Going To War Like Only Nintendo Can

Even though Zelda has killing and even Mario has head-stomping, when you think about it, nearly all of Nintendo's first-party properties are harmless affairs. Bright colours, innocent storylines, big-eyed cartoon mascots and candy-coloured fantasy worlds where everything turns out just fine.

With one exception: the "Wars" series, Nintendo's only foray into, well, war.

In the late 1980s, a Nintendo employee named Toru Narihiro was in charge of taking Famicom Disk System games and porting them over to regular cartridges. It was a boring job (though also important, given the fact the West didn't have the Disk System), but one Narihiro was able to break up by teaming up with Nintendo's R&D1 team to program two games.

One of these was the first Fire Emblem. The other? A game called Famicom Wars.

1988's Famicom Wars was, and still is, something of an anomaly amongst first-party Nintendo titles. It's not a platformer, it's not a role-playing game and you don't race cars. It was instead a turn-based strategy game, one where you took command of one of two armies and tried to defeat the other by killing his men and taking his cities.

Despite receiving a cartoon aesthetic, which with its cute characters and comedic slant helps lighten the mood, the fact remains this is a war game, with soldiers, tanks and bombers, where the object is to kill things on a large scale. Which is about as un-Nintendo as a Nintendo game gets, and may partly explain why, even with a large fanbase, the series never receives the kind of marketing or exposure from Nintendo as its more cuddly franchises do.

Not that it mattered. With a turn-based combat mechanic and balanced unit roster that bordered on perfection, Nintendo's internal studio Intelligent Systems went on to develop a SNES version (Super Famicom Wars) and a Game Boy version (Game Boy Wars), which with help from Hudson would get three sub-sequels of its own.

Strangely, despite the subject matter and Nintendo's popularity, the series wouldn't make it to the West until 2001, when the Game Boy Advance iteration of the franchise, Advance Wars, was released. With its comic visual style looking better than ever and its structure inching ever closer to strategic perfection, Advance Wars was a surprise hit, and would find even greater success with Advance Wars: Dual Strike, the first DS outing for the series.

Curiously, as Nintendo's popularity exploded in the middle of the last decade, the Wars series began to retreat into the background. After an aborted attempt at a more action-oriented outing on the GameCube with Battallion Wars and the disappointing sales of a more mature DS sequel, Days of Ruin, the franchise hasn't been seen or heard of since, despite a large, hardcore fan base and a continuous streak of stellar critical acclaim.

The series never appeared on the Wii, never returned to the DS and there's no sign of a 3DS game either, with Intelligent Systems currently working on other projects, like Paper Mario 3DS and the puzzler Hiku-Osu.

Hopefully once those are done the team can get back to doing what it does best: killing adorable little men with adorable little tanks.

Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.


    Oh God yes! Please return to his series! I just completed the 2 DS titles on a trip to Europe... again. I'm considering starting them a fourth (or fifth? lost count) time soon too. Amazing games.

      Check out Advance Wars 1 on GBA. It rocks. 2 is good, but the visual style kinda sucked lol.

    I didn't like Advance Wars 4. The two versions (european and american) were entirely different, and the American one was heaps better. In the American one, it was "Brennars Wolves" not "so-and so's (the name was changed) unified military corps"

    But Advance Wars 3 was freaking awesome. And it could easily use that cool semi-3D effect it had on 3DS.


    I really should give Advanced Wars another go. I remember trying it out a long time ago and it not really grabbing me. (Which is funny because it's supposedly similar to Fire Emblem, which is one of my absolute favourite series of games).

    DS was the best. My friend and I would always spend the daily train journey playing.
    One time, as Sami+Eagle, I used dual strike to move an infantry across the entire map in a t-copter, and captured the hq, all in one turn. Good times.

    Never appeared on Wii? I beg to differ:

    As much as I love my Mario, Zelda and Metroid games I don't understand why Nintendo continutes to neglect so many of its great IPs, particularly this generation.

    Big ups to the Advance Wars/Battalion Wars series. Battalion Wars 2 is on the Wii also so you might wanna edit that.

      Battalion Wars 2 is one of those Wii games that people didn't play or give enough time to. Great little gem in my books.

    As a huge fan of FF Tactics Advance (GBA) you can imagine how much I enjoyed Advance Wars Dual Strike.

    Would be a perfect game for 3DS, by subtly using 3D to represent raised/lowered terrain, aerial units flying "above" the battlefield and cool visual FX. Not to mention the possibilities with StreetPass (custom maps/scenarios, anybody?) and the much-improved visual power of the system.

    TBH I didn't realise this was a Nintendo IP!

      That would be awesome and yeah I didn't know it was a Nintendo IP either :S

    I would actually get a 3DS just to play a sequel. It was my favourite Nintendo series of all time.

    Battalion Wars, possibly my most fanboy'd games ever.

    I've got some custom Lego models of Battalion Wars vehicles <3

    Why has no one mentioned the awesome soundtrack? Especially the two DS titles.

    There was a Battalion Wars 2 on Wii. Whhattt???

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