Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising

Yet again, I’ve been downloading ROMs. I know it’s wrong, but I just can’t help myself. They bring so much happiness. It’s kinda like… errr… “killin’ kittens”. Actually, that’s exactly what it’s like. They both involve plenty of use of my hands and generally make use of the internet as well. But, I digress, that’s not exactly the kind of thing that I want my site (or myself, for that matter) to be known for. So as I was saying, I was downloading ROMs yet again.

This time around, it wasn’t just to see what was there and take whatever had the most colourful screenshots. No, this time I had a mission. I was looking for Rock ‘N Roll Racing. Why Rock ‘N Roll Racing? I’m not sure myself. But it might have something to do with the fact that just before this ROM search, I read something about it on Planet GameCube. I’m still not sure why I wanted to play it. I don’t really like racing games. Especially ports of SNES racing games. Before you say anything, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity and Mario Kart: Super Circuit were not ports. Just sequels. Rather good sequels at that.

Back to the story. Have you ever been looking for something and then found something better? And I’m not talking looking for a cookie and finding donuts, I’m talking about searching for coin and finding a wad of bills. Oh yeah, what I found instead (probably) kicks Rock ‘N Roll Racing‘s ass into next week. Maybe. I never actually found the ROM, I just settled after I found Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising. Mostly because I’m too damn lazy to search any archives and if it’s not on the first page it’s not worth it to me. So with the intro out of the way, onto the review!

Way back when, sometime in 2001 I think, Advance Wars was released for the GameBoy Advance. My friends got it some time around Christmas, I borrowed my brother’s copy, and we played the Hell out of the game. Almost every day during spare and lunch we could be found in the cafeteria playing Advance Wars, or on occasion Bomberman Tournament. I still think the best time was when we were forced to spend gym class in the library and we stealthily played in the little cubicle thingys. In any case, it was a great game.

Just the beginning

Now, 2 years later, Advance Wars 2 appears. The only question that you ask is “what could they possibly add to Advance Wars?”. And let me tell you, that is a really good question. I’ll cover that more in-depth later, but for now my answer is this “Not a whole lot”. AW2 relies mostly on the greatness of the first game and the name recognition to get anywhere. It’s a lot like the MegaMan series. But like I say so often when it comes to sequels; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Go T-Copter!

“So if there’s nothing new about it, why should I buy it and not just play the first one?” Maybe I wasn’t very clear the first time around. There are indeed new things added to expand the game, but there is actually very little. I haven’t even scratched the surface of this monster, so I don’t know if my account of the new stuff is accurate or not, but I have a pretty good idea of what’s new. In short, there are a bunch of new CO’s and one new unit, which (at first) appears to be available only to the enemy. Also, a whole bunch of new campaign missions and a couple other, less impressive, features.

You just know it's gonna be good

The actual gameplay is the real gem in both AW and AW2. It’s a turn based strategy game, and obviously enough, it’s about war. While some may complain that turn based is crap and it should be more of an RTS, the majority loves AW the way it is. I agree, since I don’t think all that fast when it comes to strategy. Actually, I barely think at all when it comes to strategy. My usual tactic is to assemble a massive force and mow down my enemies. It might sound like a good idea, but it generally takes time and money, both of which you don’t get a lot of. Did I mention that it’s really, really hard?

Yeah. Hard as stone. Or at least I think it is. I’ve never been able to finish the original, and I don’t think that I’ll do much better at AW2, because they say it’s got “improved AI”. Improved AI only means that it’ll kick my ass faster than it did the last time around. I’m just asking for an easy mode. My strength lies in platformers, not strategy games. Anyway, most AW gurus will probably tell you it’s not that hard, but just ask any of them to get an S rank on every Campaign and War Room mission and they’ll lose their lustre in the blink of an eye.

Not very far yet...

I suppose I should explain what a “turn-based strategy game” is for the newbies. On the other hand, anyone who visits this site is more than likely well acquainted with AW. The general idea is that there are two armies. Each gets a turn to move their units, and then the next day starts. On the player’s turn, they can move their units, attack the enemy, capture cities/bases, build new units, look at game info and stuff like that. Sometimes, there will be three or four players, which could help or hinder you, depending on your alliances. The only real problem with this way of playing is that you have to wait for the other players to finish their turn, and if they think hard or are distracted easily, you’re in for a long wait.

Here comes the BOOM!

Now what are these “units” I have spoken of so often? They’re what you control. They can be soldiers, tanks, planes, subs, and various other crap. Each army has it’s own model of every unit type, and they range from cool-looking to “Who would build that?”-looking. But for the record, regardless of appearance, all the armies have the exact same units, and they all have the exact same abilities. The thing that makes one army different from the other are the COs, but more on that later. As for the different types of units, you’ve got soldiers, tanks, planes, subs, and …I went over that already. Damn. All the standard war-type stuff you would expect. My personal favourite unit is… ummm… I guess I really don’t have a favourite. They all have their ups and downs, mostly revolving around firepower, movement, and range. Some can hit hard, some can move far, and some can fire at ungodly distances. In the end, you have to pool them all together to be successful.

The one thing that kind of disappointed me was the fact that Nintendo only added one new unit. Yeah, that’s right, one. And you can’t even use it until you’re noticeably far in the game. Even then you have to find the four hidden plans and beat the extra missions to get it. But what is this weapon that is worth so much trouble? Well, my friends and not-friends, it’s called the “Neo Tank”. Matrixy.

Neo Tank, armed with the mighty NEW CANNON!

Look at that sucker. I thought that Tiberian Sun was the only game where tanks had legs. But since the world exists only to prove me wrong, there it is. I’m not sure if they’re actually legs, I haven’t actually used one as of yet. My plan is to beat the first AW before I move any further in 2. Looks like I might never pick up this game again. *sigh*

Look! It's Santa!

Moving on, I think I should explain the COs now. There are 5 armies/countries in Wars World (props to whoever thought that up). Every army is composed of three Commanding Officers, except for Orange Star and Black Hole, who have five each. In the first game it was every country for itself, but now Orange Star, Blue Moon, Green Earth, and Yellow Comet have formed an alliance. Anyway, you get to pick a CO to play as for every mission. Except for the ones where you can’t choose, which seem to be much more abundant. Each CO has different strengths and weaknesses. For example, Max’s units get high firepower while indirect units have lower range/firepower and Kanbei’s units are strong, but they cost a lot more to deploy. They’re all different. As a nice little bonus, Nintendo added a CO effect chart, which shows how each CO affects their units.

Unit strengths/weaknesses

The Legend

Also, every CO has two CO Powers (bar Sturm, who only has one). In AW, they only had one, but now they have two. You’ll have to take damage and deal damage to charge up enough power to use one of these Powers. Obviously, one is a Super CO Power and takes longer to charge than the other, less impressive power. As you might have guessed, the powers usually capitalize on the CO’s strength or negates their weakness. I’ll use newcomer Colin as an example. His units cost less, but in turn, they’re weak. His Co Power, Gold Rush, multiplies his funds by 1.5. His Super CO Power, Power of Money, gives his units a power boost proportional to his funds (more cash, more power).

Unlike the pitiful addition to the units, there is a significant increase in COs. The allied countries all gained one new CO, and Black Hole has recruited four of ’em. So the total number of COs has gone from 11 to 19. The only problem is that you might never be able to actually play as all of them. You’re faced with the daunting task of unlocking all of them except for Andy, Max, and Sami(the arguable ‘main characters’). Doing this will more than likely involve going through the entire campaign mode several times. I don’t know for sure, but that how it worked in the first AW game. and that’s why I’ve never gotten any of them.

Andy! Get out of my pants!

Let’s see, what haven’t I mentioned? I guess some other changes that are noteworthy should be worthily noted. Black Hole get a whole slew of special stuff. They’ve got huge canons, missile silos, pipes for blocking your progression, and that kind of stuff. I’m pretty sure that it’s all Campaign mode exclusive, because, like I said, I really haven’t explored all the game’s modes all too thoroughly. The Map Editor is rumoured to have new options(possibly the canons and such). There’s a stupid ‘Color Edit’ mode, where you can change your CO’s colours to preselected colours. Not exactly what I’d call ‘editing’. And then there’s apparently an unlockable Sound Test mode. Those are always good. Gotta love the Sound Test. I guess I should mention that like every good movie and game, AW2 gives every character his or her own theme music. I gotta get me summa that.

The laughable colour edit mode

Next is, next is, next is gameplay modes! There are a few to choose from here, most prominently would be the Campaign mode, which takes you on a long and arduous journey to stop the Black Hole army. The next most important is the Vs. mode, in which you can partake in a battle against friends or CPU players. For the hardcore strategist, AW2 brings back the War Room, with all of the original scenarios, plus some new ones. Then we have the highly acclaimed Map Editor mode, which could be glitched up in the original game to edit the Campaign levels. Then there’s Hachi’s shop. It’s where you ‘unlock’ everything with the cash you win in the Campaign and War Room. That’s about it. I can’t remember is Field Training was actually an option or if it was just integrated into the Campaign mode this time.

Aren't dawns usually orange?

Heya, Hachi!

Now that I think I’ve told you about all the important stuff, onto the review! As I’m going to make a habit of, I’ll start with graphics. The actual in-game graphics are the exact same as AW. No difference at all. Of course, that not necessarily a bad thing. All cartoony looking and happy. The CO portraits have changed from the first game, not in quality, but mostly in pose. The most notable change is Olaf, who has gone from a comical fatman to a serious blue Santa. The rest of the game’s look has changed dramatically, especially the victory screen backgrounds, which have gone from simple ‘shape’ backgrounds to almost realistic portrait-type things. Overall, the graphics look very, very nice in AW2.

I am invincible!

Next, we’ve got sounds and music under the scope. While AW2 is missing the trademark Nintendo voice samples, it’s not without it’s aural charm. The SFX are limited to mostly explosions and vehicle moveage sounds. Yeah. That’s about it. Maybe some menu sounds too. The music is a mixed bag. All the COs have their own theme, and then there’s the menu themes. Most of ’em are catchy war-sounding stuff, but a couple of the themes can get really annoying. It gets really bad when one of said themes plays over and over every turn because all the players chose the same character. But the sound is the easiest category to cope with, cause if you don’t like it, turn it off and turn on the Slipknot. Easy as pie.

Control is a bit of a gimme in this situation. You really can’t screw up controls when they involve only pointing and clicking. Even that is simplified by making the battlefield a grid. You don’t have to worry about making quick movements or something like that. Just point, click, and watch. But all in all, the controls are nice and responsive anyway.

Now presentation, oh presentation. This is where the game goes leaps and bounds above pretty much everything. The intro video alone has got enough attitude to rival a biker gang and the entire WWE cast. The menus are slick and easy to navigate. In-game meters and such are less clunky looking than last time around. It all just comes together so nicely that you wouldn’t believe. I can’t begin to tell you how much style this game has got. It’s beyond amazing. If you played AW and then immediately switched to AW2, you’d probably get the impression that you started playing a whole different game.(Technically it is a whole different game, but in reality it’s just an extension of the first. Like Mario Sunshine to Mario 64.). I’m very, very impressed by the turn AW has taken.

Great, Nell is back...

As for gameplay, like I said, it’s absolutely identical to the first except for a few little tweaks and additions. Very challenging strategy game that could easily become more universally loved than chess, if everyone had (cheap) access to it. Seriously speaking, probably the best strategy game I’ve played in a long time. Of course the experience only gets better if you play with friends. And even better if you play against greenhorns after getting your ass handed to you by the CPU. The only qualm I have with it is that it is a very, very slow paced game and can take around half an hour to finish a single mission. Only recommended for patient people who’ve got time on their hands.

Go B-Copter!

There isn’t a whole lot else I can say about it. Okay, I lied. There’s a lot more I can say about it, but more words equals more pics and more pics equals more frustration and less site space. So I’ll just finish it up now by saying that Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising would be a wise investment for anyone who owns a GameBoy Advance/SP, even moreso if you don’t have the first, because (once again) it’s pretty much the same game. But hey, who am I to tell you what to do with your cash? I’ll let the proper advertisement agencies do that. But, uh, do yourself a favour and at least borrow it from a friend. AW2 really is the kickass game of the summer.

Henshin-a-go-go, baby! That was long. I’m gonna have to start taking word counts for these things. And actually using a spellchecker rather than just skimming over it to pick out obvious errors. But maybe I won’t keep word counts, cause then I’d feel pressured to actually keep up the pace of lots of words. So far I think the Hulk article was the longest, but this one might be a bit longer. As long as you people don’t actually expect anything from me, we’ll get along nicely.

Back to the topic, I had the option to actually purchase the game recently. I passed it up for the GameBoy Player though, and I stand by my decision. My b-day is only two months away (quite literally), and I can wait that long. Then Advance Wars 2 and MegaMan Battle Network 3 will be mine! Aah sequels, is there anything they can’t do?


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