My Nintendo DS and I have had a very strange relationship over the years, and the Advance Wars series is largely to blame. I try to pick up titles for the system as often as I can, since it's great to have a portable system for those long rides home or boring days at the office, and generally the investment goes into RPGs or silly platform games. Titles that I pick up, beat, and then get thrown on the shelf almost never to be revisited. There is one exception to this rule however, and that exception is called Advance Wars. The series had me from the very beginning up until Days of Ruin, when it felt to me like the entire purpose of the game was completely lost upon the developers, which leaves Advance Wars: Dual Strike as (in my opinion) one of the best Turn Based Strategy games ever created; let alone one of the best games on the DS to date.
Its brilliance lies in its simplicity really, and though there are elements of Dual Strike which are a bit more unbalanced (Megatanks as a prime example) the game as a whole is pretty straightforward and easy to understand. Every unit in the game has a purpose even if it isn't a tank of some sort; from the infantry units being able to capture cities and capitals, to the lowly recon units that are extremely easy to kill but provide a much needed sight boost for Fog of War situations. There's very little guesswork involved in learning what a single unit is capable of, no complex math to memorize, and since the entire game is done in turns, combat is orchestrated more like a chess match than anything else.
The level design is also something I'll praise, because a strategy game with such basic combat elements would be absolutely nothing if not for the challenging maps. Choke points, base positioning and terrain types mean that players need to be very careful in choosing their units. Simply building the biggest, strongest tank available isn't enough to overcome the enemy (although it does help). Players need to use a pretty wide variety of units to overcome the enemy, but which units will be the right combo for the job is largely based off of what kind of map you're playing on.
This brings me to perhaps the best part of the Advance Wars series, the Commanding Officers (CO), each of whom bring a completely different style of gameplay to the field. Some increase ranged attacks while sacrificing attack power from tanks, while other characters focus on air assaults, naval battles, or just have general unit bonuses. Choosing a proper commanding officer will completely change how a match is handled, and the special meter attached to the CO's means that players must pay careful attention to how hard they hit the opponent let alone how hard they're being hit. A well timed CO Power will not only turn the tide of a battle for a single round, but could also mean being hit with a vicious counterattack in subsequent turns.
All this and more make the series so amazingly dear to me, and Advance Wars: Dual Strike is one of the few games that I consistently return to when I find myself looking for a DS game to play. A host of challenge modes in addition to the single player campaign means that players look forward to a pretty considerable time sink. Multiplayer is also a blast, and though being Turned Based Strategy makes the game a little slow paced, I always found the title to be a perfect match for anyone looking to game with friends while sitting down and having a chat.
So if you somehow missed out on this classic DS title, or simply avoided it because the concept didn't sound so neat at the time, I highly encourage picking up this gem of a game. Its charm, challenge, and timelessness make it an all time personal favourite. It's disappointing to know that there hasn't really been a title on the DS like it since (Days of Ruin was not really the same sort of game) but perhaps in the future they'll bring back the series to its more light-hearted roots. In the meantime, Advance Wars: Dual Strike will continue to be my DS' game of choice; at least until something better comes around.