When game developers choose to remake or remaster a beloved series – as happens more frequently than ever these days – they inevitably walk a tightrope between pleasing ever-scrutinising fans, and modernising for today’s audience.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp – developed by California-based Wayforward – very nearly nails this balance. The remake of the 2001 and 2003 Game Boy Advance titles feels like a love letter to the original strategy games, with just the right amount of thoughtful recreation and faithful authenticity.
We would’ve liked to have seen more improvements in specific areas, but otherwise this is a brilliant package that keeps – and in many cases improves on – what made the original strategy games so great two decades ago.
For the uninitiated, Nintendo’s Wars games have been around for over 30 years, but it wasn’t until 2001 that the series made it to the West with the series’ seminal Game Boy Advance debut.
Because the franchise had been honed across multiple instalments prior to this in the form of the Japan-only Famicom Wars, Super Famicom Wars and Game Boy Wars, developer Intelligent Systems was able to cherry-pick the best parts from over a decade of iteration to form the series’ ultimate instalment.
At the time, Advance Wars was beloved for its meticulous balance and wonderful presentation, both of which helped it stand out in its genre – especially away from a PC, where strategy had little representation at the time.
Thankfully, that remains the case in the 2023 version. In its generous package – which includes multiplayer, a map maker, challenges, and both campaigns from Advance Wars 1 and 2, Wayforward has done a brilliant job of maintaining what made the original Advance Wars great.
The game’s lengthy campaigns (it took us well north of 30 hours to finish everything) stay mostly incredibly faithful to the original, while presentation has achieved a pleasing glow-up, with the sort of beautifully animated characters, bursting with personality, that players have come to expect from the studio behind Shantae.
Gameplay sees players manoeuvre their army of soldiers, tanks, ships and jets across a small toybox battlefield in a turn-based setup, attempting to destroy the enemy CO’s units, capture their HQ, or meet some other victory condition. On each turn, the player can move and attack with each of their units once, after which the enemy positions their own and vice versa.
It’s a very easy game to pick up, and yet subtle tactical intricacies – units will suffer less damage when positioned into a forest or city, for example, and you can capture buildings to heal up or gain resources – mean that there are seemingly endless permutations for how each battle can play out.
The game’s air, sea and land units are wonderfully balanced with their own strengths and weaknesses, forcing players to think deeply about their next move – although this being originally designed as a handheld game, there’s no rush: it’s a slow-paced and methodical type of strategy game, which you can easily stop and come back to later.
“The game’s lengthy campaigns stay mostly incredibly faithful to the original, while presentation has achieved a pleasing glow-up, with the sort of beautifully animated characters, bursting with personality, that players have come to expect from the studio behind Shantae.”
This is emphasised by the fact that in most maps, the tanks and soldiers you start off with are the only ones you’ll ever have. More traditional resources and unit-building appear occasionally in some missions, but for the most part players are forced to consider their movements carefully, should they lose a crucial artillery tank or APC forever.
For the majority of its missions, the Switch version sticks rigidly to the format of the original games. Mostly, maps are the same as they were on the GBA – with some exceptions – only players now have a wider view of the battlefield thanks to the shift from the Advance’s 160p resolution to Switch’s HD display.
As you progress through the campaign, Advance Wars becomes a subtly complex game of rock-paper-scissors, with fog of war, victory conditions and unique enemy COs adding additional curveballs to the battle conditions.
During the story, you’ll come up against a variety of colourful opposing characters, each with their own style and attributes, all of which are brilliantly vibrant thanks to Wayforward’s beautiful animation. One might have strong air units, forcing you to consider protecting your anti-air troops, while another might have artillery with extended range.
Each CO – including the players’ – also has their own unique power, which when charged allows them to deploy huge advantages that can change the tide of battle, such as the ability to move their units twice, repair all friendly troops or increase the power of tank or infantry units. This feature is enhanced in the sequel, with players able to charge their power for longer for a more stronger version.
Wayforward has done a fantastic job of bringing each CO to life. The original GBA game was already bursting with personality, but the additional definition on each character’s animation here really brightens the experience, in addition to a small amount of voice acting. In comparison, the toybox style art direction of the battles themselves looks a bit bland, but it’s at least faithful to the look of the original game.
“The original GBA game was already bursting with personality, but the additional definition on each character’s animation here really brightens the experience, in addition to a small amount of voice acting.”
But underneath the slick menus and vibrant characters, the campaigns of Advance Wars 1 + 2: Re-Boot Camp are very much the same as they were on GBA. Mostly, this is good news: the appeal of the original games was their simplicity, with the battlefield laid out like an inviting chess grid and only a dozen enemies to defeat, and that remains intact.
Some elements have aged less well. Whether it’s the new birds-eye view of the action taking some intensity out of the action, or the addition of loading screens and lengthy CO animations, it does feel like an even slower paced game than the original, especially compared to contemporary strategy games.
But by far the remake’s biggest flaw is its enemy AI, which felt fine on a GBA in 2001, but is at times sorely lacking on Switch. Towards the end of the campaigns, when battles stretch to more than 20 turns, the AI opponents’ flawed intelligence is significantly exposed.
They’ll totally ignore key objectives which could easily win them the game, such as capturing buildings or your empty base, or fail to defend units you’re slowly crawled tanks towards. This means that end-game missions can become battles of attrition where you’re just chipping away at a foe who has seemingly no chance of outsmarting you.
This doesn’t mean Advance Wars 1+2 is easy – far from it. By the late game there are some very tough encounters that took us hours to finish, but this is because you’re outnumbered and out-positioned by design, rather than outsmarted.
That said, in the tightrope of designing remakes of beloved series, even this criticism feels contentious. Advance Wars’ genius is in its simplicity, and it could be argued that an overly aggressive computer opponent could’ve sullied this somewhat, even if more expert difficulties would’ve been welcome.
Also, the complaint is naturally mute when it comes to multiplayer, of which Re-Boot Camp offers both local and online multiplayer, which fans of the original game have been awaiting for decades.
Alongside War Room challenges, the ability to design and share maps, and a wonderful presentation, Wayforward’s remake is ultimately a generous package that feels like a love letter to one of the most memorable handled strategy games ever. Thus, this is one battle well worth considering for fans old and new.
Wayforward's generous remake package keeps much of what made the original Game Boys titles great, with some significant improvements to presentation and multiplayer.
- Two strategy classics remastered with beautiful visuals
- Wars' approachable-yet-deep strategy still feels special
- A deep package with a challenge maker, online multiplayer and more
- AI feels lacklustre in 2023