Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising is the second iteration of a series of turn based strategy games developed by Intelligent Systems and Nintendo for the Game Boy Advance. Though the series has been around for years in Japan (since the original NES, called Famicom Wars) we first got them in portable form on the GBA. In Advance Wars 2, Wars World is made up of several \'Lands\', as well as several continents, with one or more nations on each. The friendly nations are Orange Star, Blue Moon, Yellow Comet, and Green Earth. The army called Black Hole is set to invade Macro Land, where we and our friends are, and it\'s up to us and the friendly nations to stop it!

What are the basics of Advance Wars 2?

Advance Wars 2 is a turn based strategy game where you are a Commanding Officer (CO) who is in charge of directing your troops. The troops you can command are many and varied. They are broken up into four basic types. There are Infantry, Ground, Air, and Naval units. There are also transport units. The map that you move them on is laid out in a grid-like pattern. Each character can move in a certain range of square blocks. Some units can also fire at a range. The terrain is fairly well varied. The maps have a lot of different things around. On land, there are roads, grass, forests, mountains, and rivers. Among ground units, only infantry can climb up mountains or cross through rivers. There is also the sea which only boats can travel in, though air units can fly over it as well. The sea also has reefs occasionally. Air units are not restricted on what terrain they can travel over, except that you can\'t fly over pipes, which a few maps have in them. Other than the terrain, maps also have various kinds of buildings. Each map has two or more HQs, which is where the headquarters for each army is. If these are ever captured, that army is automatically defeated. There are also cities which you can capture that help you to gather funds; each city you control offers you $1000 per day to spend on your army. There are also bases to capture, each of which allows you to deploy any ground troop that you have enough money to purchase. There are also ports and airports, which allow you to deploy all navy or air units, respectively. Some maps feature fog of war, which is handled a bit differently than some strategy games. In this game, you can normally see the whole map at any time, but on fog of war maps, you can only see the areas that any of your units or buildings have the visibility to see at that time. Just because you may have been to a place in the past, it does not mean you know what is going on now! Also certain terrain, like forests and reefs, can hide units from anyone\'s visibility unless a friendly unit is standing right next to them. Needless to say, indirect fire units can be quite nasty when well hidden in a dense forest! Of the units, the Infantry type units are the simplest, and consist of a standard Infantry unit, and the Mech units. Infantry units can move 3 spaces, while the Mechs can only move 2. However, Mech units have a rocket launcher that can do substantial damage to many of the weaker tank units, and can withstand a bit more damage. Both types are the only units that can capture any type of property. Capturing cities is not only useful because of the aforementioned cash flow, but it also offers you another place to heal your ground units. They recover at the rate of two units per day if sitting on an appropriate friendly property. Capturing bases not only allows you to deploy more ground troops, but taking a base from the enemy can be an excellent defensive mechanism as well. The same goes for ports and airports. And, of course, you can win maps by capturing the enemy HQ. Infantry units are pretty important, especially early on in any map. The Ground units are the most common and versatile. Ground units, or vehicles, can be broken up into two groups: direct and indirect fire units. Direct fire units attack someone who is right next to them when they arrive at their destination. They can move and attack in the same turn, though it has to be in that order. These include Recons, various kinds of Tanks, and Anti-Air vehicles. There is also the APC, which can transport one infantry unit to a farther part of the map much more quickly. They can also supply ammunition and fuel to any ground unit that needs it. Indirect fire vehicles are slow, and can only fire on turns in which they did not move. They also cannot counterattack against any unit. However, any targeted unit caught within its range is in for significant damage. And being at range, they cannot be attacked on counterattack, either. These consist of artillery, which can move quickly but has a small range, rockets, which move more slowly over terrain but have a large range, and missiles which can knock any air units out of the sky at a large range. Though it\'s not quite as simple to be effective with indirect fire units, it can be very rewarding when used properly. Naval units are a bit different. Though they can only move on water, the battleship is by far the most powerful indirect fire unit in the game, with its unparalleled range and damage potential. The cruiser is a weird unit, in that it can only target air units and submarines, but is quite effective in attacking them. It can also carry a helicopter, which I have to admit I have rarely seen used. The lander is the most powerful transport unit in the game, as it can transport any two ground units, ranging from infantry to the largest of tanks. They can also land on any shallow shore. Submarines are only effective against other naval units, but they can submerge to make them difficult to find or attack. They also are very useful on certain fog of war maps, since they have a good visibility. Air units are generally the most powerful, but even they have to be used properly. There are both copter and plane types. Copters include the transport copter and the battle copter. The transport is very useful, as it has the incredible range and maneuverability of a flying unit. As air units ignore the terrain, this can move infantry very far very quickly. Battle copters are great because they are fairly inexpensive, can attack all tanks and infantry at an advantage, and can attack other copters as well. They can be attacked by tanks, but it does a lot less damage to them. As you might expect, they, like all air units, die quickly from anti-air units. Plane units are probably the most powerful direct fire units in the game. Bombers are bar none the best unit to attack all other non-air units. Though they take their fair share of damage from anti-air units, they cannot be counterattacked, or even attacked, by anything else. They also have excellent movement range and do incredible damage. The fighter is not as useful since it can only attack other air units, but it\'s the only air unit that can attack a bomber (copters cannot hit planes) or other fighters, and it certainly does it well. It also has the best movement range of any unit in the game. Each turn the CO (you) will build units, move, attack, and capture property as necessary. After you take your turn, you watch your opponent take his, and so on, back and forth. The computer AI is fairly quick, and can definitely be quite a challenge. It\'s not that you can\'t outsmart them, but it\'s definitely no slouch. As you attack and get attacked, each CO builds up a Power meter. At a certain level, you can choose to execute your CO Power, or when you have filled the meter, your Super Power. Each of the different COs, in addition to their inherent abilities which often include certain bonuses or weaknesses, have different Powers and Super Powers. These can often have a drastic and tide-turning effect on the battle. They add a fun additional strategy element to it all.

What are the graphics like?

This game is about strategy, not graphics. Nevertheless, it\'s a very polished product. A large majority of the graphics and effects are 2D in nature. There are some small mode 7 effects here and there, but that\'s almost exclusively in the menus and such. The maps take place in a very simple 2D overhead view. You command your units by \'clicking\' on them and telling them where to move, and they move about on the map. Battle graphics are not in any sense action sequences; you simply see the screen divided into two halves, and a simple animation of one side attacking the other. There is no \'violence\' other than the look of a missile being launched from one side of the screen to the other. They are very simple, but stylish. I never got sick of the simple animations, even if they were repeated over and over as my tanks attacked the enemy. They perhaps could have tried to make the graphics kind of cutting edge with mode 7 effects everywhere and all that, but honestly it\'s just not needed. It\'s simple, stylish, and I like it. It works.

How is the sound?

The sound effects and music are excellently well done. It is all very simple - like the graphics - but superbly done nonetheless. There is consistent theme music that denotes each army and CO. During battle you will find that whoever you are playing as casts a \'style\' over the map simply by the tunes you are grooving to as you\'re playing. A few can sometimes be a little repetitive, but most are quite catchy. The sound effects have just the punch you would expect a machine gun or rocket launch to have. Really, I cannot complain here, either. This game simply has style and polish written all over it, and audibly is no exception.

What about longevity and multiplayer?

If there is a running theme in this review, it has to be the incredible completeness and polish to this overall package. Multiplayer is most definitely not an exception here, nor is it an afterthought. It\'s obvious the designers intended you to enjoy this purchase long after completing the single player campaign. Not only is there a single player War Room with thirty maps to play in in addition to the campaign, but there is also Versus play where you, and up to three other players, which can be human or computer, can play at least one hundred different skirmishes. Being able to play a multiplayer game by passing around the Game Boy Advance, especially on a Game Boy Player, is really excellent. You can also create your own maps and customize the colors of your COs in the Design Room. You can have three different maps saved at a time on one cartridge. If you link up via the Game Boy Advance link cable, you can also trade any maps you create. This game also supports single-pak and multi-pak multiplayer gameplay, in addition to the single Game Boy multiplayer already mentioned. It\'s really incredible how much the game designers put into this game. You definitely feel like you get your money\'s worth when you consider how much there really is to do here.

How appropriate is this game for Christians?

This game features war, so naturally there is some form of killing. There is no animation that suggests anything more than people being knocked off the screen or \'blown up\' in a non-gory way. One character exposes her midriff with a t-shirt that\'s too short. No one is otherwise dressed inappropriately. There is no bad language that I can remember. In the intro, the \'good\' characters lament that they are going to have to fight again, and that war is serious, even if they do it in a light-hearted way.

Overall & Conclusion

Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising is an excellent strategy for the Game Boy Advance, and an excellent game, handheld or not. If you like turn-based strategy, this game is definitely for you. Unless you have a Nintendo DS and are considering the sequel Advance Wars: Dual Strike, I would pick this up without hesitation.

Final Ratings

Appropriateness Score: Violence 7/10 Language 10/10 Sexual Content/Nudity 9/10 Occult/Supernatural 10/10 Cultural/Moral/Ethical 10/10 Appropriateness Total: 46/50 Game Score: Game Play 19/20 Graphics 8/10 Sound/Music 9/10 Stability/Polish 5/5 Controls/Interface 5/5 Game Score Total: 46/50

Overall: 92/100

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