Monday, October 15, 2007

Intelligent Systems Knows the Score

My first impression after reading the latest details on the upcoming Advance Wars: Days of Ruin? Intelligent Systems Got Everything Right. They're going to nail this one out of the ballpark.

It isn't all that often that game development studios recognize their weaknesses and take their mistakes back. Most game franchises are built upon the notion of always adding, adding, always piling on to the last game. Sometimes, this is welcome and needed. Often it is not, and the result is a game series that loses its original spirit, wandering aimlessly, a bloated, blobby mess. The best example of this? Tony Hawk Pro Skater. See also: Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy, most EA Sports games....heck, just say most sequels.

My point is this: Intelligent Systems knows the score. And despite all the glowing reviews and all the fun we had, Advance Wars DS was a disappointment. It fell into the sequel trap: piling on extra features, piling on more attacks, piling on more offensive weapons, piling on pointless mini-games. Yadda yadda. The balance of the gameplay, the core of the whole strategy, was thrown awry. The game went from being a skillfull chess match to, well, Tecmo Bowl.

Not that there's anything wrong with Tecmo Bowl, but racking up a dozen touchdowns shouldn't be the ideal for a war strategy title.

Advance Wars 2 on the Gameboy Advance was the peak of the long-running series, and I'm thrilled to see Intelligent Systems move back to those roots. The new DS title, Days of Ruin, is notable for what's been cut out. Like a prime steak, all the fat has been trimmed away.

Gone are the CO tag teams, and their joint super attacks (which completely ruined matches). Gone are the dual-screen battles, which only served as a juggling gimmick. Gone, also, are the chirpy anime characters who populated the previous three games. The whole brightly-colored, vaguely Super Nintendo look is gone. In its place, a game with a far darker, more omnious mood. It's more serious, more violent and apocalyptic. Advance Wars has finally grown up.

I've also read, courtesy of Kotaku and DS Fanboy (thank you very much, btw), that many of the game units have been scaled back or removed. Like you needed four levels of tanks. New units include the motorbike, a lightly armed vehicle ideal for quick movement; Flare, an infantry unit that can clear fog-of-war but cannot attack; and Duster, an ariel unit that has yet to be shown.

The most important feature - at least to me, if you couldn't guess - was online. Not only the ability to play others over wifi, but the ability to send and receive the custom maps. Intelligent Systems has listened. Have they been reading my blog?

Here's what will happen. In addition to wifi, there will be voice chat, and something called Map Center. Here, you can upload, download, and rate custom maps. Excellent move, gang. Excellent move. Now I'll have to get this game on day one, just so I can upload all my old Advance Wars 2 maps. Who's up for some Adventure?
I never thought they had it in 'em. I am duly impressed. Advance Wars: Days of Ruin is now the game to get.

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