Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp (Nintendo Switch, £49.99) *****
Dead Island 2 (PlayStation, Xbox, PC, £59.99) ***
Whoever said ‘war is hell’ clearly hadn’t played Advance Wars. Turns out war is persecuted by wide-eyed anime characters, fighting for nations like Orange Star and Blue Moon, and all the tanks and planes have rounded corners and are almost… cuddly?
Hmm. In reality, the mixing of warfare and Saturday morning cartoons in Advance Wars takes some getting used to – especially since some of the characters appear to be teenagers, howling yikes and zoinks at enemy bombing.
But once you get used to it, you discover one of the best strategy games ever made.
Coincidentally, I got used to Advance Wars about 20 years ago – when it was originally released and became one of my all-time favorites.
Whoever said ‘war is hell’ clearly hadn’t played Advance Wars. Turns out war is persecuted by wide-eyed anime characters
This is a game that gives you simple ingredients and trusts you to find the hidden complexities that result from mixing them
This Nintendo Switch release is an updated version of the first two games in the series, with better graphics and smoother gameplay, as well as some new additions.
My fear, prior to this new release, was that the old brilliance of Advance Wars would have been dimmed by other, newer games that also involve moving small soldiers around maps, such as the recent Fire Emblems or Into the Breach.
But I needn’t have worried. Advance Wars is certainly simpler than those other titles, but its straightforwardness is perhaps its strongest point.
This is a game that gives you simple ingredients: small cards carved by rivers and mountains; a limited roster of combatants of varying abilities; the occasional special power – and trusts you to find the hidden complexities that come from mixing them.
Besides, the new additions – including online play and a tool to create your own cards – promise to extend the life of Advance Wars well into the future, where it will compete with even newer strategy games and perhaps even prevail. Because, in this war, colorful cartoon teens are as fierce as they come.
I thought the only thing dead about Dead Island 2 would be the game itself. Dead on arrival.
After all, this sequel to a frustratingly sloppy zombie slayin’ game from 12 years ago was first announced in 2015 and has since endured numerous delays and revisions. Meanwhile, the world is over her zombie crush. The kids now like ghosts or Timothée Chalamet or whatever.
It’s a pleasure just wandering through Dead Island 2’s locations and trying to pry open their locked doors and their secrets – when you’re not decapitating zombies
But I was wrong. There’s some life to this sequel, especially in the first few hours.
The move from the fictional island, Banoi, to the, er, non-fictional (and also non-island) Los Angeles helps.
Dead Island 2 enjoys its surroundings, taking you from beautifully detailed mansions to movie studios to beaches and beyond.
It’s a joy to just wander around these locations and try to pry open their locked doors and their secrets – that is, if you’re not decapitating zombies.
And that’s a lot: decapitating, crushing, electrocuting and otherwise damaging zombies. In the spirit of, say, George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead, this is a horribly gory ride, but a fun one too. The irreverent tone helped dispel my usual prudishness, as did the overall slickness of his mostly hand-to-hand combat.
Sadly, though, it doesn’t take long for the game to start to exhaust its ideas and feel a bit similar.
Another mission to get another thing for another crazy LAer. More banter, more gore, more zombies. They call them the living dead because they are half alive, half dead. The same goes for Dead Island 2.