Thunderbolt logo

Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising

After I graduated from high school, I spent the summer in Malaysia. It was my parent’s gift to me for completing the first leg of life’s race. I enjoyed every single minute of exploring a whole new place that some of the kids in American suburbia can’t even dream about. For those of you that are familiar with Southeast Asia, I’m willing to bet that you know about the monsoons that periodically fall into the heavily populated cites in the region. And during those sudden bursts of rainfall, I only had my GBA and a few games to tide me over until I could go outside again. I spent a good portion pf that downtime with Advance Wars, playing through the various battlefields and finishing a uniquely difficult strategy game. When I finally got back home to San Francisco, I was itching for another installment of my then favorite game. Eventually, my prayers were answered in the form of Black Hole Rising.

The battle for Orange Star is over. The war for War World is just beginning. You may have kicked Sturm’s mechanical arse the last time you met up with him, but he’s back to exact vengeance all of the heroic commanding officers that overthrew his last reign of terror. Luckily for the free world, all of Advance Wars’ characters reappear in full force. You’ve got Andy, Max, and Sami to reintroduce you to the field of combat. But not only do you get to command Orange Star’s famous lineup of officers, but plenty of others as well. Instead of fighting against you, all of the countries of War World have banded together to stop Sturm’s threat of another invasion. You’ve got everyone under your command, from Eagle and his God-like special abilities, to Grit’s all-powerful range of fire. But not only are your old favorite present and accounted for, each country has their own new recruit to add something different into the mix. But be warned though: Sturm isn’t taking all of you on by himself either. He’s got his own crew of baddies to bring the warfront right into the palm of your hand. It’s up to you to stop Sturm’s evil conquest once and for all!

For those of you that have played the first installment of the Advance Wars series, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the differences in this newest portable war. You’re still faced with countless battlefields strewn with friends and enemies waiting to take each other out. But instead of being limited to only three commanding officers, you’ll be traveling around the world, facing Sturm and his Black Hole Army on any and all fronts. You’re limited to only a few battles with the three original heroes Orange Star, then you move on to the Blue Moon army, then to Yellow Comet, and so forth. Instead of facing off against the wide array of commanding officers of the respective regions, you’re given complete control of their armies and their specific capabilities. Who doesn’t want to unleash some havoc with Eagle’s attack-twice power or Kanbei’s overwhelmingly powerful arsenal of troops, or even Olaf’s despicable snow power? It’s like that final battle of Advance Wars, just expanded throughout a whole game of dozens of missions.

Not only are we given a whole ensemble of commanding officers to choose from, but we’re also blessed with a wider arsenal of capabilities and weapons to dish out destruction. All of the officers have their standard powers, like Sonja’s ability to see through fog or Drake’s Tsunami attack. This time around, all of the officers come complete with Super CO Powers that add a whole new level of mass destruction. Of course, no war would be complete without state of the art technology. You can find the blueprints for the almighty Neo Tank or commandeer missile silos to blow up enemies from afar. In order to supplement all of these new features, many of the missions will revolve around more challenging objectives, like defeating a certain enemy in a limited amount of turns, or destroying an enemy pipeline or super weapon before it wreaks havoc on your forces. It’s these new additions that add so much to an already fun game.

Of course, not everything has changed. While you’ll be in command of the largest military conquest in GBA history, you’ll still feel wave after wave of deja vu if you’ve played through the first game. You’ve still got a limited amount of military force given to you per battle. It’s up to you to use these units, the landscape, and the your own cunning to come up with a battle strategy to save your behind from impending doom. If you’ve got only a small platoon of soldiers out in the open, what chance will they have against an onslaught of tanks or bombers? What about that patch of trees over there? Can it give you enough cover to last you even a single turn? Or what about the obviously unprotected enemy headquarters? Can you risk sending a team of specialists there to conquer it? Can your units even afford to move that far without giving up some tactical strength or fuel? All of these questions will swirl through your mind as you try to make sense of the bloodshed and chaos around you. It’s up to you to come up with a brilliant strategy to see your army through the bloody battles against the Black Hole Army.

Of course, the improvements don’t just lie with the commanding officers. Advance Wars 2 has been upgraded with both graphics and audio quality in mind. No longer do enemies blow up with a softened thud, but an enormous bang that shakes the battlefield and brightens up the screen in a brilliant flash of light. All of the unit animations have been updates, adding more detail and design to the original concepts. All of the different armies have their own unique style and look, so you’ll know full well who is friend and foe. The fighting enactments still come off as the same brief cut scene of opposing forces, but they too have been vastly improved from their originals. Even the soundtrack has been remixed, giving more emotional emphasis and creating a much prettier presentation of a battlefield drowned in the blood of your soldiers.

I love this series, dammit. It may not be the deepest or serious plot for a tactics game, but Black Hole rising still takes all of the elements of its predecessor and improves on them. For the fans of the series, chances are you’ve already picked this up. If you haven’t, do so immediately. This is one of the few times where a sequel overshadows its predecessor. Even though the Advance Wars series will be seeing some time on the Gamecube sometime in the future, Black Hole Rising is still a blessing of wonderful quality, floating in a sea of mediocre ports and lacking games. With tons of characters, plenty of additions to an already solid gameplay package, and an overall excellent presentation, look no further than this portable wartime goodness.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

Gentle persuasion

Think you can do better? Write for us.