Have you ever stopped whatever you’re doing and said to yourself, “My God, it’s been eight years since we last saw an Advance Wars game?” If not, make a point of doing so in the near future, because it’s kind of a mind-blowing realization.
Throughout the lifespan of the Game Boy Advance and the Nintendo DS, we came to count on a steady trickle of military-oriented turn-based strategy games from Intelligent Systems. The Nintendo 3DS, on the other hand, has been dominated by Intelligent Systems’ other strategy darling, Fire Emblem.
That’s fine. In fact, it’s great. The Fire Emblem series is amazing, and the latest installments are stellar. At the same time, some of us are pining for military might in lieu of sword-and-sorcery, and disposable, nameless units in lieu of heroic names and faces.
There’s no Advance War title on the horizon, however, so I can confidently offer a mobile alternative from Risky Lab called Warbits. It looks like an early Advance War title, it plays like one, and it even has the same dry sense of humor. The price is certainly right, too.
Unlike Advance Wars, no humans are harmed in the warring of Warbits. The game takes place in a future that’s already been ravaged at least once by warfare, leading the world’s denizens to settle their differences in virtual combat. Nobody gets hurt except for on-screen simulations (and maybe some hurt feelings as a result of the trash-talking).
Warbits has a single-player campaign as well as an online and local asynchronous multiplayer option. Both gameplay modes put you in command of a large stable of mechanized soldiers and war machines. You orchestrate the actions of infantry, gunships, carriers, ballistas, and tons more. There’s really an impressive range of weaponry to toy with here.
Your goal varies from stage-to-stage, though the objective usually revolves around wiping out your enemy’s troops and / or capturing their headquarters. As with Advance Wars, you can capture neutral cities in order to generate money, which goes back into manufacturing troops and vehicles via the factories scattered across some maps.
Simply throwing money at the war won’t give you any easy victories, though. You need to formulate strategies by using the terrain to your advantage. Forests and towns afford your troops some protection from enemy attacks, for example, and some soldiers, like Rangers, gain a distance boost if they’re stationed on mountains. On the flipside, boggy ground leaves your troops vulnerable.
You need to make smart choices when manufacturing weapons, too. A bomber can travel crazy distances and nuke everything in its path, but one shot from an anti-aircraft gun is all it takes to ground it.
All this building, capturing, manufacturing, and marching (sometimes combined with good ol’ vision-stifling Fog of War) means Warbits’ campaigns can get very lengthy, sometimes spanning several in-game days. Tough fights are like a digital tug-of-war, where your foes creep up on you, you beat them back, and so on. In other words, despite its use of robots and other futuristic tech, playing a campaign in Warbits isn’t unlike muddling through an actual battle in an actual war.
But nobody actually dies, so that’s nice.
Warbits is one heck of a strategy game, though it has a couple of issues. First, it’d be nice to be able to preview the distance enemy troops can travel by tapping on the appropriate unit. Second, it’s hard to remember the strengths and weaknesses of each troop and vehicle type. You receive a breakdown whenever you visit a factory, but that’s a bit of a hassle — and not every level includes a factory you can use.
At least there’s a remedy to the second problem: Warbits’ excellently retro online manual. Go on and scratch that nostalgia itch.
Intelligent Systems will probably give us another Advance Wars game. One day. Someday. For now, Warbits is a very satisfactory replacement.