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Joystiq hands-on: Advance Wars: Days of Ruin (DS)

Zack Stern

The "Days of Ruin" addendum to the standard "Advance Wars" title is more than a surprising acronym that doesn't stand for "DS." (DR? What?) Days of Ruin marks the bleak setting and style for the latest version of this turn-based strategy game.

The plucky Advance Wars characters have been retired in favor of an all-new, more tempered cast. And while this is still a Nintendo game -- don't expect anything too edgy -- the company anticipates it'll earn a T-rating for the game's language and tone. The plot is about a more serious, war-decimated planet, after all.

More than just the setting, this Advance Wars was described as an Intelligent Systems relaunch of the series. CO powers have been reduced; don't expect them to let a losing side suddenly win the game. And the dual-screen gameplay from the previous DS version has been removed; the top screen shows dedicated battle info, while the bottom screen shows the game area.

We recently played a few levels of the new title, and we're looking forward to an Advance Wars game again. We never liked the dual-screen battles, and the CO powers seemed to have gotten out of control in the previous version. Days of Ruin felt like a much needed course-correction for the series. Features like Wi-Fi play with voice chat, and map creation and sharing, remake the title while keeping its addictive strategy gameplay.

Gallery: Advance Wars: Days of Ruin | 15 Photos

As much as we liked the strategy in previous Advance Wars games, the whiny characters had been ruining the fun. We didn't get to play enough to assess the new story, but Days of Ruin's more-adult outlook seemed appealing. Even the art has been recast. On-screen tanks, infantry, and other battalions are easily identifiable, looking similar to before. But battle animations, text boxes, and many other graphical touches have been redrawn in a darker style.

Gameplay generally follows the previous title. Simple units march out from bases in an attempt to capture or destroy enemy pieces. Like before, each unit has a distinct purpose, advantage, and disadvantage relative to others. The great strategy comes from using them to work together.

A couple new units -- like a motorcycle trooper that can claim cities, and a plane that can attack ground and air enemies -- add a moderate gameplay update. Once units kill an opponent, the victor gains a Roman-numeral emblem, building a firepower and defense bonus. We liked that new touch and it encouraged us to work harder to protect our veteran troops.

Days of Ruin packs in several different ways to play. The standard campaign mode may be expected, but a map creation area adds infinite expansion. Players will even be able to upload maps to a Nintendo Wi-Fi game server, where all Days of Ruin gamers will vote for favorites. The top picks will drift to the top of the list.

Two gamers will be able to compete online, over Wi-Fi. Locally, Nintendo expects up to four players to be able to battle with a single system or one DS per-player.

Advance Wars: Days of Ruin felt like the engaging, accessible strategy title that we expected from its lineage. While the new units and online capabilities add value, we're most anticipating the things that were removed: the previous story tone, two-screen levels, and overpowering super attacks. Look for the game on January 21, 2008.

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