Given my disposition, it's strange I was never bothered by the whimsically optimistic tone of Advance Wars. Maybe it's the sociopath in me, but I didn't find it the least bit incongruous to whistle while plotting the extermination of my enemies. I was deeply disturbed though by the turns of this latest installment: A meteor shower blots out the sun, choking off nearly all human life and leaving the few remaining survivors cloaked in shades of pastel.
But seriously, the Advance Wars franchise has consistently managed to create a serious gaming experience that doesn't take itself too seriously. Or perhaps saying that Advance Wars takes its audience seriously would be more accurate: every animation and cutscene is skippable; menus and interface streamlined; quicksaves are left to your discretion; difficulty actually increases as you progress, optional hardcore levels are available, and mission grading is transparent. So who cares if they have a terrible fashion sense and unhealthy fixation on adolescent boys?
If you accept this premise- that Intelligent Systems takes gamers seriously, not that they're a bunch of creepy pederasts- then you'll be intrigued but not surprised to see that Days of Ruin has improved upon Dual Strike's single player campaign by giving you less toys rather than more.
Tag team is gone. Two-screen levels are gone. Those obnoxious kamikaze bomb units are gone. CO upgrades are gone. CO selection is gone! CO powers remain, but their importance is greatly diminished. The unlock store is gone, and extra maps have been integrated with the mission select map- a subtle change which actually went a long way in getting me to play them.
On the other side of the ledger, we get bike units that can move farther to capture cities but are otherwise rather pussy, and a flare unit for use in fog of war, which is even more vestigial than the bike. We also get a pretty sweet anti-tank gun, temporary air and seaports that can repair but not build, and some different planes and boats and shit.
The only new gameplay tweak is that CO's have a field of influence over other units, but of course this also means that where CO's used to be able to jabber silly platitudes from the sidelines they now have to get in a tank and fight. Their CO power bar only fills when they are personally involved in a skirmish, and if they get blown up the power bar resets. Again, more constraints than Dual Strike, and better results.
Despite their obvious effort to add substance, Days of Ruin's emo plot is just as abysmal as all the others. But someone playing these games for the story would have to be at a 6th grade reading level...or a 6th grader...
If anyone ever actually read more than one page of this blog it would be readily apparent how undiscriminating I am when it comes to turn-based strategy games. They've been an obsession of mine since Warsong and Shining Force, and not even a summer of getting my ass kicked in chess by a bunch of unhygienic 12-year olds at gifted kid camp could shake it. As a responsible 8-6 man, they're now the only thing separating me from those commuters that read those large folded inky things.
So it is from a place of authority that I say no tactics game has ever been as satisfying as any part of the Advance Wars series. And that satisfaction comes not from sexy bells and whistles, but compehensive gameplay economy, which in turn could only come from a development team possessing great humility. This isn't rocket science; it's a simple lesson, simply replicated. So why are games designed like this so few and far between?