In Depth Review: Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising [GBA]
Such was the case with Super C. Such was the case with Max Payne 2 and Soul Calibur 2.
And, such is the case with Advance Wars 2. The only new stuff gameplay wise is the addition of stationary obstacles such as cannons, hidden labs which result in a new unit, and the ability to play as the CO's from the other countries in campaign mode. However, the new maps -- of which there is a whole game's worth (duh) -- are so intriguing (along with the placement of the new obstacles) that Advance Wars 2 has got to be the one GBA game that I've played more hours on than any others.
I'm not going to go over the basics again -- they're exactly the same as its prequel. Click on that so you can get a read of the first experience in Wars World. The graphics are exactly the same. The music is exactly the same. The mechanics are exactly the same -- almost (more on this below). Done? Good. Let's move on.
I read a review of Advance Wars 2 that basically said it was the same great game, however it wasn't as enjoyable because some of the missions were much longer and drawn out. Advance Wars missions, on the other hand, were all beatable within a short span of time if you planned it right. I can see what the reviewer was saying about the mission length. I, for one, loved the drawn out missions. It made playing through them seem like a long struggle, an uphill battle that continuously looked like a stalemate. When I finally won it would give me a greater sense of accomplishment.
One of the things that most attributes to the longer battles is the addition of those stationary obstacles I alluded to earlier. They come in the form of lasers, mini-cannons and mega-cannons. Lasers fire in four directions and take hit points off of anything in their paths; the two cannon varieties have a triangular range and automatically attack the strongest unit within that range. There are also missile silos that, when engaged by a soldier, fire a missile that damages anything within a specified three-square radius. This is actually the one obstacle that can be -- and is more often -- utilized by your own soldiers.
You can see what's happening here: the original mission goals of destroying all enemy units or capturing enemy HQ becomes more and more a step-by-step process: destroy this cannon, then this laser, then you can capture this city, then move on and yadda yadda. It definitely adds more strategy, as you build enough units to flank the cannons / lasers while trying to keep enough cash left to send your troops straight through the middle when you finish the obstacles off. Seeing as your main force must stay far back to avoid cannon fire, for instance, you've got to make sure your flankers have enough firepower to withstand attacks until the main force can come through. Do you concentrate your resources on building units to destroy the obstacles? Or to support your main force so that it's not obliterated by whatever waits behind the obstacle? Will the flankers be able to hold their own while the main force is traveling through the rubble of the cannons?
New mission goals are added as well, including destroying mega-cannons, factory pipelines (which pump Black Hole units endlessly from their source to Wars World), and finding secret labs. The last goal doesn't end the mission. However, capturing a specific building will net you the technology to create the NeoTank, a more powerful Med Tank with more movement range. I would have liked to see more units and more secret labs; however, Intelligent Systems saw it fit to sit tight with this one unit, and making every continent (Orange Star, Green Earth, etc.) find the lab for their respective COs to be able to use the NeoTank. Since you can complete the continents in any order after beginning the game with Orange Star, it would have been cool to see each continent have a secret lab with its own new unit. Then you could replay the game, completing continents in a different order each time to see how your strategy changes by having certain units first, Mega Man style. Maybe in Advance Wars 3, should they make it...
The play mechanics are indeed almost identical, but Intelligent Systems saw it fit to upgrade CO powers. Now there are two levels of power, and they are all devastating in this form. With level 2, Max's troops become even stronger. Sami can capture buildings in one turn. Andy's troops recover 5 hit points each and receive combat rating upgrades for that turn. Olaf not only covers the land in snow, but he also
damages every enemy unit on the field. Eagle's is gangsta -- not only does he get a performance upgrade, but any non-human unit is granted an extra move. So you can move in, partially pummel the enemy, and then pull off the CO power so that every unit gets another turn to fully destroy everything. Imagine how frustrating it is when your friend flies a bomber over your anti-air unit, turns it into humus, then flies right over to another one and turns it into corn meal... and he's got an army of bombers.
As in the first Advance Wars, you can use points you've accumulated to shop at the Map Store for multiplayer battle maps. You can also buy other CO's (and different colors) for use in multiplayer, if you haven't unlocked them. There's always the War Room, of course. In fact, after beating the game, the bulk of my time was spent in the War Room trying to get S-rankings on every single map. Sometimes it'd take me 10 tries, literally. Of course such insistence netted me mucho points for use in the map store.
More and more, as I play Advance Wars 2, Advance Wars starts to slowly become obsolete. Not in the sense that every sequel makes a prequel obsolete -- that's not true. In this case though, it's mostly the same game. The maps themselves are different... but they're longer and I like them better. The mechanics are the same... but I like being able to use the different COs and their powers. Multiple-CO battles occur far more frequently. To me, much about the sequel is the same -- just done better. So while this game will undoubtedly be penalized for being "the same," I choose to give it high marks for just being a better game and enjoying it far more. I didn't think it was impossible to enjoy Advance Wars more than I did -- but with the sequel, I am. Case in point: I lost Advance Wars and I was going to go and buy another copy. Instead, I'm perfectly satiated with the sequel. That's how much it has taken me over. It might not do a whole lot new, but thankfully it does everything a whole lot better.
I would say, though, that it's imperative to play both -- most preferably the first one before the second (duh). They're both landmark games for the GBA that deserve acclaim and exposure. The first one was a sleeper hit. The second one was more of a good thing. I hope future installments finally make it big time. (Consoles, anyone?)
What Others Thought
IGN Pocket: 9.0 out of 10
" The Advance Wars design is incredibly fun and addictive, and the sequel proves that the game design still works even if you've played the original to death. But you'll just have to keep in mind that the game is made for players looking for more of the same, not for players looking for "more." It's such an incremental improvement over the original that the number 2 in the title honestly doesn't deserve to be there. But don't take this gripe the wrong way; Advance Wars 2 is still one of the finest games to hit the Game Boy Advance, and it's the version to get if you haven't been introduced to the stunning game design."
GameSpot: 9.1 out of 10
" Advance Wars 2 doesn't try to mess with success and doesn't try to fix anything that wasn't broken (not that anything was). It's fundamentally similar to its predecessor, offering more of the same addictive gameplay and the same memorable characters. However, Advance Wars 2 also expands on the original in some subtle but meaningful ways, making it technically superior to the first game even if it isn't as innovative. At any rate, it's a must-have for Advance Wars fans, and it's also great for anyone who might have missed out on the first one."
Game Informer: 9.25/9.5 out of 10
"...the follow-up to one of the greatest games in history. I’m not just talking about handheld titles either; I’m talking consoles and PCs as well. If you weren’t lucky or smart enough to play the original Advance Wars, you need to put down the magazine immediately and go buy it…NOW! It’s that good."
"To inject variety into the missions, many of the maps now feature new enemy installations such as a fortress surrounded by eight turrets. These enhancements give the game a new look and will test your every skill."
GameSpy: 82 out of 100
"Advance Wars 2 is still a great game, and better than the first in all of the important ways, but the impact is lessened by the similarity to the first game. Still, this will more than satisfy anyone looking to just play more of the same, or those interested in taking the series for a test drive. If you haven't finished your copy of the first game, though, you may want to hold off and see if you really want to play more like it before committing your money."