Before the Fire Emblem games claimed the crown as Nintendo’s premier turn-based strategy game, there was Advance Wars. First released stateside at a calamitous moment — on Sept. 10, 2001 — Advance Wars was a continuation of a series born on Nintendo’s Famicom, but it seemed perfectly at home on the then-new Game Boy Advance. The lengthy, turn-based battles were ideal for the pick up, play, and pause nature of the GBA.
But Advance Wars fans haven’t seen a new entry in the series since 2008’s Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, a Nintendo DS game that took the cute, colorful combat of the series in a much darker direction.
Thanks to Shantae and River City Girls developer WayForward, a new generation of Nintendo fans have a chance to experience Advance Wars in a sleek, remade collection known (somewhat clumsily) as Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp. The Switch duology brings back the charming, cartoony roots of Advance Wars, and delivers the slickest versions of the first two GBA games.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is, like the more popular Fire Emblem games, composed of turn-based battles on grid-based maps, in which players build and command military units across land, sea, and air. Players strategically move infantry, tanks, planes, submarines, and battleships to take control of cities and factories, as part of an international conflict. Missions often play out like chess matches, where players (and their enemy) have a set number of units and shared goals: wipe out the opposing army, capture their main headquarters, or meet some other map-specific victory condition. Battles in Advance Wars are slow and methodical — but thanks to a number of variables to consider like terrain, fog of war, and the special abilities of commanding officers (COs), they are rarely dull or predictable.
Unlike some strategy games, there’s no frenzied resource gathering — cities give players funds each day to spend on new units, and factories and airports, when present on a map, offer reinforcements. Players instead need to be more mindful of striking distances, movement ranges, terrain advantages, and the strengths and weaknesses of individual units. For example, a tank is highly vulnerable to bomber planes, but those planes are vulnerable to anti-air units. Infantry can easily move through forests and mountains, and can capture structures, but they are no match for tanks or helicopters. Short-range units need to position themselves out of the firing range of artillery and rocket launchers. Submarines can be powerful stealth units, but the ability to dive underwater and out of sight means they eat up fuel. As you plunge further into Advance Wars’ battles, its strategic depth starts to show.
Further layering the game’s intricacies are the COs: cartoonish, archetypal characters that have passive strengths and weaknesses, and can unleash special abilities once they’ve charged them up. Re-Boot Camp introduces each CO at a comfortable pace, starting with Andy and Max, an inexperienced young CO who can magically repair units, and a beefy, confident veteran who can give his units an attack boost, respectively. Enemy COs — who can be played in later missions and in the game’s Versus mode — have even more powerful abilities, like Olaf’s Blizzard, a snowstorm that inhibits movement, or Eagle’s Lightning Strike, which basically gives him two turns in one. Some of the abilities can feel overpowered or unbalanced, but Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is not particularly difficult; you can often limp your way to victory. There are two difficulty modes: the easy Casual setting and more challenging Classic setting, if you find your enemies to be pushovers. The game’s questionable AI certainly makes its share of lunkheaded mistakes, just like it did in the early 2000s.
WayForward and Nintendo have dramatically improved the look of the first two Advance Wars games, turning the battlefield into something resembling a tabletop war game, where action figures and brightly colored toys do battle, bloodlessly. There’s a disconnect, though, between the cel-shaded, pleasantly cartoonish COs and the plasticky toys they fight with. The animations that accompany COs unleashing their special powers, while nicely animated, slow down battles to an annoying degree. But the overall polish and presentation here is hard to fault; this is a very pretty update of two 20-year-old games, and the charming personalities of the game’s commanders have only improved.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is an expansive package. It includes two full story campaigns spread across dozens of missions (though only the first Advance Wars campaign is unlocked from the start), online multiplayer battles against friends, local multiplayer, and a War Room where players can play and replay individual scenarios. There’s even a custom map designer with a dead-simple set of tools for creating and sharing homemade battlefields. For newcomers, it’s a massive amount of content; for returning Advance Wars fans, it’s a highly polished way to replay dozens of familiar scenarios. Having played hundreds of hours of Advance Wars and Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising on lengthy commutes two decades ago, Re-Boot Camp felt like revisiting a classic remastered film — I knew all the moves, all the beats, but it was a comforting replay nonetheless.
The new Advance Wars, just like the original, arrives at a strange time. Nintendo appeared to recognize this last year when, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it delayed Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp indefinitely. But the toylike soldiers exaggeratedly stomping cities into submission and cartoon characters being wiped out by artillery fire feel disconnected from the real-world war that gave Nintendo pause in 2022. In other words, it’s less off-putting than one might think to have fun with an urban military wargame right now. If anything, the return of Advance Wars feels like a link to a simpler time, made better with age and reverence for a long-ignored, still-great franchise.
Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp will be released on April 21 on Nintendo Switch. The game was reviewed using a pre-release download code provided by Nintendo. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.