Advance Wars hit the Game Boy Advance over a decade ago, but the many clones on the App Store testify to its enduring popularity. The clones usually offer a twist or two on the original’s formula, and Front Wars has staked out its territory with a World War II theme. But is the Greatest Generation enough to make the game stand out for the Nintendo Generation?
There’s nothing surprising about the gameplay. You start each mission with an assortment of units and bases that can build more units. You’ll spend a lot of time with infantry and tanks, but there are also fighters, bombers, and ships to play with. Despite the theme, your troops look a lot more like their Advance Wars counterparts than historical U.S. and German armies. You also don’t get to play with the jeep unless you like the game on Facebook, which is a little off-putting.
Each turn, you’ll maneuver your units and blow up enemies. If you eliminate all the enemy soldiers or take over the enemy’s headquarters, you win. The strategy is light, but the game is accessible and fun.
The campaign missions are well-chosen. Each battle is a loose re-enactment of a historical battle from the Allied invasion of Europe. The geography isn’t precise– Paris looks like an clump of cities with a road around it– but you get a sense of the terrain that the real commanders were dealing with. Half the fun of wargames is in learning a little history along the way, and Front Wars should be commended for trying to teach it.
Not everything the game tries is successful, though. The text describing the battles is sloppy, rife with errors in spelling and grammar. The enemy AI is weak and easy to beat. (The game has multiplayer maps if you want more of a challenge, but the community of players is still very small. There’s also a pass and play option, if you have an opponent within reach.)
Then there are the technical issues. The units have a simple interface– tap the unit, tap where it goes, tap what it shoots at– and should be easy to control. However, the game is finicky about what inputs it will accept. It sometimes refuses to recognize taps on legal destinations, which is frustrating when you’re trying to move into an enemy headquarters, or when the game will only let you move a unit to the right.
Front Wars also crashes a lot on older devices. That’s bad enough, but the game almost never recovers its state properly. It remembers where you were and replays the last few moments of the battle before the crash, but then it gets confused about whose turn it is, locking you out of controlling your units. After that, the only thing you can do is restart the scenario from the beginning, preferably on a more recent device.
What’s frustrating about these problems is that there’s a good game here. It’s not an original game, but it has an attractive theme and is fun to play. It’s a solid game that should be making up for its lack of originality by being polished and robust.
Front Wars doesn’t live up to that expectation. It has a lot of potential, and Advance Wars players may enjoy it in its current state. But it needs more work from its developers before it can declare victory in Europe.