Advance Wars: Dark Conflict
Still the best thing to play on the train?
Advance Wars is one of the best games to play on a train, ever. Or a bus, for that matter. It is so perfectly suited to handheld gaming it borders on ridiculous, as the turn-based nature dovetails wonderfully with the insurmountable body count. The cerebral mixed with the visceral. Though that is being a bit silly, as the violence isn't exactly graphic, it's just - well, you have to wonder if the thousands of troops who die in each of these so-called 'Advance' wars actually believe in the cause, you know?
The number of parades held for those that have fallen in battle must be so much that there's rarely a day without one, and the amount of posthumous decorations being handed out surely far outweighs those given to the living. And what about the so-called 'bad guys'? Surely they can't all truly believe what they're doing is right? There has to be some good eggs in there somewhere, but they're forced into fighting - their lives depend on it, their families are probably threatened with violence if they don't participate.
AW masquerades behind this sheen of cutesy and happy-go-lucky warfare, but it's so upsetting to think of these poor pawns: conscripted into a service they probably don't fully understand, fighting people for reasons they don't know and dying on foreign soils, never to see their loved ones again. But it's still so bloody good on the train. Seriously.
So the big thing with the new Advance Wars: Dark Conflict is that it's taken on a darker tone, presenting things in a more serious light than before and eschewing the Tellytubbies-style presentation of the past conflicts. Such a huge difference this makes too, what with it changing... err... the colour palette. And that's about it, really. Things are a bit less bright - the dialogue is still stomach-churningly bad, the storyline is best left ignored and the characters are handily regimented into 'I AM GOOD' and 'I AM NOT GOOD' categories, just in case you didn't understand they're a bit of a bastard from how they want to destroy the world/steal things/hurt puppies/launch ballistic missile strikes on unarmoured ground troops.
But it's still Advance Wars, so none of that crap actually matters. This is chess with tanks, people, just as it always has been. Bishop takes pawn five, BISHOP GETS NUKED.
There are other notable changes to the formula - just about enough for this to be released as a bona fide sequel - but mainly they do feel like balancing fixes. A few new units thrown into the mix, a few old ones surgically removed - flare units to light up distant fog of war, anti-tank cannons to kablooey tanks, Neo Tanks and Mega Tanks amalgamated into the War Tank etc. None of it feels like a hamfisted attempt to breathe new life into proceedings, but none of it feels especially new. Seeing as it isn't.
But this is still no bad thing, as it's still Advance Wars: one of the finest series in handheld history. Tweaks to near-perfection are welcome when they work like these do.
Tweaks like how CO powers are no longer fucking ridiculous. Subtle positive effects on the battlefield are go, and giganto waves that destroy half of your units in one fell swoop are no-go. It just works so much better than before - it means different COs do have different uses in the field but it doesn't mean you'll feel cheated when that last boss bloke off the last one does his superpower when you're about to win. The tosser.
Wifi play has been added and for this we are all eternally grateful - you can now play tank-o-blam chess with people across the world, enhancing the longevity by about 86 billion megagits. It's something that all games offering multiplayer should be doing by now (PSP, sit up and take notice. I still haven't let you off for Monster Hunter). It works perfectly, and though some battles can take a while it all feels worth it when you go out in a blaze of glory (read: lose horribly. Again). Local play is still there, just in case you want to see the smirking face of your opponent as he batters you into submission for the thirtieth time. Personally, I love it!
There isn't much to be said - it's still Advance Wars and it's a refined experience over the last outing. Ignore the fact that the number below isn't a 9 or 10 and just go out and buy it. That arbitrary digit would be higher if it weren't for the fact that it is, more or less, the same thing again. It doesn't stop this from being one of the best games to own on the DS. Oh, and you seem to be able to get it on eBay for about a tenner, which is insane (unless they're dirty, filthy pirate copies).