Fans have been yearning for a new Advance Wars game for years. When Wargroove was revealed in 2017, its inspirations were immediately apparent. While Advance Wars hasn't seen a release in over a decade, I don't think fans will have to wait to get that itch they've asked Intelligent Systems for. Wargroove feels both familiar and fresh - it's definitely not a title that should be glanced over.
Up front, Wargroove has a lot to offer. You have the single player content, including the campaign as well as Puzzle and Arcade modes. Multiplayer features both co-op and online, and that's not even the end. Chucklefish incorporated a stage creator, and went a step further and included a campaign creator. The offerings here are huge, and there's bound to be something for everyone.
If you're like me, you will jump into Wargroove's story mode first. The campaign's narrative revolves around the Cherrystone Kingdom and its leader, Queen Mercia. War comes to Mercia's door and she's forced to fight and conquer across a continent. Her goal? Stopping the evil Felheim Legion from destroying everything she holds dear.
It's not an especially original story, but it keeps me engaged for the 10 hours or so that it lasted. Still, each level has exposition before and after that can be funny and interesting at times. The plot is simple but it doesn't linger. If you're a lore junky, there's plenty of bits you can read up on in the Codex, which contains background information and gameplay tips.
As for the gameplay itself, Wargroove consists of controlling units on a battlefield and taking over buildings. The goal is usually to take out the enemy commander or destroy their stronghold. Buildings throughout Wargroove's maps give you gold, which can be used to recruit new units. There are also different types of barracks to purchase ground, air, and sea units. Playing Wargroove with mouse and keyboard is so easy that it'll be hard for me to go back to Fire Emblem.
Like in Advance Wars, units have distinct strengths and weaknesses. Utilizing these advantages is key to success. Units have 10 health, which also affects their attack power. The same unit with 10 health is going to do more damage than its counterpart with five. As far as advantages go, spearman units deal more damage to calvary and dogs. Meanwhile, if a mage or giant attacks said spearman, they'll surely take massive damage. It's not just a rock, paper, scissors type of game, like Fire Emblem. There are far more advantages and counters to take into consideration when deploying and positioning units.
Movement and proper positioning is key are equally integral to success. In Advance Wars, you're concerned over what unit has advantages over another, but Wargroove adds a bit more to the strategy by including critical hits. By positioning units in such a way, they have the ability to critically strike the enemy, dealing much more damage. If a spearman is aligned adjacent to another spearman ally, they deal a critical strike to an enemy. Ranged archer units deal crits if they shoot an enemy without having moved on the same turn.
This is a great inclusion and adds a bigger emphasis on positioning than ever before. My strategy for each level would revolve around moving units in such a way that they can land that critical hit while taking minimal damage from the enemy. This means that being effective against one unit or being weak against another isn't the be-all and end-all.
Air and sea units work similarly. Harpoon ships can take down air enemies with easy but are vulnerable to the warship's cannons. Meanwhile, dragon units basically obliterate everything but are very expensive and susceptible to anti-air units. It was truly a pleasure to experience the campaign's later levels, waging war on land, sea, and air.
While naval combat adds some interesting variety, it can be extremely difficult to get an edge in those battles. It's easy to progressively destroy an army and take over towns on land, but the movement range on sea units are so vast that one wrong move can be the end. Further, sea units have such powerful advantages over each other that sometimes it feels more like a waste of gold than a battle worth fighting.
Wargroove features four different factions. I found it a tad disappointing that there was no variation in base units other than aesthetics, but the faction's commanders are what sets them apart from one another. There are twelve commanders in total, four for each faction. Commanders are extremely powerful and are capable of taking on most units one-on-one, but they are certainly not invincible. Still, their "groove" ability sets them apart from each other usually helps them overcome units thrown at them, or act as supports to your current allies on the battlefield.
After a time on the battlefield and during combat, the groove charges and becomes usable. For example, Mercia has a powerful healing ability with a large radius. Emeric, a mage and Mercia's advisor, can conjure a crystal that provides a temporary, protective shield for allies. These are more support-based skills, but other commanders' grooves lean towards damage. For example, Koji, a child riding a giant, wooden robot, can unleash flying bombs that you can control individually and detonate manually.
I usually preferred either the support or attack-based grooves. Others are more logistical but I didn't find quite as useful, like the plant-like Floran Nuru. She can summon a unit next to her on the battlefield, but it costs money. The necromancer Valder is similar, as he can summon a skeleton swordsman, but it's at no extra cost. I think it will depend on your playstyle, but for me, some commanders clearly outshine others in terms of their grooves.
Units aside, the campaign's levels have excellent design. Some focused around assaulting a singular castle felt very Fire Emblem-like. Others span over a large area with mountains, bodies of water, forests, and more. Mountains and forests provide defense but decrease movement range. Sometimes levels had "fog of war" which requires you to send scouts ahead unless you'd rather go in blind. After that mechanic's introduction, it felt underutilized for the duration, which was puzzling. Still, there's quite a bit of variation, and each level was a joy to plan out and conquer. Utilizing proper positioning to take advantage of the terrain while landing critical hits is always fun.
As enjoyable as these levels are, some take longer than others and vary in difficulty. You can receive up to three starts at the end of each mission as well as a letter grade. At times I wondered why I received the rating that I did. Sometimes, would lose very little units yet take a bit longer and thus end up with a poor letter grade and one star. On others, when I may have been a bit more reckless but faster, I received better ratings. I can't say exactly what the root cause was, but sometimes I felt like the ratings were unjustified.
Still, if you're having a difficult time, there are three adjustable difficulty sliders. One controls the amount of damage your units receive, one tweaks the rate at which you earn gold, and another adjusts the groove charge rate. A caveat to this is that adjusting to make it easier will only grant you a one-star rating on missions. In short, everyone should be able to complete Wargroove, no matter their skill level.
I've talked mostly about the campaign, but there's much more to Wargroove than just that mode. Arcade lets you take control of a commander and run through a gauntlet of five battles. There's a very small amount of extra dialogue to it, but it lets you take control of every commander in more battles than you would be able to in the campaign. It's fun and adds a bit more variation and content.
The last part of the single player is Puzzle mode. There are twenty-five different puzzles, each giving you just a single turn to find the solution. It's up to you to determine how to manipulate your pre-set units to either defeat the enemy commander or their base in order to win. These are mind-boggling and really test your strategic prowess. I'm not too great at them myself, but it's so satisfying to find the solution in the end.
The most impressive inclusion of all is the custom content. The possibilities here are full of potential. You can create maps and even full campaigns. The map creator is so precise and easy to use with the mouse on PC. If you've ever made a map in Age of Empires or similar titles, you'll know what you're getting into. Starting with a blank slate, you can control every aspect of a map. That includes terrain, buildings, units, biome, and environmental clutter.
When you're done with making a map, you can incorporate them into your own campaign. Gameplay-wise it will work the same as Mercia's story, but the direction it takes is entirely up to you. You can set it wherever you like on Wargroove's overworld map and connect each level together. Chucklefish has even added the ability to create cutscenes that take place before and after each level. This tool is extremely robust, allowing for just about any scenario you can imagine. While I'm not quite so creative in these types of things, I can't wait to see what shareable creations the community makes. The longevity of Wargroove is near limitless because of this.
To top it all off, Wargroove looks and sounds incredible. I love just about any game with high-quality pixelated graphics, but Wargroove takes it to the next level. The visuals are so colorful and so clear. When looking at Chucklefish's previous title, Starbound, I am quite impressed at how far they progressed with Wargroove. Each unit has dozens of frames of animation and stands out so clearly on often very large battlefields. When a unit engages battle, the little cutscenes are so pleasing to watch.
The music is another highlight. It's definitely evocative of Advance Wars. It properly complements Wargroove's fantasy aesthetic, but it also feels so adventurous, if that is something that can be felt. It's not often that a game's soundtrack is so good that I have the tunes stuck in my head even after playing, but Wargroove has that effect on me.
Wargroove feels like a successor to Advance Wars, but so much more too. The gameplay is reminiscent of the Wars series, but each unit with their critical strike abilities and every commander with their grooves adds so much more. The extra modes Chucklefish incorporated into Wargroove means that there's bound to be something for everybody. A lot of people were wondering if this tactical strategy game could live up to the hype. I believe it has, and so much more.
TechRaptor reviewed Wargroove on Steam with a code provided by the publisher. It’s also available on the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and is coming soon to PlayStation 4.
Wargroove is the turn-based tactics game you've been waiting for. It looks wonderful and sounds amazing, but it also plays so well. The strategy layer is deep but simple to learn. With several different modes in single player and multiplayer, there is something for both hardcore and newcomers of the genre.(Review Policy)
- Colorful and Stunning Art Direction
- Wonderful Soundtrack
- Fun Strategic Gameplay
- Wide Variety of Fun Game Modes
- Campaign and Map Creator
- Relatively Uninteresting Story
- Rating System Seems Off
- Some Grooves Seem More Useful Than Others