or just didn't play Advance Wars: Dual Strike, the game is a turn-based tactical title, where players must out-battle their opponent in a scramble to capture buildings and run the dominant military force in the immediate region. Throughout the single-player campaign, this means playing through progressively more advanced scenarios, so as to introduce the player to the overall experience. Here, the game does a good job of teaching otherwise ignorant players the day-to-day operations of succeeding in combat, but might come off as a tad bit frustrating to veterans just dying to test out the latest equipment and CO powers.

COs (or Commanding Officers) add a new dynamic to the rock-paper-scissors combat between units, allowing their unique effects to be housed in one unit, affecting the local combat around them according to their stats. This usually means boosting the offense or defense of your units, or adding other, more specific effects like adding movement points to your troops. The main issue here is having to actually use COs on the field, whereas in the past the CO powers were initialized after your units got pummeled enough, triggering a superpower event. Now, the more your CO is in the thick of it, the more a gauge will fill, triggering the superpower event.

It's not as if COs are the only thing keeping the battles fresh, however, as there are plenty of different units at your disposal in the game, as well as the benefits and detriments of many of the available landscapes. Your results will depend largely on how you plan out your movements and attacks, taking care to note all choke points and other areas of interest in each map. Then, there are buildings to capture, which help supply you with your means to end the conflict on your terms. The many factors add weight to each and every decision, as a match can be easily lost or won depending on how smart you are with just one tank.

So, you've gotten through the single-player campaign and you're wondering what else there is. Where are all of the beloved timesinks of previous titles? Well, they're gone, but help pave the way for your new timesink: online battling. Traversing the internet wastelands in search of fresh meat is a breeze, and finding games, as well as getting through them, is one of the easiest experiences one can have. The battles may be quick, but they're fierce.

As the last round is fired, Advance Wars: Days of Ruin is a wonderful follow-up to Dual Strike. Even though diehards and people who like to eat and/or breathe their Advance Wars might find the prospect of almost a limitless supply of competition online unappealing in the long-term, it really does fill the void left behind rather well. And, the single-player campaign is long enough and, most importantly, fun. Not only that, but it'll get you started for where you should want to be: online and showing your might.

Final score: 9/10

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

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