Press Touch to Start!' demands the DS. Our grubby paws descend onto the DS's touch screen as if pressing a big red button to launch a cake-delivering cruise missile or start a fireworks display, and within seconds a giant meteor appears on screen, wiping out 90% of humanity in an instant and forming an enormous dust cloud that blocks sunlight from reaching the survivors. WE WERE ONLY DOING AS YOU ASKED, OUR DUAL-SCREENED OVERLORD.
Let slip the fogs of war
This is a complete reboot for the Advance Wars series. Forget all those cheery day-glo tanks, female officers in skirts no bigger than dental floss and the pantomime COs; they're all gone, buried under several feet of dust and asphalt.
All that remains is a barren wasteland, shorn of structure, rules and regulations, the survivors cowering in makeshift communities as impromptu gangs loot and pillage the land.
This isn't the Advance Wars you know and love - Intelligent Systems' baby is all grown up, but retains the childlike charm that drew you to her in the first place.
Thankfully, although the world is under mob rule, no one has forgotten their manners, so Advance Wars's trademark turn-based combat system is still in place here.
If you're not familiar with any of the previous games (in which case, why do you have a DS?), here's a brief recap:
Between two to four different factions start out on a grid-based map, each beginning with a set number of units, which can range from simple infantry units to enormous tanks and fighter jets, each consisting of ten hit points apiece.
The higher the hit point number, the more firepower it has, and beleaguered units of the same type can combine on the field to prevent their premature demise.
Each of these unit types has their pros and cons - infantry types aren't going to put much of a dent into a tank, for example, but they're able to move further with each turn and can 'capture' factories and cities (gifting the ability to replenish your army).
There's more, but you'll find that out when you buy the game. Which you will, or we'll activate the chip that transforms this very magazine into a bloodthirsty robo-killer.
So what's new? Truth be told, we were a little worried about what additions Intelligent Systems would chuck into this fourquel, as the previous two followups implemented changes that only served to dilute the experience.
Advance Wars 2's unrelenting difficulty made it more lethal than a poison arrow frog baguette, while Advance Wars: Dual Strike confused us to tears with its twin-battle double-screenery.
Luckily, Dark Conflict isn't about addition; it's subtraction that makes the difference. Dark Conflict is a simpler beast than even the original.
Intelligent Systems have crammed their formula into a sieve and filtered out all the extraneous stuff that shouldn't have been there in the first place.
Gone are the second-screen battles - the top screen is now used solely for stat-displaying purposes. The special CO moves have been toned down tenfold, and the vast majority of the story mode has been banished to the darkest, dustiest recesses of the cartridge altogether.
Pure and simple
What you end up with is perhaps the purest Advance Wars game we've seen yet - a solid example of wondrously balanced strategy that, stripped of distractions, is nothing less than the 21st century's version of chess.
New additions are limited to new pieces for your chessboard: flare tanks that
dispel battlefield-concealing fog; motorcycles that act as a halfway house between troops and artillery; and powerful anti-tank units that can unleash devastating attacks but are as brittle as a Cadbury's Flake.