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"Macross: Eternal Love Song and Advance Wars both have little tactical battle things going on."
I wish Advance Wars kept track of how many hours it had been played, because I easily clocked more hours on this little cart than on any other game in recent memory. And the amazing thing is that even after 50 or 60 hours, if you count the unlockable stuff I still have over half the game left to go. But the tactical genius required to win the battles is getting over my head, so I'm going to set it aside while I'm ahead.
Advance Wars pits little super-deformed soldiers, tanks, battleships and bombers against each other on brightly-colored landscapes. Each individual unit starts with 10 hit points, and getting hit by another unit will decrease this by a certain amount based on their respective strengths. Since the attacker gets first strike, and the defender counterattacks only with the hit-point force left after the initial hit, in general it pays to be aggressive.
This helps ensure that the tactical battles don't bog down in defensive standoffs. The wonderful unit balance comes into play as well: artillery units can devastate from a distance, tanks are deadly up close, bombers can take out most ground units without having to worry about counter-attack, but certain AA units or fighter jets will devastate bombers, battleship cannons cover an incredible range but can't hit anything up close, nor can they hit submerged submarines, and so forth.
You pick up devious little game-specific strategies as you play, too. In danger of being overrun? Delay those big bad tanks with floods of cheap infantry while you build up a rocket-based counter-attack. Enemy storming a bridge? Block the bridge off with your fighter jet, which can't be hit by most ground forces. And of primary importance is attack range and positioning, so every turn you'll strive to find the ideal position just out of range of the enemy forces, but ready to pounce on one or more of them with a tactical advantage.
The game is vast: the designers churned out a huge number of battle maps, and most of them play very well and require specific strategies for victory. Sea-dominated maps require good use of subs, cruisers, transports, battleships, and quick grabbing of the sea-ports manufacture and supply them. Other maps start you off at a large property (and thus economic) disadvantage, and you have to make a quick land-grab to start making up the disparity before you're crushed by the enemy's overwhelming material advantage.
Yeah, there are some economics involved, but don't worry, they're very simple. Basically, each property, be it a sea-port, factory, city, airport, or whatever, earns you 1000 cash each round once captured. It takes twenty points of damage from infantry to capture a property. Properties like Factories and Airports can churn out new units for you, if you have the cash. Grab property quick and early and, if you can defend it, you'll usually put yourself in a good position to win the big push to capture the enemy capitol and win the map.
Oh yeah, but the vastness: there's Campaign mode, which lasts a long time and pits you against a certain succession of enemies and increasingly complex battles, then if you beat that you can do Advanced Campaign, which is the same maps but way harder since the enemy starts off with vastly superior units (I threw in the towel early here), then there are dozens and dozens of regular unlockable Battle Maps, each of which can take several hours to beat, then special unlockable Battle Maps or something, at least as many as the regular Battle Maps from what I've read, then there are a few dozen multiplayer maps (up to four players can duke it out at once), a training mode, oh and then if you run out of things to do you can make your own maps and custom battles ad infinitum. Whew!
Beating enemy commanders in Campaign mode unlocks them for use elsewhere, and since each CO has their own special power that they can use once their side "powers up" in battles, plus certain overall inherent abilities, which CO you use and which one(s) you face add a whole 'nother layer of strategy to the proceedings. Certain COs seem inherently weaker than others, so really there were a few that I never, ever used if I could help it, but those are used to good effect in ramping the difficulty for single-player, at least.
I wish every game could have an interface as easy and powerful as the one here. Detailed information about any unit or land type is never more than a hover or click away, menus are fast and really easy to read, icons are infallibly intuitive and attractive, battle screens whip open and closed with smooth, speedy effects that never really get old, and everything is just so clear and fun to use that it's painful to go play just about any other GBA game after this one until you've got used to using a sub-par interface again. Intelligent Systems does good work.
The game is a perfectly insidious portable time-waster, and I mean that in a good way--well, except for that one time that I figured I'd just get in a few rounds before bed and next thing I knew, looked up to see sunlight and realize that it was 6:00 am and I'd stayed up all night. But I beat that map, darn it! #$#@& Grit!!! Saving at any time is hard to beat, and there's always that urge even after you've moved all your pieces to see what the opponent is going to do, then it's really hard to resist moving your pieces to counter in the next round... and before you know it twenty turns have flown by and you've been sitting in one spot without moving for several hours. But they were darn fun hours!