Much like Thom, Advance Wars reminds me of many games I've played in the past, but none on the PC. A couple of classic console names that come to mind are Military Madness and Shining Force, as well as more recent efforts like Vandal Hearts or even Final Fantasy Tactics to a certain extent. Replace the medieval fantasy characters with planes and tanks, and you're basically set.
Advance Wars is nothing new, although the high level of quality in every aspect makes it noteworthy regardless. If readers will forgive me for briefly waxing poetic, it's a polished gem sparkling in a sea of mediocrity. Simple to pick up and instantly addicting to anyone who enjoys console-style strategy, this is the good stuff. It may not push any boundaries, but there is definitely something to be said for a game that knows what it wants to do, and then proceeds to do it well.
Regarding plot and characterization, there does seem to be a tendency of Game Boy games to keep things on the shallow side. Advance Wars is no different. This may be due to the handheld's "pick-up-and-play, put-down-and-forget" demographic, but after starting the game, I shared many of the same feelings Thom had. It's hard to ignore the context in which I was playing it, though. With a politically complex war in the Middle East and the looming specter of North Korea, perhaps I was more sensitized to the themes in Advance Wars than I normally would be. I kept wondering why I was invading a particular country, or why the two sides were even fighting. Eventually a little bit of story-based motivation unfolds, but there was something disconcerting about the laissez-faire way in which the entire game is staged.
Looking at Thom's issue with the difficulty of the "canned" missions, I'm not sure I'd call it a flaw. Too often, games of this type rely on the "kill all enemies" goal level after level with no variation, and that can get boring in a hurry. Despite the serious challenge of these special sections, none of them were impossible. But, he's right in saying that there are definitely tight restrictions in place with "right" and "wrong" moves to be made.
That said, what I personally consider to be the game's only flaw is the outrageously lopsided final battle. This cheap end-of-game beatdown brutally harshes your mellow, and will effortlessly annihilate your forces several times over. I was quite frustrated, and the only way I was able to complete the game was to take advantage of holes in the artificial intelligence that would never work on an intelligent opponent. I was a bit disgruntled at the way logical strategy was chucked out the window, but it felt pretty satisfying to capture the enemy fortress after an hour-long struggle and finally put the game to rest.
Advance Wars is clearly a superior title for the Game Boy Advance, though the difficulty of some missions and the nature of intensive turn-based strategy might not be for everyone. But if it sounds like your cup of tea, then you'll definitely find it to be an excellent way to get some mental exercise while gaming on the go.