Despite being released in conjunction with the Nintendogs juggernaut, Advance Wars Dual Strike could not be more different. While the stunningly rendered puppies in Nintendogs are best petted and played with in small doses, Advance Wars Dual Strike will easily steal hours of your life despite featuring graphics that can charitably be described as functional. The one thing they have in common is that both offer top notch entertainment and unreservedly deserve a place in your collection.
Taking control of Commanding Officers (COs) from the Allied Nations, you'll pit your wits, tanks, soldiers and aircraft against the forces of the ludicrously evil Black Hole Army. You'll start each battle with your headquarters, a few troops and a small amount of cash. From here on, you and your opponent take turns buying or moving units, engaging in combat or capturing buildings. While this might sound simplistic and repetitive, the nuance and depth of gameplay means that each battle is a hair-raising affair as you constantly concoct plans and attempt to execute them.
The range of units covers land, air and sea, and includes infantry, tanks, recon vehicles, artillery units, rocket and missile launchers, planes, helicopters, submarines, battle ships and weapons of mass destruction. Each unit has a limited movement, vision and firing range, capped ammunition and cost. Add in the individual special powers of your two commanding officers, the effect of different terrain types on your troops and multiple battle fronts and you've got one complicated game.
Like an intricate game of rock-paper-scissors, each battle is a game of compromise. Should you concentrate on building your air force and risk a ground force attack supported by anti-air artillery? Or perhaps you'll decide to attack from afar with your navy battleships. But what if your opponent has a fleet of submarines lurking below the water? Alternatively, you might concentrate on defense, gather up your forces and hope that they don't have any satellite missiles.
In single player, the plot is reasonably engaging, the story picking up not long the battles chronicled in the Advanced Wars 2. After defeating the Black Hole army in Macro Land, our heroes discover that their enemies have launched a massive invasion of Omega Land. The real beauty of the single player campaign is that it is a marvelously paced introduction to the combat mechanics. New units and functionality are introduced just as you are starting to feel comfortable.
After these first dozen introductory wars, however, you'll find the difficulty steadily increases. Battles are generally tough but fair, and while you might taste defeat initially, reevaluating your tactics and trying something new should help you taste sweet, sweet victory on one of your next attempts. It might be churlish to complain, but it is possible to make a mistake early in a battle that is so difficult to recover from that you are forced to restart the mission.
For those that master the single player campaign, Advance Wars Dual Strike also features wireless multi player battles with one game card supporting up to eight players. Also adding replay value is the survival mode, which challenges you to clear a series of maps with only a limited supply of funds, turns or within a certain time limit. Finally, there is the Combat mode, a real time action game that plays almost identically to the classic Tank Battle games on the original Nintendo Entertainment System.
Graphically, Advance Wars Dual Strike is merely functional. The sprites are clear and the COs are rendered in an appealing anime style. The music accompanying the battles is reminiscent of the score to an epic war movie - as imagined by the creators of a cute moustache wearing Italian plumber that head butts bricks for a living.
While the game is playable using the touch screen to select and direct troops, it is generally easier to use the directional pad and buttons to play. Battles occasionally sprawl across both screens, but if you're looking for a game that shows off the unique capabilities of your DS, you're much better off purchasing Wario Ware or Project Rub.
Overall, Advance Wars Dual Strike is a deep, engaging game that will appeal to anyone even remotely interested in strategy games. Despite lacking the immediate appeal of other DS titles, Advance War Dual Strike is indisputably one of the most entertaining, and best value game on the system.