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Battalion Wars review

NGC rounds up the troops and heads into battle

Kuju have pulled it off. Against all our expectations, they've created a game that, while paying homage to a whole spectrum of different influences, nods sagely in the direction of Advance Wars and delivers something refreshingly new and unique.

It starts out feeling very much like an action game. The opening level gives you command of a solitary rifleman, and you learn the basics of movement and aiming. You can run, jump, lock on to nearby threats, roll left and right to avoid incoming fire and shoot using the A button.

As you progress, more riflemen, vehicles and infantry units get added to your army which, you'll discover, you can command individually or as a group using flicks of the C-stick. Tapping the X button toggles the simple 'stay or follow' command, while Y tells your team to attack whichever target you're currently locked on to.

The control system is very, very simple and wonderfully intuitive, and is the first of Kuju's many triumphs with Battalion Wars.

It’s a very convenient and considerate game. Anything that you want to do, any order you wish to execute, is rarely more than a couple of button presses away. It’s never unwieldy, it never confuses and you always feel in control.

Sure, things take some getting used to in the beginning, but because Kuju introduce you to concepts and strategies very slowly (such as which units to use in any given situation), you never feel overwhelmed and are able to take it all in your stride.

The learning curve is perfectly pitched, adding in layers of strategy piece by piece. Each and every level offers something new to get to grips with – a new kind of vehicle perhaps, or a new combination of adversaries to attack – and as soon as you’re introduced to a new problem, you’re instantly given a simple example to practice on.

Before you know it, you're well versed in the art of war, and fully equipped to take on the game's harsher trials.

And it's not easy. As we said, each mission is very different to the last, requiring different approaches and new strategies to overcome them. From the game's main map screen, you can access various continents, each with a handful of missions to attempt in the correct order.

The main objectives are themselves quite diverse, from simple locate-and-destroy missions to holding a fort, bombing runs and raiding enemy strongholds – all of which take place on a substantial expanse of battlefield.

From your starting position you have a primary objective and, often, a couple of secondary objectives to complete. These aren't always necessary but, in most cases, completing them proves to be very helpful. For example, freeing extra troops from a compound means you can call on them later in the game to deal with specific threats, such as airborne enemies.

Initially, it's tempting to adopt a more active, hands-on role on the battlefield, spraying bullets and circle strafing like a mad man, but as Wars progresses and the difficulty increases, you begin to realise the necessity of careful consideration in your skirmish-planning.

Just as in its GBA turn-based cousins, certain units will either work well or else be utterly useless against particular enemies. The key to victory, then, comes from pitching the correct unit types against each other.

The difference here is that you have to do it on the fly: you have to quickly ascertain which to send for in the charge, which to hold back, or, if you're feeling confident, whether to send the whole lot in and micro manage their movements and targets in the thick of the battle.

It's actually quite difficult at times. We found ourselves retrying, restarting (and downright failing) certain missions over and over, trying different approaches, strategies and combinations of units. However, and this is the crucial thing, thanks to the simple control scheme, this is rarely frustrating.

Watching your tactics unfold through the smoke and gunfire of a chaotic battle is immensely rewarding, as is thinking you've got the job done only to see more units come streaming over the brow of a hill, and then somehow still manage to scrape through by the skin of your teeth. It can be exhilarating, and also rather satisfying.

It's testament to Kuju's craft that they've succeeded on so many levels. Managing to pull off an action game with intense levels of excitement and, simultaneously, making a strategy game with this amount of depth, must have been quite the balancing act, but the execution in Battalion Wars is solid and confident.

The result is a game that delivers both action and strategy in equal measure, offering the player a great deal of choice. We'd wager that everyone will play the game in very different ways, with missions played out through different tactics from person to person, which – in our opinion – is the hallmark of something truly special.

We'll admit we were the first to cover our eyes in disgust when we saw that Kuju were taking this direction but, in all honesty, Battalion Wars is very much in keeping with the spirit of handheld games, despite forging a completely new path.

The presentation for example, is absolutely spot-on, from the stylised, almost toy-like tanks, to the unit icons and the kind of banter that goes back and forth between the COs. It retains that sense of fun, that whimsical humour and cheekiness which takes the edge off what is still a very serious and accomplished strategy game.

Everything from the extensive (and actually very good) voice work to the marvellous battlefields and detailed terrain exudes quality. The acute differences in the handling of all the different vehicles suggests a great deal of time spent balancing them, getting them just right.

Variations in maps, objectives and challenges also give away just how much effort has gone into the design of each and every mission.

When you're presented with something that's such an accomplished labour of love, it's very difficult not to recommend it, let alone be disappointed by it. This was a very pleasant surprise indeed and, we hope, the first of many in the future.

More Info

GenreStrategy
DescriptionYou'll be on the edge of your seat, but its squeaky-voiced troops and crap-ass targeting system harm an otherwise solid shooter.
PlatformGameCube
US censor ratingTeen
Release date19 September 2005 (US), (UK)