Many Nintendo fans have fond memories of the Advance Wars series. The franchise introduced many to the turned based strategy genre and was both critically and financially successful. While not lacking in quality, the last game in the series, Advance Wars: Days of Ruin/Dark Conflict, didn’t set the sales charts ablaze causing Nintendo to seemingly abandoned the franchise and focus more on Fire Emblem. Every so often an indie title comes along which has been inspired by the franchise, but none have come close to capturing the same feeling… That is, until now. Wargroove is easily one of the best turned based strategy games around and feels like a true (unofficial) successor to Advance Wars.
Wargroove’s campaign begins in the fictional Cherrystone Kingdom. One night the King is murdered and his daughter, Mercia, ascends to the throne. Cherrystone then comes under attack by the evil Valder, forcing Mercia and her trusted advisor, Emeric, to set out and unite the continent’s various factions so that they can strike back. The story is a little bland, never diving too deeply into character development and doing just enough to set the tone of the game. Characters are likable and at times will have you chuckling to yourself as a humorous scene plays out, but the story feels rushed and there aren’t many intimate scenes between characters. There are unlockable codex entries, however, which give more detailed information about characters and the game world.
Like Advance Wars, Wargroove‘s levels are grid-based maps where players must fight an opposing army. Most battles are won by defeating the enemy commander or capturing the main enemy base, however some scenarios will involve rescuing civilians, defending/holding a settlement or retreating. There’s enough variety to keep things from getting stale, particularly if you complete optional side missions. Maps typically take anywhere between 30 minutes to a full hour to complete, and there is no mid-battle save feature so it’s not a friendly title to just pick up and play while on the go – particularly for players of the Switch version.
The main appeal of Wargroove comes from its strategic turn based gameplay. Maps feature buildings which can be captured to obtain money at the start of each new turn. Players use their money to purchase units at barracks, with them having their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, Spearmen units are strong against Cavalry but are quick fodder for air units such as Aeronauts (winged humanoid creatures). In turn, the Aeronauts are weak against Mages and Ballistas. Units also get guaranteed critical hits against opponents when they meet certain conditions. Spearmen, for instance, will get a critical hit when they’re next to another friendly Spearman unit. Aeronaut units get the boost when attacking from atop a mountain. Additionally, players can look up strategic information such as where enemy troops can move in their next turn, if you’re in range of enemy attacks and how much damage a unit’s attack will inflict on an enemy. The game really does force you to consider the position of your units and how to best approach the enemy, as well as encourages you to have an army made of a variety of unit types to support each other. Half the fun is working out the perfect strategy and then going in for victory!
The commanders on the battlefield are considered a unique unit, as there is only one for each side and they have a special ability known as a Groove; Wargroove’s namesake. Grooves have to be charged up during normal gameplay and offer different tactical advantages depending on the character. Mercia, for example, heals units that are in her immediate vicinity. Emeric, however, can throw down a red gem that increases the defense of all nearby allies. It’s enough to get players out of a tight spot or give them that slight edge to overwhelm their opponent. Combined with the varied unit types and their critical attack opportunities, there’s certainly a lot of fun to be had trying out different combinations and adapting to your opponent’s strategy. There is one minor complaint though – despite allies supposedly traveling together throughout the story you’re limited to playing as a predetermined commander in each level. It would have been nice for players to have just that little extra freedom when heading into battle.
Developer Chucklefish, for the most part, has gone above and beyond in making Wargroove accessible to all players. Instead of having the usual Easy, Normal and Hard difficulty settings, players can customise how much damage they receive, how quickly their Groove abilities charge up and how much money they make. This gives you more control over tweaking the campaign experience; making it more challenging if you so desire or lowering the difficulty if you’re having trouble getting past a particular map. Making the campaign too easy however will result in not being able to obtain a three star ranking at the end of each battle. Stars are used to unlock concept art and codex entries, so if you want to see everything then you will need to at least maintain the default setting.
Aside from the campaign there is also an Arcade and Puzzle mode. Arcade lets players choose a commander they have obtained via the campaign and then compete in five battles. It’s straightforward and offers minor side story content in the form of an introduction to each battle. Puzzle mode challenges players to complete a map in a single turn – this will really test your abilities as you can make no mistakes; the levels are designed to be completed in a specific way!
One of the most impressive features of Wargroove is players can create their own custom maps and campaigns. It’s the same tool that Chucklefish used to create the final game, meaning you’ll have access to all game assets to use to your heart’s content. You can design your own landscapes, determine which factions and units appear on the map and even create your own opening cutscenes. Best of all, you can upload and share your designs and download other player creations. There’s almost an endless amount of content on offer here, and it’s only going to strengthen the game’s community. The one thing that is missing is a comprehensive tutorial on how to use the tool – be prepared to fiddle around the menus a fair bit before you get the hang of building your own maps.
In addition to local multiplayer, Wargroove supports crossplay online multiplayer between the Steam, Switch and Xbox One versions of the game. You can play standard one vs one battles, team battles and even a four player free-for-all. There’s an option to host and join matches via an in-game code that can be distributed between friends. Matches formed via this method support asynchronous play, meaning you can start a match and then leave the game while waiting for other players to complete their turn. Multiplayer itself is fun and implemented well – I had no issues getting into matches and it’s always good to test your ability against other human players.
Apart from the fully animated opening title sequence, Wargroove features 2D sprites which are reminiscent of Advance Wars and the handheld Fire Emblem titles. When units clash a small 2D animation of the fight will play on screen giving a sense of the action taking place. The style is consistent and has a nice old school appeal to it.
Wargroove is a carefully crafted and outright wonderful turned based strategy game. It appeals to Advance Wars fans by offering great strategic gameplay as well as a host of other features including online multiplayer and user created content. There are some minor grievances such as the lack of a mid-battle save feature and tutorials for the custom map creation tool, but overall this is a solid title that should not be missed.
Rocket Chainsaw reviewed Wargroove on PC via Steam. It is also available on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
- Great strategic gameplay - Powerful map and campaign creator - Crossplay multiplayer
- Map creator could benefit from tutorials - Story doesn't have deep character development - No mid-battle save feature