Advance Wars 1+2 Reboot Camp for Switch update is one of the greatest turn-based strategy games ever made with stunning 3D visuals and online multiplayer. While the redesign won’t be to everyone’s liking, developer WayForward has nailed their recreation of the original mechanics while adding plenty of quality-of-live improvements. It’s addictive, challenging stuff, but can it all be on an Advance Wars game Switch – and how does the remake compare to the Game Boy Advance in terms of visuals and performance? We’re testing the game to find out.
If you had a Game Boy Advance in the early 2000s, chances are you’ve played Advance Wars and Advance Wars 2, two nearly perfect titles that made excellent use of the available hardware. Each button performed a task, each pixel on the screen was used for gorgeous 2D sprite action and local multiplayer was possible via a link-up cable. It’s a pure, almost timeless top-down strategy game where every unit has a counter, from infantry and vehicles to aircraft and ships, and terrain type, weather and visibility are all critical to victory. And while Advance Wars marks the climax of the series, it began with Famicom Wars in 1988, explaining the power and brilliance of the GBA titles that were first released in the West.
22 years after the GBA’s first release, we have a full remake of the Switch in Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp. The new game includes campaigns from both games, a full map editor, multiple multiplayer modes, and an in-game shop to purchase maps, music, and more. Perhaps most eye-catching though is the beautiful opening animation, which replaces the original’s sprite-based opener with 24fps animation just as the game’s cover art comes to life. Similarly, cel-shaded avatars appear during partially voiced dialogue and fully animated special moves in combat. These additions are a real highlight, an evolution of the series’ original artwork – but it also perhaps sets an expectation for visuals in the gameplay that don’t match what we actually get.
Before we get to the criticisms, here’s the technical basics. It’s a Unity engine title, and unfortunately that translates to imperfect performance on the Switch like the recently released Unity on the platform. You get an erratically frame-paced 30fps on the standard bird’s-eye view and a fluctuating 30-50fps during battle scenes. At least you get sharp visuals in return, up to 1080p when docked and native 720p for Portable Play.
So it’s not technically a spectacular performance, but thankfully the game’s charm – and its turn-based nature – means that in the least it doesn’t affect the playability, a slight judging obvious but more overrated than it should be. There’s nothing.
Frame-rate and resolution aside, there’s perhaps one major glitch here: namely that the original 2D sprites give way to modern 3D visuals. The GBA original ran at 240×160, but developer Intelligent Systems took an economical approach to what was possible, and the pixel art still looks good on modern 4K TVs. In contrast the new 3D visuals are best described as functional. They lack the charm of the 2D originals, and don’t match the style of their own animated opening cut-scenes and cel-shaded avatars. Units and maps are rendered with traditional 3D lighting and shading techniques. There’s a basic specular mapping pass for the metals on the tanks instead of cel-shaded materials in line with the character art. In addition, the circles below each unit stand in for the shadows, while the infantry models lack any ambient shading to speak of, creating a flat appearance. It’s not a disaster, but it’s certainly overwhelming.
That’s basically the only real issue I have. In defense of the reboot, the new visuals are at least clear, colorful, and easily legible from afar. It’s a logical design choice that works in service of the gameplay. Stepping into a fully 3D-modeled map also gives players more options, with four levels of zoom compared to the static view of the GBA original. On Switch, the visual scales from an up-close view to a distant view, with bokeh depth of field at the periphery of the cursor that reveals the wooden edges of the table-top. Both are nice visual touches and contribute to making the game really easy to navigate.
Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give the remake is that the gameplay is still golden. Through the move toward unity, through the visual upheaval, nothing is lost where it really matters. The on-boarding is still well handled with its tutorials. Step by step, you are invited into the world of warring nations, where every piece of knowledge pays off. Every new mechanic, whether it’s the ability to see beyond the fog of battle by standing on mountain tiles, or knowing how weather conditions like rain and blizzards change your mobility, makes an impact. Rule is firm but always fair. It’s a real challenge and sometimes finding your way to victory feels like solving a puzzle, especially if you’re trying to get the highest rank in each level. best of all? The map editor mode remains in place from the original GBA release, making it, in theory, infinitely replayable with up to three other friends in local play or online.
Against all odds, Advance Wars 1+2 Reboot is still an easy game to recommend, despite its uneven performance and misgivings about its visual style. The gameplay loop of the original remains intact and it’s easy to make quality-of-life changes like the ability to zoom, or fast forward through the action with the right trigger press. The UI is clear, also readily revealing which targets are in range to attack before the movement phase.
From most angles then, WayForward is a supremely playable take on the Advance Wars blueprint for Nintendo Switch. My only last thought here is the shame that there really isn’t a new Switch-only entry in the series announced yet. A Switch Wars, if you will. Either way, while Advance Wars’ revival on Switch lacks the visual charm of the Game Boy Advance original, to its credit, the game actually plays just as well – if not better than before. And maybe that’s what matters most in the end.
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