Advance Wars (2002)
I’ve never been sure if this was a myth or even if it was particularly common, but I’ve been led to believe that if you were caught being a naughty boy in 1960s or 1970s Ireland, the exasperated judge would often give you the choice of doing a six-month stint in jail or a year in the army.
We aren’t exactly what you’d call a belligerent country – if Ireland had been involved in the Gulf War we would’ve sent snowploughs – so a spell in the army always sounded like a bit of a holiday camp to me. But then again, isn’t that what they always accuse the prisons of being? You start to see now why we need a death penalty for all offences, except software piracy.
Looking at the prison option, honestly I always imagined prison to be a bit of a laugh. You’re missing out on the opposite sex, that’s true. Although I once read an inmate’s account of prison where he and some of the other boys would have a show put on for them by the Barking Dogs as they called them, over in the women’s prison. The more degenerate among the inmates used these shows as material, right there and then. Prison life will also mean you have to say goodbye to concerts and restaurants, but just think of the money saved!
But if you still fancy the fresh outdoors, then you can always plump for the army. But boy, I can’t imagine myself hacking it with the rest of the troops. Just the thought of the physical fitness requirements has my shin splints flaring up. They’d probably want me to be able to carry a certain amount of weight through muddy water, so that I’ll be ready to ferry any fallen comrades back to base on my shoulders. Yeah, as if I wouldn’t leave them face down.
And all that training for what? The chance that I might get to do some “peacekeeping” in Lebanon, which probably amounts to bogarting whatever alcohol you can get your hands on in a dry country, and hoping the locals don’t start kicking off while you’re in a state of advanced refreshment. I’ve heard that peacekeeping missions are the ones you want, because it’s proper oi oi, boys on tour when you’re over there. This sounds more and more enticing, doesn’t it?
Look, what else could our defence forces possibly do? I’ve already told you about our Pilatus planes, the propellered wonders that need rescuing by the bigger boys in Britain whenever Russia come knocking. And in the vastly unlikely event that I wanted to be among the seamen, then I’d only have a choice of 9 ships to serve my time on. Well, if nine is enough to keep our whole island defended then I’d call it good value for money, but it does make me wonder.
What I do know is that apparently our snipers are the very best in the world. Now that’s a bit more my speed, I do enjoy the idea of sniping. I’d miss every shot, but it sounds like a great laugh and far better than getting shredded in close-range combat or dancing merrily onto a landmine. An Irish sniping team was the first non-US team to win an international sniping competition of some kind for about 100 years, which means our boys are the best at bagging and transporting their own turds. There’s got to be a medal in it for that.
But seriously, well done to them, because if those two had’ve been out sick then it would’ve fallen to the next two able-bodied men or women, and if everyone after those two refuses to take part then it’ll keep going and going. Eventually it comes down to the last two eligible patsies, namely me and that large, hairy strange man near me who plays guitar at the shops for change, completely topless. Would we be a good team to represent and defend the coutnry, do you think?
So it can be concluded that I’m physically and mentally unready to throw some camo on and hit the battlefield with the rest of the squaddies. After all, if they don’t let the likes of Oddball from Kelly’s Heroes into the army anymore, then what’s the point? I’m much more in the mould of a fat, red-faced, farting, boorish general. Think Napoleon the pig from Animal Farm, who eats and drinks heroically while having several thousand foot soldiers go out and do the real heroism – and die for it. Who doesn’t want to tell people what to do?
That’s why a game like Advance Wars would never make you play the role of just a single machine-gun carrying piece of cannon fodder, even if its sister game Battalion Wars made that very same mistake. In Advance Wars… well, it’s a bit strange. You play as an advisor, who tells the Commanding Officer or CO what to do, even though you move the units across the battlefield yourself.
It’s probably just as well that you’re there though, because the COs are pretty childlike. OK, so this is a colourful, fairly light-hearted game even with the war theme. But the characters talk like children, in what you’d have to say is a worthless script. One boy doesn’t even know what an airport is, for Norman’s sake.
But who’s here for story? This is a delectable piece of Nintendo strategy fare, before Fire Emblem barged in and ate all the rations. I wanted this game for Christmas 2001 along with my brand spanking new Game Boy Advance, but the game was delayed in Europe. Let’s just say that the game originally released in the United States on Monday, September 10th of that year. Not a great week for it, as it turned out. I got Harry Potter GBA instead – decent, but there were a lot less tanks.
And not just tanks, but artillery, bombers, fighter jets, battle copters, submarines, battleships, anti-air missiles, cruisers, the lot. Right down to the humble APC, which the questionable AI in this game have a particular hatred for – there’s your one-line strategy guide, courtesy of me. There’s also mechanised infantry, but the game doesn’t get so Japanese that they’re in actual Gundam mechs, unfortunately – they merely carry rocket lawnchairs.
Each of the COs I mentioned are playable characters, and they all have their own foibles. You’re only able to use the Murica COs in the one-player Campaign, which is a bit limited. Plus it’s pretty tricky to unlock a lot of the other COs in the game, especially when the game never tells you how to do it. You’ll need to complete the Campaign several times, which is a real mortar up the jacksy if you don’t know what you’re doing. There’s even a Hard Campaign if you have the bottle – who dares wins, right?
Of course, where a game like this shines is the multiplayer. But as significant as this game was for the now-ailing Wars series (and this isn’t the first game in that series, not by a long way), it didn’t come out during the age of online gaming, it didn’t get much of a shake on a home console, and it never got the foothold that Fire Emblem got, probably due to its comparative lack of anime boobies.
It all leaves Advance Wars 1 and the rest of its series looking a lot like the Irish Defence Forces these days – there’s a heap of potential in there, and if you give it the chance it’ll demonstrate itself as something we can all be proud of. But owing to neglect, what it’s left with instead is a complete lack of recognition, not much future budget, just existing as an entity whose best days are seemingly long behind it.
9 June 2020