This battlefield smells familiar

War. War never changes. Well, except for humanity’s new tendency to play our little battle games on a digital plane instead of with real guns and soldiers. That’s a change, and a pretty relieving one at that.

Front Wars by Gregory Challant is one such example of a war simulation. It actually looks and plays almost identically to Famicom Wars / Advance Wars, a Nintendo series that hasn’t seen an update in quite some time (the studio behind the series, Intelligent Systems, has been hard at work on alternative war / strategy games like the excellent Fire Emblem: Awakening for the Nintendo 3DS).

Front Wars

While Front Wars is nowhere near as polished as even the earliest Advance Wars titles, there’s still quite a bit to like here – provided you’re not bothered by Challant’s, er, “flattery” of Intelligent Systems’ work.

There is one major difference between Front Wars and Advance Wars, however: Whereas the latter is based off fantasy scenarios and made-up wars, Front Wars lets you play through prominent battles that defined the Second World War. You literally send cute, large-headed soldiers to their deaths on the shores of Normandy. It’s bizarre.

Despite its heavy story material, marching to victory in Front Wars isn’t too complicated. You and the enemy (Axis scum!!) take turns moving across several battlefields. Both sides have access to an array of soldiers and vehicles. Soldiers wield machine guns and bazookas. Tanks decimate infantry and move quickly. Bomber planes can flatten tanks and other heavy artillery, but are susceptible to fire from anti-aircraft canons. Everyone and everything that fights for you and against you has a strength and a weakness.

Front Wars

Herein lies a flaw with Front Wars: It’s difficult to keep this order of strengths and weaknesses clear in your head. The only way to get detailed information on the game’s Rock-Paper-Scissors system is to read up on the soldiers and vehicles in the factories and barracks before you build or deploy them. Granted, you’re offered a vague damage percentage estimate before you unleash an attack on an enemy, but it’s nowhere near as thorough as the on-the-spot predictions offered in Intelligent Systems’ games.

Front Wars‘ tutorial is also impotent. The basics of attack and movement are covered, but there’s little information about fighters’ weaknesses and strengths. Terrain advantages are also glossed over, even though it’s an important part of the game’s strategy: Mountains, towns, and forests all provide natural defenses that can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Front Wars

Sure, if you’ve played Advance Wars, you already know this stuff (maybe that’s what Challant is counting on?), but at least give newcomers the option to play through some tutorial stages. Especially since Front Wars is a good starter strategy game once you get the hang of it.

Front Wars is not perfect by any means. It’s derivative, its tutorial is lacking, and its translation is sub-par. But if you’re aching for a new Advance Wars experience, or if you’d just like to see its formula applied to a real-life war, you could do worse than hang with this shell-shocked soldier for a while.