Advance Wars: Days of Ruin
For the most part, the narrative is fairly effective. The main character is a kid named Will that hooks up with a military unit after a series of meteors strike the Earth's surface and blacken out the skies. In this post-apocalyptic world, a band of mercenaries are battling the good people that attempt to survive on the desolate landscape. Oddly enough, there seems to be a steady supply of war machines in the form of tanks, planes, and ships for both sides of the battle. Between levels, the story is pushed along by brief conversations between the characters in the form of flashing artwork. The conversations for the mercenaries are very weak and often the good guys suffer from sloppy writing as well. I also found Will's hair to be far too stylish & spiky. Apparently, there's no shortage of hair product after the meteors destroyed the majority of civilization. Still, the story is really only a cursory aspect to the meat of the game; the turn based strategy level.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Advance Wars is essentially a war combat title that uses turn based strategy to fight with the enemy. Basically, the screen offers up a grid based map and the player moves the military units around the screen. Each unit has a predetermined range of movement which is identical to the enemies range. The player has to decide when it's smarter to push the attack or move the pieces back to a defensive position. It's very much like a game of chess, but with the ability to heal units, build new war machines, and capture territory.
The single player modes are broken into two parts: free play and campaign. Free play is comprised of a couple dozen single player maps, four trial maps and a large portion of maps that specify the number of players (2, 3 or 4). Campaign follows the storyline and essentially escalates the level of involvement. Early on, you have to worry about ground troops and the occasional tank. Towards the endgame, you will have to worry about roaming jets, bombers, submarines and destroyers.
Succeeding in the game is highly dependent on your ability to use tactics. For instance, airborne units will make every effort to encroach on your position if you don't used anti-aircraft armor. Additionally, the enemy will hunker down and continue to reinforce their position if you manage to corner their troops. It's a game of cat & mouse that can easily last for an hour per level.
The landscape can work to your advantage or disadvantage as well. Mountains can only be climbed by infantry / mech units and often blocks the pathway for all ground based vehicles. There were several times during the campaign that I hindered the progress of faster vehicles due to a slow War Tank in front. Using the terrain can be a tactic if you stack units in the pathway of the base. A strong stack of expendable tanks can slow the progress of the enemy troops and buy some time for the bombers to roll into battle.
One aspect of the game that seems far too easy in single player campaign mode is the inability of the A.I. to overtake structures for their side. Similar to the previous game, captured buildings provide increased monetary support during the course of the battle. The A.I. has a hard time capturing the right selection of buildings and this eventually causes their monetary supply to run dry. They also have an inclination to build only a couple of the most expensive units rather than a barrage of faster tanks / planes. Once you identify these weaknesses, it becomes far too easy to tear through the opposition.
The online multiplayer is top notch, but it's not exactly great for quick games on the subway. Games can easily last a couple hours if you have two skilled opponents battling it out. Nintendo included the ability to voice chat with your opponent. With headphones, you can clearly make out the voice on the other end most of the time. I never had any problems with dropped connections and finding a game was a breeze as well. There is also a map creation area for publishing custom maps. It's a cool tool for the design happy players as well as anyone that wants to share their map in the online arena.
Visually, Days of Ruin uses a comic style of presentation that works well for the genre. The maps are colorful and the units are well defined. The mini-cutscenes for each battle are smooth and well polished as well. The touchscreen and the visuals are cohesive as well. It's tough to select the wrong unit, even on the tight spaces of the battlefield. Overall, the visual style is on par with the last edition on the DS.
I'm not a fan of the musical track at the menu screen or during combat. More often that not, I found myself muting all the auditory effects to quiet the annoying music. It's a treble heavy, repeating track that grates on the nerves faster than any game I've played on the DS. I did enjoy the sounds of war though. Machine gun fire, cannons booming or bombs dropping all sounded authentic and provided life to the battlefield. There are no voiceovers in the game as the dialogue is only text based.
The single player campaign seems short compared to its predecessor, but that may be due to familiarity of the game's design. It really doesn't make any difference though as the multiplayer options are absolutely phenomenal. If you are playing locally or through the wi-fi network, it's tough to see an end to the level of enjoyment from Days of Ruin. If you are a fan of turn based strategy titles or just solid multiplayer modes, pick up the new version of Advance Wars to tide you over through the limited amount of releases in the early part of 2008.
For all intents and purposes Days of Ruin is Advance Wars. It plays out almost exactly like you'd expect it to if you are coming from one of the previous installments though the stylus controls haven't been fully integrated as well as one would hope. This latest sequel brings a few new units and maps to the table it has also changed some of the fundamentals that fans have come to expect. The biggest change here deals with exactly how to Commanding Officer mechanic affects battles. The CO's powers are now much more balanced and in line with the rest of the game so no broken abilities can be unleashed on the battlefield. It certainly toned down the insanity but I felt that it forced you to strategize more in order to be successful.
Some of the newer units such as the bikes and gun ships added interesting elements to the fighting and new terrain thanks to the apocalyptic atmosphere spruced things up a tad as well. Combining the abilities of units becomes a necessary strategy to win most battles and if you love long drawn-out fights then you'll feel right at home. Sometimes the field gets too cluttered to quickly make decisions but this will just force you to stop and think for a moment.
From start to finish the 26 mission single player campaign was a lot of fun though I must confess in some disappointment due to the lack of unlockable content. The added multiplayer component with Wi-Fi support was definitely a nice touch though. You can also customize and create maps to your heart's content though the level of detail you're allowed isn't as diverse as one might expect.
Overall Days of Ruin is a fine inductee into the ranks of the Advance Wars army. Fans of the franchise may be taken aback by some of these elements but the core of this title is very much faithful to the series. If you own a DS and you're looking for a strategy game then this is the only place you need to look. You simply won't find a better handheld strategy title on the market.