It's been six years since we've seen an Advance Wars game, which is a damn shame. As any Nintendo devotee will tell you, it's one of the finest strategy games you can play. There's one thing that makes this delay between games bearable, and it's the release of the original Advance Wars on the Virtual Console. In fact, said port only serves to prove how fantastic the series really is. Now, this is going to shock you and perhaps even send you to a mirror, searching for grey hairs, but the original Advance Wars is now 13 years old (It's almost old enough to start high school!) Yet, despite its entry into adolescence, it doesn't feel dated when re-experiencing it on a Wii U. Advance Wars looks, sounds and plays just as wonderfully as it did all those years ago. I think a large part of this is owed to the use of sprite-based graphics and chiptunes. When you look at retro games, the ones that hold up the best are from the Genesis and SNES era; that's when developers started using incredibly elaborate sprites. Retro games only started looking dated during the fifth generation, when we finally entered the realm of 3D gaming. It isn't that those games look bad, but you can't help but compare those blocky attempts to the beautifully slick characters from the seventh and eighth generations. Instead of appreciating, we look back and can't believe 3D looked that bad. That doesn't happen with sprite-based games, because the artristry is better and we're even seeing a resurgence in retro-styled games from independent developers.
Which means Advance Wars ends up looking fantastic, because it features absolutely gorgeous, sprite-based characters. From the smallest of units to the commanding officer portraits, it just looks good. Even the shading is well done, giving the smallest of units a sense of depth. The COs have active poses and movements, as well as detailed facial expressions, and the color palettes pop. The same can be said for the music. Advance Wars relies on Chiptunes, a genre that has only grown in popularity as the nostalgia factor increases. These beeps and boops grow better as we age, because hearing them triggers familiar memories of our original joy in playing these games. Though simple, they're just as effective as the orchestral tones in our next gen consoles. Yet, the main reason Advance Wars still succeeds is because of the gameplay. While each commanding officer has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, players rise and fall based on their own ingenuity. A map may have an obvious solution, but an array of strategies can be employed and part of the joy of the game is going back and seeing what you can accomplish if you impose certain rules or restrictions upon yourself.
As someone gets further in Advance Wars, even just surviving makes the experience more enjoyable. Whether it's replaying the story mode, or going into multiplayer and attempting to best a friend, this is a game that has always pushed its players. Whatever you're capable of, you can probably do more and it's only through replaying and experimentation that one can learn to do extraordinary things. Though, I personally love Advance Wars most because of the characters. This could have just been a generic strategy game. It's the personalities of these commanding officers, built up through the first two games, that makes the affair more enjoyable. Behind that colorful and lighthearted exterior, there is a real threat and the way the characters interact with one another is as entertaining now as it was when I was... well... let's not talk about how old I was when I first played. Simply put, Advance Wars is an extraordinary game, and was the start of an amazing series. It's fantastic that it's become more widely available again, thanks to its addition to the Wii U Virtual Console ranks. I can only hope the series' drought will end and we will see a 3DS installment soon.