We all know that war is hell. It tears families apart, pits brother against brother, and is sometimes a means for power mongering world leaders to fulfill their own agendas. Somehow, Nintendo has found a way to make war…cute? That’s the first impression I got when I sat down and played Battalion Wars which you could consider the love child of Pikmin, Cannon Fodder, and is eerily reminiscent of General Chaos on the Genesis – for those of you who actually remember the latter games. The result is an enjoyable, yet frustrating hybrid of real time strategy and action amidst some pretty intense firefights with a sense of humor to boot.
Battalion Wars is a quasi-sequel to Kuju’s Advance Wars series of games which helps speak for the strategy elements that are at work here. You play the part of a faceless commander serving in the haggard army of the Western Frontier who have been at odds with the neighboring Tundran army for years and have fought to a stalemate. You spend the beginning portion of the game fighting the evil Tundrans only to find that once you get the upper hand, there’s a greater evil in the Xylvanian army that’s ready to swoop in and take both countries out. Desperate and outnumbered, the Western Frontier and the Tundrans form an alliance against the advancing Xylvanian threat. It’s a case of names being changed to protect the identity of the innocent in the case of the fictional countries you’ll be doing battle against. The Tundrans don red uniforms and speak with Russian accents and at one point you’ll find your platoon in the middle of an intense beach assault during an invasion of Xylvania who all refer to your soldiers as “inferior specimens”. Feel free to draw your own conclusions on that one.
For any given mission you’ll be given command of a variety of soldiers such as riflemen, flame vets, tanks, recon vehicles, commandos, and planes. You’ll be able to control any one of your units at any time and offer commands to others by locking onto enemies with the L trigger, selecting a unit with the C-stick, and hitting Y to give a command to attack. You can also have units stay in one area or follow you by hitting the X button. Commanding units is easy to pick up and makes great use of controlling your squad with a seven-button controller. There are some drawbacks, however, since targeting is pretty spotty and a lot of times you’ll target one of your own guys before targeting an advancing enemy. The targeting in general just feels broken at times. In later missions quick targeting and issuing of commands is important and the hit and miss targeting system tends to really get in the way given the timed mission objectives and smart enemy AI. Enemies will duck behind cover and attempt to flank you any chance they get. You’ll also get into certain situations where you’ll have bombers flying overhead to thin out your numbers while you deal with ground forces. After playing a few missions you’ll know which units are best used a as a counter against enemy forces and be able to switch between them quickly. Your allies are also pretty smart and do a great job of fending for themselves. Running and gunning will tend to get you in trouble, luckily you have a map that plots out the lay of the land and what kind of enemy forces lie ahead which really helps in terms of strategizing.
Battalion Wars manages to serve up some pretty memorable moments and really intense situations. You’ll find yourself surrounded by tanks and mortars while attempting to survive long enough for air support to arrive. You’ll also get involved in some pretty hairy dogfights and bombing runs which may take a couple of tries but end up being pretty fun, given that your targeting is working in your favor. Mission objectives are pretty run-of-the mill and consist of taking out a number of large targets or staving off enemy invasions. You’ll quickly learn that strategy, unit placement, and keeping your guys alive are key in accomplishing your primary and secondary goals.
It’s easy for Battalion Wars to earn a reputation for being just another cutesy Gamecube game if you judge by visuals alone. Every unit and commander have some very over exaggerated features making them look more like cartoons than actual living, breathing people which helps to take an edge off of all the death that’s going on. The main characters, namely the generals that you’re taking orders from and go up against really epitomize the over exaggerated look like the red faced general of the Western Frontier who resembles a bulbous walking thumb with a thimble on top. Depictions of blood and gore are nonexistent when soldiers are being shot and killed and will instead spew red stars and skulls. Sure, it’s not Conker, but it fits in with the visual style of the game.
You’ll find an insane amount of characters and vehicles onscreen during some of the more intense firefights without a hint of slowdown. There are also a healthy dose of explosions and planes falling out of the sky for those who crave destruction.
The game’s sound compliments the visual presentation very well. All of your soldiers sound like munchkins and both friendly and enemy generals sound right for their parts. What got me is how Brigadier Betty always managed to sound happy and chipper despite the fact I had just failed a mission. Small gripes aside, each general’s voice compliments their look well. The aforementioned general Herman (aka “thumb”) sounds as grizzly as he looks while the Xylvanians all look and sound like vampires save for a rather large general who aspires to become “governator” once the war is over.
The game’s soundtrack consists of epic scores that fit right in with the general war theme and doesn’t get too overpowering when in the midst of battle. Both gunfire and explosions sound a little subdued which is heartbreaking given the mount of action that’s going on. Putting a lot more punch behind the weapons would have made them that much better, especially when you’re behind the wheel of a tank or mortar.
If targeting weren’t so important and in turn broken, Battalion Wars would be an excellent game. Unfortunately, when an important component doesn’t work like it should it only makes the game seem more frustrating than fun. Granted, there are some very memorable moments that will make your palms sweat every time you play them and you’ll constantly find yourself completing an objective just in the nick of time, which really adds to the suspense and thrill. I suppose you can say that Battalion Wars is equal parts frustrating and exciting. Fans of strategy and action will eat this one up, while anyone else might want to rent it first. You never know, I could just suck when it comes to targeting, but I doubt it.
- Brad Hicks (Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media