My Top 5 Games of 2001: #5 Advance Wars (GBA)

Developed: Intelligent Systems
Published: Nintendo
Genre: Turn Based Strategy
Platform: GBA

Advance Wars was probably the first game I played on the Game Boy Advance and I've probably logged more hours into it than any other game on the platform. It tells the tale of a small country known as Orange Star and its struggle against its oppressive neighbor, Blue Moon. It's a fairly lighthearted tale for a game about war that has a fun, colorful cast and simple but challenging gameplay that will have you hooked until the end.

Advance Wars is a turn based strategy game set in a fictional world where children can be commanding officers in the military. I'm not kidding. You can play as a number of COs but the first one you play as in campaign mode is a kid. Actually you don't really play as the CO. You take the role of their "advisor", but you still give all the orders to the troops. All the COs seem to be there for are their "CO powers", which are big super attacks that can turn the tide of a battle. On most maps, your objective is to either capture the enemy base or destroy all the enemies on the level, but some have special objectives like capturing a certain number of cities or destroying a specific target.
The gameplay, as I said before, is very simple. It's almost identical to the Fire Emblem series (Also developed by Intelligent Systems.), for those who are familiar with that. You usually start out with a number of soldiers deployed (Some maps let you train your own units at bases.) who you control by selecting with the A button, moving the cursor where you want them to go, then press A again to make them move which then opens an action menu. Depending on where you moved them and what kind of unit they are, you can have several different actions available. If you move a regular unit next to an enemy you can of course order them to attack.

That's the one thing that most units can do, but many have unique actions that only they can perform. For example, infantry units can capture buildings to add funds to your war chest, APCs can transport infantry over long distances, artillery can attack from a distance, and tanks can deal higher damage and can take more punishment. There are around 20 units total so there's a lot of variety to be found, especially when you factor in air and sea units.

Once you finish the campaign mode's 20 or so missions, there's a ton of extra content to unlock. You earn coins from every mission you complete which can be spent in a store to unlock skirmish and multiplayer maps. Speaking of which, the multiplayer is awesome and since the game is turned based, up to four players can take turns competing on a single GBA. Topping it all off is the level designer. That's right. You can make your own maps too.
For a game that came out just a few months after the GBA launched, Advance Wars looks great.
Intelligent Systems always seems to bring their A game when it comes to visuals and this game is no exception. One thing that I love is the attention to detail on the various units. Each of the 4 countries share the same unit types but each unit has a unique look. The screen above is a good example. Both of those units are the same type but look quite different. And you only see those in the short attack animations, so they put a lot of work where most companies would have probably just used recolored sprites. Details like that can really make the difference.

The music just kicks ass. Intelligent Systems again brings their A game in the audio department. Most of the songs are either rock or techno but one stands out as my absolute favorite: Olaf's Theme. See, each CO has their own theme that plays during their turn and the sudden switch from the rockin' sound of most of the CO's theme's to Olaf's when his turn begins can be hilariously jarring. Olaf's theme sounds like the theme song of a goofy villain from a kids cartoon, which he pretty much is actually so I guess it fits him well.

For now, Advance Wars is only available on the Game Boy Advance, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it on the Virtual Console some day. It may have been one of the GBA games that Nintendo was going to put on the 3DS store but as far as I know, they haven't put any GBA games up yet. I don't have a 3DS to check so sorry if I'm wrong on that one. I think the last time I was in GameStop, I saw Advance Wars for about $5, which is ridiculously cheap for the amount of content you get. If you happen to come across it and have any affection for strategy games, I encourage you to pick it up.

#4 in my top 5 games of 2001!
A third-person shooter that popularized a fun mechanic and contained some of the hammiest dialogue ever.

I'll leave you with Olaf's theme, of course. I just love this goofy song. Video brought to us by YouTube user RPGMusicDotOrg.

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