Turn-based strategy games are a natural fit for portable devices, their slow pace unhindered by the somewhat erratic schedule of playing games on the go. While the genre has spread far and wide in recent years with many games that look and play quite similarly to one another, Mecho Wars sets itself apart with unique mechanics and a striking visual flair.

If you’ve played Advance Wars, Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea or any of the dozens of other turn-based strategy games to be released in the past few years, you’ll have no problem getting started with Mecho Wars. The map is grid-based and you have a chance to move all of your units before ending your turn to let the computer have a shot. The only resource to be managed is money, which is earned by capturing bases. It accumulates each turn, allowing you to purchase new units to join the fray.

The most unique hook Mecho Wars adds to the tried-and-true formula is a day/night cycle. Each turn advances the clock by one hour. During the night hours water on the field freezes, which can turn previously bottlenecked bridges into wide open battlefields. Setting up a huge blitzkrieg to storm over the ice when night falls isn’t always a sound strategy, however, as any units still left on the ice when morning comes fall into the drink and are lost forever.

When two units collide, the screen switches to an Advance Wars-esque side view showing each side attacking the other. As units are damaged they decrease in offensive efficiency, which allows for some pretty tricky strategies such as sending in a damaged unit to draw fire as a sacrifice so that healthier squads can swoop in unbothered.

While it offers some incredibly solid strategy gameplay, the best part of Mecho Wars is the art. Quirky creatures replace the tanks and wizards that star in other genre entries, and each is so captivating to look at you’ll spend each battle marveling at the new units introduced to you. The game makes remarkable use of colour and everything just pops on the screen. You spend a lot of time staring and thinking in strategy games, and luckily Mecho Wars is a visual feast.

A real missed opportunity is multiplayer through local wireless. The multiplayer is single system only, where a player takes a turn and then passes the system to their opponent to take their turn. In this era of gaming an exclusion like that is an oversight, especially as a solid multiplayer component would pump limitless replay value into a title this solid.

Conclusion

While it may not have as much content as a full retail release, everything Mecho Wars does it does right. The art is so good it’s almost worth the price of admission alone, but the dazzling graphics only enhance the solid strategy gameplay. The lack of true multiplayer hurts it, but gamers will accept a lot less than what Mecho Wars offers for $4.99. Fans of the genre will consider this an absolute steal.