Advance Wars 1+2 Reboot Camp revives a sleeping giant with style


In terms of sleeping giants at Nintendo, Advance Wars has to be one of the biggest. This fan-favourite series has been dormant since 2008, with no new tactical titles to turn the cogs in your brain throughout the Wii U era and deep into Nintendo’s Switch renaissance. Things are about to change though, with Advance Wars 1+2 Reboot Camp offering a way for new players and returning commanders to experience the thrill of strategic conquests in shiny remake form.

If you haven’t got any experience with the Wars series or Advance Wars in particular, let me briefly explain the concept. It’s a turn-based tactical game, with two armies of ground, air, and water units doing battle over a variety of maps across a sizeable campaign that tests you in every regard. You pick between three Orange Star commanders – or COs – Andy, Max, and Sami, each with their own advantage and special CO power, as you wage war across the continents of Cosmo Land. As it was at the time of its original release, it’s very much like Fire Emblem with helicopters and tanks in place of pegasus riders and horseback cavalry, and that is by no means a complaint.

From the new anime-style cinematic opening to seeing your troops’ boots on the ground, Reboot Camp is a feast for the eyes. With vivid colour and expressive character designs giving the world of Advance Wars a refreshed look, you feel more like a part of the story from the off. You connect with Andy and his weird obsession with tools, stereotypical big-man-who-cares Max, and Sami and her short fuse. The small group really feels like a close-knit team, and the addition of voice lines – even if they aren’t fully voiced – brings Advance Wars to life like never before.

One controversy – if you can call it that – going into Reboot Camp is the ‘toy’ redesign of battlefield infantry. I can dispel your concerns right away if you have them. The battle units look great and they certainly don’t fall into chibi territory. If anything, they help cement the fictional nature of the game – something that helps when what you’re essentially doing is playing out mini wars in which mini soldiers suffer mini deaths – while keeping things from getting too dour. There’s no geopolitics here, making it one of the few military-orientated titles that allow a sort of escapism through playing.

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Of course, the big draw of Advance Wars is the battles and they don’t disappoint. The campaign is much as you remember it, taking on Olaf, Kanbei, and other familiar faces as you charge into battle in the name of Orange Star. The main quest does feel a bit different though. The fresh anime-style character designs made possible by not having to rely on GBA-era pixel graphics tied with the extra lines of speech between missions make the plot feel much less shoehorned in. The stakes feel higher, and if I know anything about constructing a video game narrative, that makes for a more enjoyable experience.

As far as remakes go, Reboot Camp does exactly what you want. It leaves in the good stuff, makes the annoying parts less annoying, and throws in a few new friendly mechanics to make the whole experience a bit more fluid. Now you can fast-forward enemy turns, the grid is visible at all times so you can easily tell where your units can reach, and there’s even a casual mode for those who want to ease into the tactical challenge of Reboot Camp.

Screenshot of Nell explaining the battle scenario for Advance Wars 1+2 Reboot Camp preview

Essentially, Reboot Camp polishes all the mechanics of the original game so you can get on with the real challenge of commanding your troops to victory. It’s still quite the challenge, too. With countless tributes and semi-copycats arriving in the fifteen years since we last saw a Wars title – I’m talking Wargroove, Tiny Metal, and Into the Breach – the main campaign still stands tall with top-tier turn-based tactical content, plenty of variety through the levels, and a difficulty curve that Michelangelo would be proud of sculpting.

You can tell that the developer Nintendo chose for this remake, WayForward, has taken notes from some of the games we mentioned in the last paragraph, especially the bright and inviting Wargroove. Both are tactical titles that belong to the don’t-take-this-too-seriously variety with light-hearted characters commanding the on-field units. The most obvious similarity is in Reboot Camp’s paint job, with each of the nation’s colours clearer than ever before, but you can also see similarities in the map design element, as well as the drive to enhance the narrative. All of these concepts do the same thing for Reboot Camp as they do Wargroove, they add a flavour to the game, a sense of character that distinguishes it from other tactical titles and enhances the core experience.

Screenshot of an infantry battle for Advance Wars 1+2 Reboot Camp preview

While the campaign mode is where you spend most of your time, there’s plenty of room for a reprieve when you come up against a battle you need a break from. There’s the ‘design room’, where you can create your own maps to challenge your battlefield awareness, then the ‘war room’, where you can try out new COs and battle maps from Hachi’s shop, and finally the ‘versus’ option, where you and up to three friends can battle against each other with your own set of rules. Considering the limitations of a turn-based tactical title, Reboot Camp intelligently delivers different ways to play so things never become stale.

In terms of bang for your buck, Reboot Camp trumps much of Nintendo’s many Switch remasters and remakes, taking your tanks the extra mile with the various new game modes, and of course, two games for the price of one. Compare this with 2020’s Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX or 2018’s Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and you can see just how much care and effort has gone into recreating the Wars experience for modern audiences, as well as how much more value for money you’re getting in Reboot Camp.

Screenshot of a Max victory for Advance Wars 1+2 Reboot Camp preview

Nintendo and WayForward’s approach to this return trip to Cosmo Land is refreshingly all-encompassing, from the new game modes to the absolutely jamming soundtrack rework. As someone who grew up playing their GBA on mute to try and avoid annoying my siblings, I experienced the Advance Wars soundtrack in full for the first time here. I can’t tell you how many turns I let drag on purely so I could tap my foot and air guitar to the battlefield bangers. Andy’s Theme is particularly wonderful, with the synth bass doing its best Red Hot Chili Pepper’s impression to add even more vibrancy to a game that practically pops out of the screen already.

So, all-in-all, my early impression of Advance Wars 1+2 Reboot Camp is that it’s looking like the complete package. The game world and characters are rich in colour and have a newfound depth, the myriad of game modes keeps things interesting outside of the campaign, and the main plot feels more important and better to play than ever before. In a nutshell, this is exactly what I want from a reimagining of Advance Wars, and you should be very excited.

For more of our thoughts on the latest Nintendo Switch titles, be sure to check out our Bayonetta Origins review, The Last Worker Switch review, and Storyteller Switch review.

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