Baby’s First Strategy Game: Advance Wars 2 at 15
I don’t regret being given a Game Boy Colour for my seventh birthday. I’m sure my dad regrets ever even considering buying one though. From the moment I loaded up Dinosaurs on that early morning back in 2001 I was hooked. There was no turning back. Gaming consoles went everywhere with me until I needed to plug them into TVs. I don’t remember many of the early games I got. Super Mario Bros was one of course. And there was Pokémon Ruby too. But the one that sticks with me the most is Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising.
Set in Wars World the Advance Wars games focused on four nations that band together to eliminate a greater threat. The Orange Star, Blue Moon, Green Earth and Yellow Comet armies united against the Black Hole army in an effort to stop Sturm, the Black Hole commander, from annihilating the four diverse nations. The idea looked like World War Anime which sounds hellish as a concept but worked quite well in Advance Wars 2. If you look at the designs and art for the game below you’ll get what I mean.
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Advance Wars 2 started a lifelong love affair with strategy games. An affair that has been tempered as time has gone by but one which I keep returning to. The problem is that I’m not very good at strategy games. Beyond the odd completed campaign of Shogun: Total War or an online match of Civilisation that I barely survived strategy games have continuously kicked me in the teeth ever since I started playing them. I never completed the campaign of Advance Wars 2. Every time I tried those final few missions Black Hole would rise up and swallow me. But Advance Wars 2 offered me a salve that no other strategy game before or since the Advance Wars series has: the ability to make things easy on myself.
In the War Room mode the game gives players the option to fight the computer or a different opponent on the same console. I bet Nintendo never thought that I’d be playing myself four times over. It sounds lonely but the confidence boost gained from beating all the characters you hate using the one character you love was something else back in those days. For me that character was Andy.
Andy was an inspiration to Andrews everywhere. He was a strategic genius at the tender age of oh I don’t know fifteen maybe? He was also a mechanic whose Commanding Officer Power was the ability to heal his units thereby making him the best character in the game. In a time where maining a healer wasn’t even heard of I was doing it. For my own ends mostly but hey I wasn’t going to play as someone from Green Earth or Blue Moon no matter how well designed they were.
Cute little animations abounded in Advance Wars 2. From the little squats done by soldiers as they waited to move to watching bombs tumble out of planes or seeing enemy characters grimace as their freshly minted neo-tanks were destroyed by a naval bombardment the design of the game made it feel like I was playing a Saturday morning cartoon. From stern Russian sailors to a fat old fighter pilot and even a Darth Vader villain Advance Wars 2 had its share of unique characters.
Advance Wars was never as advanced as it liked to pretend. Its mobility impeding terrain and sight limiting fog of war were things that had come into vogue with the first strategy games and still haven’t left. If there was one thing Advance Wars 2 did do it was introduce an entire generation to strategy games. Strategy games encourage critical thinking, quick decisions and resource management. These are all things modern, advanced strategy games like the Total War series or Paradox’s infinitely more complex games demand of players. I have a degree and I’m nearing the end of a Masters and I still barely get critical thinking so to those that learned it at fifteen from Hearts of Iron I salute you.
Advance Wars 2 only gives ground to those willing to take it. I came to it thinking it would be a fun little FPS and it whipped my ass for that. I never forgot the hiding that game gave me over all those missions but it taught me a valuable lesson about video games. There’s always something to manipulate to make the game work for you. Whether it’s spamming a particular weapon, exploiting a gaping weakness or just putting in a cheat code games have their openings. I never really picked up on this until five years after Advance Wars 2 came out. I picked it up again when I was thirteen and blitzed towards the end game until it stonewalled me again. I don’t regret never completing Advance Wars 2 but it taught me how to complete a whole lot more and for that I’m grateful.