In terms of sleeping giants at Nintendo, Advance Wars has to be one of the biggest. This fan-favourite series has been dormant since 2008, with no new tactical titles to turn the cogs in your brain throughout the Wii U era and deep into Nintendo’s Switch renaissance. Things are about to change though, with Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp offering a way for new players and returning commanders to experience the thrill of strategic conquests in shiny remake form.
If you haven’t got any experience with the Wars series or Advance Wars in particular, let me briefly explain the concept. It’s a turn-based tactical game, with two armies of ground, air, and water units doing battle over a variety of maps across a sizeable campaign that tests you in every regard. You pick between three Orange Star commanders – or COs – Andy, Max, and Sami, each with their own advantage and special CO power, as you wage war across the continents of Cosmo Land. As it was at the time of its original release, it’s very much like Fire Emblem with helicopters and tanks in place of pegasus riders and horseback cavalry, and that is by no means a complaint.
From the new anime-style cinematic opening to seeing your troops’ boots on the ground, Re-Boot Camp is a feast for the eyes. With vivid colour and expressive character designs giving the world of Advance Wars a refreshed look, you feel more like a part of the story from the off. You connect with Andy and his weird obsession with tools, stereotypical big-man-who-cares Max, and Sami and her short fuse. The small group really feels like a close-knit team, and the addition of voice lines – even if they aren’t fully voiced – brings Advance Wars to life like never before.
The larger group feels more at play this time around too, with slight redesigns capturing the intended character of COs like Grit, Sonja, Drake and others. Sturm also looks like a villain this time around, a proper villain, rather than the cartoonish version of the antagonist from the original game. Now the masked antagonist appears as always intended, as this universe’s Darth Vader, and his special CO ability Meteor Strike has a new animation to highlight just how devastating a foe he can be.
One controversy – if you can call it that – going into Re-Boot Camp is the ‘toy’ redesign of battlefield infantry. I can dispel your concerns right away if you have them. The battle units look great and they certainly don’t fall into chibi territory, while the map appearing as an actual board game adds further to the feeling you’re not actually dealing with death here.
Essentially, the toy redesign helps cement the fictional nature of the game – something that helps when what you’re essentially doing is playing out mini wars in which mini soldiers suffer mini deaths – while keeping things from getting too dour. There’s no geopolitics here, making it one of the few military-orientated titles that allow a sort of escapism through playing.
Of course, the big draw of Advance Wars is the battles and they don’t disappoint. The campaign is much as you remember it, taking on Olaf, Kanbei, and other familiar faces as you charge into battle in the name of Orange Star. The main quest does feel a bit different though. The fresh anime-style character designs made possible by not having to rely on GBA-era pixel graphics tied with the extra lines of speech between missions make the plot feel much less shoehorned in. The stakes feel higher, and if I know anything about constructing a video game narrative, that makes for a more enjoyable experience.
One thing you notice about the battles, units, and COs is how well they hold up against modern strategy titles. I’d take little convincing if I were a visiting alien and you told me this is a brand-new game with fresh ideas for 2023. There’s a timelessness about the gameplay of Advance Wars, and this remake only highlights that, it’s not trying to rewrite the legacy of an incredible game but amplify it, reminding us of how incredible it was and convincing new players that we haven’t been over-hyping this series in its regrettable hiatus.
Throughout the experience, Re-Boot Camp polishes all the mechanics of the original game so you can get on with the real challenge of commanding your troops to victory. It’s still quite the challenge, too. With countless tributes and semi-copycats arriving in the fifteen years since we last saw a Wars title – I’m talking Wargroove, Tiny Metal, and Into the Breach – the main campaign still stands tall with top-tier turn-based tactical content, plenty of variety through the levels, and a difficulty curve that Michelangelo would be proud of sculpting.
So, as far as remakes go, Re-Boot Camp does exactly what you want. It leaves in the good stuff, makes the annoying parts less annoying, and throws in a few new friendly mechanics to make the whole experience a bit more fluid. Now you can fast-forward enemy turns, the grid is visible at all times so you can easily tell where your units can reach, and there’s even a casual mode for those who want to ease into the tactical challenge of Re-Boot Camp.
There’s a slight caveat to the double-pack in that you have to complete the campaign of the first game to unlock the second. Still, this is only really a problem for the small crowd who only want to play the sequel, as most returning players are coming either for the repeat experience of both games or completely new to the series. For the latter, it’s probably better to start with the smaller maps of the first game before the scope expands in Black Hole Rising, just so you can get your head around the battlefield fundamentals.
You can tell that the developer Nintendo chose for this remake, WayForward, has taken notes from some of the games we mentioned earlier, especially the bright and inviting Wargroove. Both are tactical titles that belong to the don’t-take-this-too-seriously variety with light-hearted characters commanding the on-field units. The most obvious similarity is in Re-Boot Camp’s paint job, with each of the nation’s colours clearer than ever before, but you can also see similarities in the map design element, as well as the drive to enhance the narrative. All of these concepts do the same thing for Re-Boot Camp as they do Wargroove, they add a flavour to the game, a sense of character that distinguishes it from other tactical titles and enhances the core experience.
While the campaign mode is where you spend most of your time, there’s plenty of room for a reprieve when you come up against a battle you need a break from. There’s the ‘design room’, where you can create your own maps to challenge your battlefield awareness, then the ‘war room’, where you can try out new COs and battle maps from Hachi’s shop, and finally the ‘versus’ option, where you and up to three friends can battle against each other with your own set of rules. Considering the limitations of a turn-based tactical title, Re-Boot Camp intelligently delivers different ways to play so things never become stale.
There’s also – and here’s the one you’ve been waiting for folks – an online mode. Here you can take on a friend in a one-on-one battle to prove who really has the best battlefield tactics (if that’s something you and your friends are in competition over). It’s slightly limited in that you can only battle friends, with no random matchmaking involved, but it’s just another way in which Re-Boot camp gives you different ways to play.
In terms of bang for your buck, Re-Boot Camp trumps much of Nintendo’s many Switch remasters and remakes, taking your tanks the extra mile with the various new game modes, and of course, two games for the price of one. Compare this with 2020’s Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX or 2018’s Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and you can see just how much care and effort has gone into recreating the Wars experience for modern audiences, as well as how much more value for money you’re getting in Re-Boot Camp.
It’s also worth pointing out, for those that love a lengthy gaming experience, you’re going to be spending a long time with this one. Both games add up to what can easily be a 50-hour campaign, sinking your time with the efficiency of one of Drake’s battleships. It rarely gets old either, with the main quest lines offering enough variation through the levels to keep the different parts of your brain ticking all the way through to the crux of the campaign.
Nintendo and WayForward’s approach to this return trip to Cosmo Land is refreshingly all-encompassing, from the new game modes to the absolutely jamming soundtrack rework. As someone who grew up playing their GBA on mute to try and avoid annoying my siblings, I experienced the Advance Wars soundtrack in full for the first time here. I can’t tell you how many turns I let drag on purely so I could tap my foot and air guitar to the battlefield bangers. Andy’s Theme is particularly wonderful, with the synth bass doing its best Red Hot Chili Pepper’s impression to add even more vibrancy to a game that practically pops out of the screen already.
So, all-in-all, Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp is the complete package. The game world and characters are rich in colour and have a newfound depth, the myriad of game modes keeps things interesting outside of the campaign, and the main plot feels more important and better to play than ever before. In a nutshell, Re-Boot Camp is an enthralling masterpiece of the strategy genre, and that’s exactly what I wanted from a reimagining of Advance Wars. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll get back to doing what I’m apparently best at – naval warfare – while you gear up for the battle ahead.
For another Nintendo remake we couldn’t get enough of, check out our Metroid Prime review. Or, if you’re looking for something a little different, see our Pupperazi Switch review or MLB Perfect Inning 23 review.
Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp review
Nintendo and WayForward deliver the blueprint to the perfect remake with Avance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp, offering new ways to engage with timeless gameplay. Whether it be for fans of the series or strategy newcomers, there’s something special here that is worthy of the endless hours of play.