If you still haven’t experienced the beauty of Advance Wars, make sure to pick up a copy. The series has 3 titles so far, two for the Game Boy Advance and one for the DS, and they’re some of the most fulfilling handheld strategy games you’ll ever play… besides the DS Age of Empires, of course. And it makes sense, because Intelligent Systems (the developer) are the same guys behind the equally great Fire Emblem series.

Sure, Advance Wars is a very much Japanese and anime-influenced series, and the story’s always been a little to whimsical for my tastes, but the tactics in it are incredible, with the perfect amount of units, locations, and character specific special moves to make each game exciting. Too bad it was always so fruity though, amiright?

That’s all about to change.

From the title on, Advance Wars: Days of Ruin is a darker game. The story isn’t a continuation of the previous games, and instead is a post-apocalyptic tale where 90% of the population has been killed by a meteor strike. Two rival world superpowers are busy fighting over what’s left, and that’s where you come in. Your guy was in a Military Academy when the meteors hit, and survived only to band up with the few remaining soldiers from his side. You head off to rescue anyone that you can find, while fighting off the dastardly, evil faction.

The game’s got 26 main missions, and if you’ve tried out the last games you know that some of them can be pretty damn long, a few taking up to a couple of hours to beat. The graphics look to be about the same, which was never terribly impressive in the first place. Everything looks significantly gritier, though, and the characters are much more realistic-looking than the former cartoonish ones. There of course will be new vehicles (a motorbike that can capture cities, a mobile cannon, a tank that launches flares even in the fog of war, etc.) and characters with specific powers that you can control.

The multiplayer was always fantastic, but one thing the game was always missing was online play. Now it has it, and it will even feature voice chat over Nintendo’s free Wi-Fi service, which I can see being entertaining up till the point that some 11 year old kid destroys you in the game and squeaks curses at you with his high voice. Over 150 maps will be included in the game, and it’ll even include a map builder so you can create your own maps and even share them with other people.

It’s not all aces, however. The game is supposed to have a faster pace, which may turn off some purists who liked it slower and more thoughtful. The Commanding Officer powers have been toned down a bit, which I actually think is a plus because they got a little silly in Advance Wars: Dual Strike. Also missing from that game is the battles which took place both on the top and bottom screen- there’ll be no more air battles here.

But even if it ends up being on par with the last game, it’ll still be fantastic. Advance Wars: Days of Ruin hits stores January 21st. Check below for a look at some of the game footage and the rockin’ soundtrack.