Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Battalion Wars

Real-life war is hell, but Battalion Wars are actually kinda cute. As the nameless, faceless "commander," you run through whimsical missions in order to keep the peaceful Western Frontier safe from the bloodlusty Tundrans (who, strangely enough, have bad Russian accents) and Xylvanians (ach du lieber, they sound like Germans!). It's cartoonish, but it's not like The A-Team, where guns go off constantly but no one is killed. There's scads of death, it's just sweetly rendered and fun: Little skulls float away when a soldier dies. Just like in real war!

But since you're some kind of floating possessor of grunts (yep, they're actually called grunts), you never die. You're the leader of the combat forces—various specialists, including riflemen, flamethrower troops, bazooka specialists, and even several vehicles—so you can pick which persona to assume, and you can (and must, in order to succeed) jump from body to body over the course of a single battle. Need to wipe out a bunch of enemy ground troops at close range? Use a flame guy. See a tank in the distance? Grab Bazooka Joe. Eventually, you'll lead dozens of soldiers through individual missions, and the game isn't over until you succeed or every single one dies. Just like in real war!

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Battalion Wars' gameplay and controls are mostly excellent, combining on-the-spot tactical decision-making and total carnage. Missions start out easy—and you'll get a lot of guidance from a trio of video-game stereotypes, including the hard-nosed general, a female brigadier in a short skirt and bobby socks, and a by-the-book colonel—but the game quickly gets challenging. Better yet, it evolves with new weaponry as it goes on, so it actually gets less boring over time.

Beyond the gameplay: The cut-scenes are not only well-animated, they're stupidly funny. The Tundran leader has an accent like John Malkovich's in Rounders, only not even that good.

Worth playing for: Those big, seemingly out-of-control battles, when it's necessary to move from the close-up view to the widescreen. Your troops won't let you down, and it's fun to lead them into a dangerous firefight where they're outnumbered and outgunned. Just like in real war!

Frustration sets in when: Those same battles can get confusing. You must use different types of soldiers for different targets, and it's sometimes tough to switch between them in mid-battle.

Final judgment: Like Risk played with Beetle Bailey characters instead of little red chips, Battalion Wars offers the chance to both strategize and blast away, and it never takes itself too seriously.