Gameplay in Advance Wars: Dual Strike sticks very close to the previous Advance Wars installments for the GameBoy Advance.
Advance Wars is a turn-based game. Each round, players buy troops, takeover cities, and move to crush their enemies. Depending on the map, units may be pre-deployed, purchased by the player from factories, or both. The fighting forces cover all major forms of combat--land, sea, and air--and all players share the same set of units (though not necessarily EQUAL units). Purchasing units requires funds which are gained at the beginning of every turn from capturing cities on the map.
If you capture your opponent's headquarters or destroy all their units, you win!
A significant portion of Dual Strike's strategy derives from the rock-paper-scissors nature of the combat. Tanks have powerful cannons and heavy armor, making them great as anti-vehicle weapons, but they can't shoot down bombers; bombers can lay waste to anything on the ground, but they helpless against fighter jets. This pattern of hard counters between the dozens of units is a balancing act that players must handle skillfully in order to win.
Augmenting this counter system is terrain. Terrain effects, such as mountains or forests, may hinder or enhance line of sight on certain maps, allow players to ambush an opponent, or provide defensive bonuses.
Each unit gets 10 HP when deployed. When the unit takes damage, it loses combat effectiveness equivalent to the HP loss and blows up if it drops to 0. Identical troops can be combined to restore their power, but any HP past 10 is converted back to funds.
The game employs a first strike system where units who are ordered to attack will deal damage in succession, first the attackers then the defenders. This encourages offensive play because in a fight between two units of identical strength, particularly in aerial combat, the first unit to attack will more or less secure a victory in the overall conflict.
Dual Strike introduces new Commanding Officers, or "CO"s for short, as well as some familiar faces from previous games. COs are chosen before every battle, each with strengths and weaknesses. Their passive abilities range from damage bonuses with certain units to various reduced costs. During the campaign, COs are heads of the four factions fighting in Omega Land and their tactical eccentricities show through in their personalities, physique and speech (i.e. Max, the tank CO, is a muscular ape of a man that yells at everybody).
Each CO has a special meter that increases every time the player deals or receives damage. The meter may be emptied when partially full to activate a CO's special ability (their CO Power) or when completely full for an even more powerful ability (their Super CO Power). These abilities tend to be further augmentations of the benefits the CO already offers; Grit, for example, gives his artillery a longer range normally so his CO powers extend their range even farther. Proper timing on the use of these powers is very important as their effects can be tide-changing despite lasting only one turn.
If the player controls two COs on the battlefield (a feature new to the series), they may choose to activate a "dual strike", emptying both CO's filled meters, activating their special abilities, and gaining two consecutive turns. This ability can only be employed to unleash both CO's super CO powers, nothing of a lesser strength. Dual strikes are devastating in any circumstance, even if a player who activates one when hugely outnumbered.
Balance of Power
Earlier installments in the series had a sort of "net zero" philosophy for assigning benefits and deficits to CO's, where the positives and negatives were balanced out to a neutral advantage. This idea was removed from Dual Strike, mostly for the sake of reducing the headache of putting a value on nebulous strengths. Instead, characters (with a few exceptions) have a net positive in strengths. Some COs even have no weaknesses at all, though this is generally rationalized by strengths that only offer benefits by circumstance. For instance, Lash's units get a firepower bonus equivalent to the defense bonus for terrain and she gives up nothing for it.
Dual Front Battles
New to Advance Wars: Dual Strike are dual front battles. These missions require the player to manage two battles at once. Sometimes, victory is not required for one of the battlefields. However, victory at that battlefield incurs bonuses that will help at the other battlefield, usually allowing the second-screen victor to join the battle as a second CO for his partner on the main screen.
A number of maps in the War Room (a single player Arcade mode of sorts) feature this kind of conflict for use outside the campaign. Dual front battles cannot be created using the game's map editor.
The plot to Dual Strike's campaign will be familiar to players of previous Advance Wars games. The Black Hole Army has invaded Omega Land, and it's up to the allied nations of Orange Star, Blue Moon, Yellow Comet, and Green Earth to push them back. The mysterious origin of Black Hole's new army is also explored.
Dual Strike added a bevy of new units to the standard set, spanning all forms of attack. As with many series, there is a power creep going on, so most of the new units are very expensive and can potentially dominate the battlefield.
Spoiler Alert: These are technically spoilers as these units are tactical pivots in the storyline. However, they are all automatically available in multiplayer, so you might just ruin the surprise for yourself anyway.
Just as Black Hole put the finishing touches on the domineering NeoTank, Green Earth did one better and released this monstrosity. The Megatank is essentially a wall with a cannon. Nothing can destroy one of these outright or even get close; a Neo Tank will do 30% damage. On the flip side, there is almost nothing that will not be instantly obliterated by a full strength Megatank in one shot. With this brutal capability comes a logistical nightmare. It moves slowly, it doesn't have a lot of fuel and it only sports three salvoes for its main gun. Players are almost forcibly encouraged to back this mammoth up with an APC at all times and APCs have never been so valuable a target. Stop the supply, stop the tank. Otherwise, this thing will keep rolling come what may.
A primarily campaign-oriented addition, the Piperunner is like a Rocket on a rail without any of the problems commonly associated with Rockets. It has the minimum range of Artillery, the maximum of a Rocket, has a rather spectacular movement speed, lots of ammo, a large vision radius, and won't run out of fuel. It even has no conflict deficits because it hits both ground and air targets to similar effect. To summarize: unit's broken. However, you'll probably never get to use it because it can only traverse the indestructible pipes found almost exclusively in the campaign. Unless a factory is adjacent to a pipe or there is a string of cities that needs defending, the opportunity to employ this ridiculous turret is scarce in multiplayer.
Another campaign-only tool, Oozium is an enormous blob of gelatinous goop that slowly ambles about the field of battle in pursuit of enemy troops to eat. It only moves one space a turn but Oozium can go over anything besides water and instantly kills any enemy it comes into contact with, no questions asked. It is also particularly robust, taking almost no damage from indirect fire units (the only units you would really like to engage it with in the first place). Though it cannot be created during a fight, Oozium can be pre-deployed in user-created maps if this was for some reason desirable.
The cheapest among the new units is also the most useful of the bunch. Think of the Black Boat as an upgraded, floating APC. It scoots around in the water, including shoals, refueling and even repairing allied troops. It can only resupply one unit per turn, but that unit can be in the air or on the ground and the Black Boat also heals the unit by one HP. Filling the other half of the APC metaphor, the Black Boat can transport a single infantry over water, a much preferred option to wasting an entire Lander on the same job. Its versatility and cost-effectiveness make the Black Boat a very welcome addition to the naval arsenal.
The navy receives much-needed compensation on both ends of the economic spectrum and the Carrier fulfills it on the "really freaking expensive" end. Effectively replacing the cruiser in any well-funded fleet, the Carrier does the Cruiser's job the way it felt like it should have always been done: at range with a robust unit. Instead of going for the Antiaircraft approach of direct combat with aircraft, the Carrier has an amazing 8 square range that reliably holds off enemy aerial assaults. As a further upgrade to its cousin, the Carrier can also carry aircraft but it can hold anything, not just copters. The only real problem with the Carrier beyond its hefty price tag is its minimum range of 3, which leaves it vulnerable to well-positioned units that can get inside the the Carriers otherwise outstanding range.
This upper crust aircraft is the air force's handyman in all respects. The Stealth Fighter, as the name implies, can go into a Stealth Mode that behaves identically to the Sub's Dive ability. While cloaked, the Stealth Fighter is invisible unless run into, can only be hit by Fighters, and burns up huge amounts of fuel each day. For an aircraft, it isn't very fast but its spectrum of attack--absolutely anything--means it doesn't have to be as fast as its comrades. The Omni Missile the Stealth Fighter fires will hit anything except submerged Subs for decent damage. This, sadly, is the Stealth Fighter's biggest problem; it never really does better than decent damage to its target. At least it always does decent damage, even to larger targets. It costs more than a Bomber but is less specialized so, if your coffers can shoulder it, the Stealth Fighter is always useful.
The biggest gamble the game has to offer. The Black Bomb's functionality is pretty simple: its a fast-moving missile that explodes to do a fantastic 5 HP of damage to all units within 3 squares of the blast (as with all units do hard HP damage, any afflicted troops cannot drop below 1 HP). It can only be hit explicitly by antiaircraft weaponry, adding to the difficulty of stopping it along the way. The trouble is, it costs an obscene amount of funds so losing it will set you back considerably. It also isn't that hard to knock out if an enemy has the right equipment. Its abilities have no equal against the right massing of units and, as such, are quite welcome. Just don't waste them.