Do you think they’d let you bring a Game Boy Advance to the frontlines…?

Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising (2003)

I hate to say it, but I think we may be due another World War. All of the classic signs are there – the population figure is getting too high, and that means there’s millions more wastrels being born every year. Medical science has the gall to continue improving, meaning less and less deaths are occurring from natural causes and disease. Something’s gotta give here.

More people need more resources, and the planet is not thanking us for it. Who knows? Maybe the earth really has started to fight back, by nudging some nasty pandemics along and throwing some icecap melting our way. Also, and let’s be open here, aren’t teenagers getting just a bit too obnoxious and comfortable with their lives these days? Isn’t it high time we shipped them off to war?

No, of course not. What kind of madman are you, to want to ship minors to hell on earth? Can you really expect them to lay down their life for their country, which in practical terms means getting torn apart and being left face down in a muddy patch of worthless land? A piece of land that might be “your” country today, but the enemy’s country tomorrow, and that 10-feet patch of land will trade hands every day for the next number of years while the death count rises by thousands every day, another generation snuffed out.

As your desecrated body lays forgotten, abandoned, buried by rubble and debris, you just have to hope that the generals ate heartily, and that your death may have incrementally (as in, the size of a bee’s dick) brought your side closer to victory, not that you’ll be around to see it. If you give your life in vain, only to be on the losing side anyway… well, I never thought I’d feel sorry for Nazis, but here we are.

No, I don’t fancy that much do you? I pay taxes, for heaven’s sake, and I don’t use that many public services. If I can be so bold, I think my country would be asking an awful lot of me here, they’d be well out of line. So what happens if you say, “sod this lads, I don’t feel particularly safe, so I’m off”? Your own country shoots you. What?! So much for solidarity, and this whole idea of “we’re all in it together.”

And talk about a waste of ammo. See this is why you should never ask what you can do for your country – treat them like an indifferent employer, and at every opportunity you should rip them off and give them nothing extra, because they will never help you out, they will replace you at once and – trust me – they will be prepared to shoot you at a moment’s notice. Take everything you can from them and give nothing back; whether that’s dole or toilet roll, it matters not.

Really though, if I were drafted into the army, I know what I’d do. I’d nod along with all the training and all that. Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full, sir. Then at the earliest possible opportunity, I’d desert. And even if I was caught immediately, so what? Better to die against my accursed country’s flag, than face down in a ditch a million miles from home. At least in the former scenario, my family could launch some claim for justice against the state after the war ended, classic compensation culture.

There’s no point in taking my chances out there. After all, how do YOU think you’d do if you were suddenly transported to the front lines? It’s a “fun” hypothetical scenario, but what really makes me laugh is when you get people who reckon they’d do really well on the frontlines, just because they happened to prestige on Call of Duty or something. Mate, please, if you and I were transported to the battlefield right now, you can forget about your tactical headset. We’d both be lucky to last five minutes, and we’d be absolutely cacking ourselves for each of those five minutes.

Let us hope we’ll never be in a global war again – murder for the old investments and share prices, that. We’ll just have to find some other way to thin out the population. No doubt a third World War would do it, although let’s face it, wars and conflicts are happening right now across the world anyway. It takes a hell of a lot of killing to achieve official World War designation. Were you aware that WW1 had 20 million casualties? And WW2 had 75 million? The figures don’t seem real or imaginable, do they?

The Second World War really ramped things up, a big jump ahead of the first World War. History would repeat itself 60 years later with Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising for Game Boy Advance, though perhaps a more on-the-nose subtitle would have been The Quasi-Nazis Strike Back. You’ll know about Godwin’s Law, about how Nazis are never far from online discussion – well, they’re never far from your mind during Advance Wars 2, either.

I have to say, when it was released, the first Advance Wars was and still is a brilliant game of strategy and tactics. Actually, it was our first look at a long-established Nintendo franchise which already had several instalments. Advance Wars 1 brought the series into the mainstream, though, and established several series conventions and plotlines. The gameplay was fantastic, although if we’re being brutally honest, the story and dialogue were properly childlike, the balance was all over the place and the unlockables were a real pain.

Advance Wars 2 fixed all of these issues and presents a sequel that, remarkably, is even better than the first game. The main Campaign takes you around the four allied countries this time, so you’ll get to give nearly every Commanding Officer a whirl. Whichever CO you pick possesses different passive powers, strengths, weaknesses and they have a load of interesting dialogue and flavour text, typical of Intelligent Systems games around that time – think Fire Emblem and Paper Mario.

Every CO can charge up a CO Power for even more advantage and options, and now they can throw out a Super CO Power as well. These tend to be pretty devastating and battle-altering, so much so that even I might be tempted to remain with the platoon if my commanding officer could throw a tsunami at the enemy every few days. Anyway, the choice of which Power to save up for adds greatly to the strategy and it’s a beautiful feeling when your plan all comes together and you finally get to steamroll your enemy.

The power is definitely starting to creep with this game, but it’s not one of those situations where everybody is overpowered and broken beyond belief (that would come later). Take things away from the Campaign, and indeed the unlockable Hard Campaign, and you can then challenge Maps in the War Room, or create some interesting new maps yourself in the editor.

You’ve got a VS Mode as well, where you can take on AI characters or your pals, and of course you can take turns by passing the GBA around, if you and your pals are still rolling around with Game Boy Advances in this day and age. If you really devote a bit of time to it, I reckon you could get hundreds of hours out of this game. I’d call Advance Wars 2 a timeless classic.

Finally, though you wouldn’t expect it, pretty much every music theme in the game is sensational. And that’s what a good war needs, you know, a good soundtrack. Vietnam had Creedence and The Rolling Stones. The Gulf War probably had Nirvana and Pearl Jam. The War in Iraq had the Jonas Brothers, I’m led to believe. So what will World War 3 have, I wonder? BTS and other KPop…?

2 September 2022

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