War is a touchy subject these days -- you never know who you might offend -- and its for that reason that I tend not to be much a fan of war games. I kind of resent the fact that the deaths of countless brave young men has over and over again been made into a game that unintelligent prepubescent boys get such a high out of. Still, though, Nintendo's cartoonish shooter seemed to provide an interesting outlet for the popular war genre, so I decided to give it a spin.
Perhaps what appealed most to me about Battalion Wars initially was its graphical style. I liked that it was cartoony, and I liked that it obviously wasn't based on any actual events. Animations are smooth and run quite nicely, but are hyperbolically done and are actually quite funny. Your troops actually have quite interesting personalities, and the visual style does a surprisingly good job of reflecting that.
There are also a huge variety of environments in which you'll fight, and everyone is beautifully rendered, with exceptional attention to detail. Backgrounds are vibrant and colorful, and incredibly believable -- which is saying a lot for a game that has a very cartoon-inspired art style. The game overall looks great, and while it's by no means realistic, I consider Battalion Wars to sport among the best visuals on the GameCube in general.
Battalion Wars takes its inspiration from the popular Nintendo handheld series Advance Wars. And while there are a few similarities, such as the fact that you're still in control of an army, there are also a number of critical differences. First off is really the type of game that Battalion Wars is. While Advanced Wars is clearly a straight-up strategy game (and a damn good one, at that), Battalion Wars goes for a more real-time strategy game, with a good amount of exciting action thrown in.
Like the Advance Wars games, there are a ton of different units available for you to use in Battalion Wars. Of course, they're not all given to you at once; instead, the game will gradually get you used to using a variety of different units, including tons of tanks, planes, artillery, and infantry units. The sheer variety of units is absolutely incredible, and equally cool is that you can seamlessly switch back between a myriad of different units with Battalion War's (nearly) perfect control scheme.
See, unlike in Advance Wars, the action in Battalion Wars occurs in real time, so you're going to need to stay on top of your game. And luckily, the control scheme is tight enough for that to work pretty well, for the most part. Simply tapping the X button will tell your squad to either sit still or follow you (whichever they're not doing at the moment).
Additionally, the units are all divided up into types. So, all your small tanks are grouped, all your mortar infantry are grouped, and so on. All of these groups are shown at the bottom of the screen, and using the C-Stick, you can cycle through these groups. You can then issue individual groups specific orders. So, want one specific squad to advance and the rest to remain behind? No problem. Just highlight the unit group and hit X, and they'll follow behind.
But wait, there's more! In addition to being able to issue orders to specific groups of soldiers, you can even issue orders to single soldiers themselves. Just highlight the group, and then hit or down on the C-Stick to see a listing of all the soldiers in that group. So, want to split up a squad of anti-air men? It can be done easily, which really allows this game to be even better. Why? Because with tighter controls comes the promise of more intense, frantic action.
But before I get to that, there is a noticeable flaw to point out. If you've actually read through the last few paragraphs and found out what it takes to get a specific soldier to complete a specific task, there's one thing that you may have noticed by now: it is pretty complex just to highlight a specific soldier. It can take several seconds, and the game doesn't stop or slow down time while you select different soldiers. Also, there are going to be times where you're going to need to shell out a variety of orders to a variety of men, and quickly. Yes, you're going to get pretty quick at navigating the troops menu, but it can be a tad annoying. The developers did the best they could, and considering the overall complexity of the game, they actually did a pretty good job.
But beyond simply directing squads of soldiers in a beautifully rendered 3D environment, Battalion Wars actually gives you the ability to take control of individual units. The process is simple: go through the highlighting steps mentioned above; when you have highlighted a unit you want to take control of, just tap Z, and you see things from his boots.
That last bit is actually pretty important, because it brings up another problem with Battalion Wars. "See things from his boots"...Well, the problem here is rather straightforward: As levels progress, they get bigger and more complex. You're going to have to divide up your army, separate the different units and send them off to where they're most needed and most effective. And yet, you can only control one unit at a time. This is probably Battalion War's biggest fault, that it's hard to effectively strategize and direct troops when you don't have an overhead view. Still, though, as you play more of the game and become better at it, you'll eventually start getting used to the troublesome fact of having to constantly be switching back and forth between units to see exactly what's going on.
In addition to featuring relatively good control for the entire army, Battalion Wars also sports tight control for individual units that you'll take command of. Locking on is a simple and necessary task, as are firing and jumping (infantry men only!). There are a lot of infantry units, but there are also a number of vehicles. Each vehicle has its own very distinct feel; some are light, bouncy, fast, and hard to control, while some heavy-duty tanks are slow, unwieldy, yet possess huge firepower. There are also a few air units, which are quite fun to take control of. The sheer variety of the different members of your army make this game an absolute joy to play.
Holding all this together is a very cliched plot resembling a sort of Cold War set-up. Luckily, though, the game doesn't take itself very seriously, so this clear rip-off actually becomes rather humorous, as all these conventions that you'd expect to be present are hugely exaggerated. The plot feels sort of half-baked, and in all honesty, it's probably just there so critics don't nag on the game for having no story. Still, the characters, while one-dimensionally, are hilarious (one in particular, Brigadier Betty, may actually drive you insane), and overall make the game a little less grave -- which, all things considered, is probably a good thing, at least for me.
The main campaign mode of Battalion Wars will take a decent amount of time to complete, which is nice. The slight disappointment, though, is that there's not much reason to play it again, except for those completionists out there. Each mission that you complete is ranked from C to S, taking into consideration your strength, speed, and strategy employed for each mission. It's always fun to go back and try and perfect a level. Additionally, developer Kuju brilliantly decided to add some new content depending on how well you perform; the addition of new levels is definitely a motivation to get better at this game and spend more time playing it.
All told, Battalion Wars is a deceptively good game. From the outside, it may seem somewhat childish and simple. But once you give the game a chance and allow yourself to really get into it, you'll discover an incredibly complex command system, beautifully and expertly combining intense, real time action with some very deep strategy aspects as well. If you're looking for a great GameCube game, or just are looking for an exciting, challenging title, then pick this title up -- especially considering that it can be found in many stores' bargain bins.
If you have a wii, Battalion Wars 2 is definitely worth looking at.
This review can also be found on other websites (see my profile for details)