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...

PCPOWERPLAY - - Opinion -

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, 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.

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