Advance Wars Wars
After years of Nintendo’s neglect, some of the most innovative developers on PC are striving to bring Advance Wars back to life...
The most incongruous moment of E3 unfolded at the PC Gaming Show. An event supposedly meant to showcase the most advanced video game technology on the planet spent valuable minutes promoting War Groove, a strategy game that looks like it belongs on the Game Boy Advance. Yet this demo was well received because of a stark, terrifying reality of today’s video game industry: we have now gone for an entire decade without a new Advance Wars.
Intelligent Systems, the studio that makes Advance Wars, is not defunct. Far from it – their Fire Emblem series surges from strength to strength. The key to Fire Emblem’s appeal lies in its ‘support’ system. Player-controlled knights and wizards get to know each other better if they sit in adjacent map squares while battling enemies. Increasing their support level grants combat bonuses, and triggers amusing little cutscenes. Characters can grow fond of each other, get married, and in some games their kids will time travel back from the future to become playable units. For many players the tactics take a back seat to the dating sim-cum-eugenics simulator.
Advance Wars never had this support system, and producer Hitoshi Yamagami has stated that the series will not return until they can devise a way to implement something similar: “Personally, I’d love to do Advance Wars, but since it’s harder to create relationships between its characters compared to Fire Emblem, I don’t have a clear idea of what kind of setting it could have.” Translation: “No more Advance Wars until we can figure out how to make the tanks and the fighter jets fuck.”
lords and ladies appear to have leaped straight from the dankest pages of tumblr
His position is understandable. Yet in the past decade loyal Advance Wars fans are starting to take matters into their own hands. After a long, long drought we can now look forward to at least three different Advance Wars clones, each offering a unique and novel approach.
War Groove has been enjoying a lot of exposure, but is also the least ambitious of the three. It’s being made by Chucklefish, and after the long, long years that Starbound spent in Early Access Hell one can understand why they’d want to create as straightforward a game as possible. The colour palette, the interface, and the little mini-cutscenes triggered by each skirmish are all loving homages.
Unfortunately, the character designs are quite ugly. The lords and ladies of Chucklefish’s fantasy realm appear to have leaped straight from the dankest pages of tumblr. Even the game logo looks like it was made by a disinterested work experience kid in MS Paint. Fortunately, War Groove promises to be fully mod-able, so that gamers with a more refined sense of aesthetics will be able to craft something better.
In terms of actual gameplay innovation, Tiny Metal looks far more promising. Produced by an all-star team of veteran Japanese devs, its high-quality paper doll-style character art contrasts starkly with the 3D map and battle graphics rendered in Unreal Engine 4. It’s a fresh look, and the combat system boasts some bold new ideas, like letting you concentrate the firepower of multiple units in a single attack. Compared to the far more derivative War Groove, Tiny Metal appears to be more of a true spiritual successor to Advance Wars.
Then there’s Into The Breach, the new game from the creators of FTL. This will skew more towards puzzlestyle gameplay with deterministic, cascading consequences on cramped, chessboard-sized maps.
Aside from their shared inspiration, the crucial thing these three games have in common is that their creators are trying to actually give gamers what they want.
Consider the ongoing tragedy of Battleborn, Gearbox’s high-profile, high-budget online shooter. Post launch, SteamCharts.com was showing as few as 21 simultaneous players worldwide. Re-launching as a freeto-play game induced a brief flurry of interest, but within a fortnight player numbers crashed. As of this writing there are fewer people routinely playing Battleborn than Evolve, another ‘AAA’ title re-launched in the free-to-play space.
One would hope that Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford has learned some lessons from all this, because within hours of Io Interactive going indie he publicly offered to publish the next Hitman game.
Killing one IP could be put down to misfortune. But to kill two, well. That would start to look like carelessness.
JAMES COTTEE knows how tanks and fighter jets fuck. But he’s not telling.