Battalion Wars Review
When a version of Advance Wars was announced for the GameCube back at E3 2004 there was a huge outcry from the diehard fans of the popular strategy series. Their beloved games had been seemingly butchered before their eyes; its turn-based carcass ill fittingly draped with the skin of a real-time monster.
It was a pretty extreme reaction to what is actually a very playable game. Apart from some problems with controls and a highly erratic camera the early demo was still fun to play, perhaps the similarities between the 3D game and its predecessor where a little too subtle for some fans, causing most to dismiss it even without taking the opportunity to play it.
It’s with great pleasure then that I can announce the final game, now going under the name Battalion Wars, is a superb addition to the Wars series.
The story may be simple: two long term enemies, the Western Frontier and the Tundran Territories are sitting on an uneasy truce, after the Tundran army’s former leader strikes out against the Frontier (Led by the suitably over-the-top American General Herman), there’s a big war, a new enemy is revealed and the former enemies join forces to defeat the new threat. This isn’t a game that needs a deep and complex story and it revels in its simplicity, refusing to take itself too seriously, and it’s all the better for it. The characters are all obvious stereotypes without ever feeling anything but good-humoured; there’s a lot to love about this game.
Whether you are a fan of the rich tactics of the originals or just enjoy shooting things, Battalion Wars is sure to appeal to most Cube owners. Just as the GBA titles were the very epitome of a fine gaming balance, so too is this home version, it just takes a little while to realise it. Initially, this may feel like the brash American cousin of the family; full of large explosions, over-the-top violence and powerful military units, but when you get into it a little more, maybe four or five missions deep, you’ll begin to see that underneath the tough, bullet-proof exterior beats the heart of a tactical beast.
Kuju have done a terrific job producing a game that delivers on the promises of strategy and action, with a variety of missions that must be completed using a mixture of careful planning and all-out assault. They’ve even managed to iron out all the troubles from the E3 demo; the camera is now more responsive and gives a great view of the battlefield and the control system is nearly perfect.
The problem of picking individual units and giving them tasks feels like it should be more complicated than it actually is, it’s surprisingly easy to direct your Battalion; the X button tell your troops to fall in or stand guard, while the Y button gives them a target to aim at. With a quick flick of the C-Stick you can select individual soldiers or even a group and give them their own targets or commands. And switching from a soldier to a tank to a Bomber couldn’t be easier, you can either aim at the unit you want to transfer to and press Z, select one with the C-Stick or make your choice via the rather handy Map. The process is known as hot-swapping and rather than just switching immediately from one unit to another, you get a sweeping view from your current soldier to your new destination. It means you get a better sense of the conflict around you and will never be left with a confused state of disorientation when you make a long leap from one end of the Map to another.
Vehicles have similarly easy controls and in a nod to Halo, you simply point the unit in the direction you want to go and press forward. It’s the first of many examples of Kuju taking control methods or themes and integrating them perfectly in the game design; your troops follow you in a very Pikmin-like manner and even have souls leave their bodies when they succumb to enemy fire. Little touches like this only serve to bring you deeper into the whole Battalion Wars universe, and even though the theme of War is played out in a serious manner there is undoubtedly a level of charm that even rivals the GBA games. Speaking of which, the Art direction that Kuju has taken sits nicely between the cute squashed sprites of Advance Wars and something a bit more realistic, that not only pays homage to Intelligent Systems’ games but creates a wonderful style all of its own.
The graphics in general are amongst the best on Nintendo’s console, not only are the soldiers and vehicles highly detailed (the infantry run with a delightful bounce in their step, remaining upbeat even as they go to their deaths) but the battlefields have had a lavish amount of attention. There isn’t a single level that feels bland; even the seemingly barren wastelands of the Tundran Territories have plenty of background obstacles. Boulders and trees provide you with cover and even add to your units defence rating; enemy encampments litter your home turf and there are plenty of forts, bridges and assorted buildings to fight around or defend. Grass and trees bend and billow in the breeze and a light mist covers the battlefields providing spectacular views even in the middle of fierce combat. Each one of the twenty or so missions feels different from the last both in terms of visuals and mission objectives, creating a varied but solid set of campaigns.
It is a real shame that Battalion Wars doesn’t last longer. Sure there are bonus missions and the urge to get a higher rank is as great as it’s always been in the series but there could have been so much more. This game would have really benefited from a Multiplayer mode for instance, and it’s just crying out for online Co-op missions. If there was ever a game that deserves, even needs, a sequel it’s this. Perhaps the fact Kuju just focused on the single player ensured it was of the highest quality possible, which is something we can’t really complain about. Hopefully a second Wars game will make it to the Revolution; the possibilities it’s unique controller could give a game like this are mouth-watering.
Kuju wouldn’t even need to change much of the core game itself, the balance of strategy/action, fantasy/reality and the units available are near perfect already, all they need to do is pad it out a bit. Some of the Advance Wars features could easily make the jump to 3D: the factories, cities to capture and water vessels to name a few. Maybe they could take use systems from other genres like RPGs and RTS, adding a level-up system for units when they destroy enough enemies or providing the ability to make your own groups out of your Battalion (a la Command & Conquer). The Rev controller would also make picking out and directing your troops as easy as anything and it would be great to give individuals a set patrol or specific route to an enemy placement.
These, of course will remain thoughts for the time being, until Nintendo and Kuju see fit to bless us with an update. If they can remain as true to this game as the last one did to it’s own heritage then I think I’ll order a copy right away. But for now I’d suggest you go out and get yourself a copy of one of the Cube’s last and best blockbusters, show Nintendo you care and have a whole lot of fun in the process.