If there’s any common thread to be found in the catalogue of indie publisher Chucklefish, it’s that their best titles tend to pick up where others have left off.
Starbound pushed the formula invented by games like Terraria and Minecraft in a more curated direction, and the ever-popular Stardew Valley (which, to be clear, was only published by Chucklefish) did much the same for neglected fans of the Harvest Moon and Rune Factory games.
Now, Wargroove looks to pick up the torch for acolytes of the all-but-discontinued Advance Wars series. Last seen on the original Nintendo DS, the top-down turn-based tactics franchise has been seemingly-abandoned by Nintendo in favor of the similar-but-different tactical warfare of Fire Emblem.
Cast in this light, Wargroove is as much a throwback to Advance Wars as it is a subtle evolution of the formula.
War Never Changes
Set in the cutesy fantasy kingdom of Cherrystone, the single-player campaign of Wargroove sees you take on the role of Queen Mercia, a young monarch forced on the run after her father is assassinated by the sinister and skeleton forces of Felheim.
The tone here is equal parts JRPG and Saturday morning cartoons but the structure feels eerily reminiscent of last year’s Thronebreaker - The Witcher Tales. As Mercia, you’re tasked with traveling the land and recruiting the allies necessary to take back your throne. There’s also online multiplayer plus an a set of puzzle and arcade modes that gives you the chance to play as some of the other factions in the game’s colorful fantasy setting.
Like Advance Wars, each mission in Wargroove is a top-down and turn-based affair. Each round, you move your troops around and engage the enemy. However, as opposed to games like X-COM and Fire Emblem, there’s also an economic aspect to the strategy here. Each map has structures that can be captured. Captured structures net you resources. Resources can be used to hire additional troops and replenish depleted battalions.
Undamaged units are more powerful than damages ones, so there’s a delicate balance to rotating units in and out of combat. Straightforward attrition is always an option, but it’s often much more satisfying to lure the enemy in, whittle down their defenses with ranged fire and then send in the cavalry to clean up the rest. There’s plenty of room for experimentation.
The big point-of-difference here is the inclusion of commanders. There are twelve commanders in Wargroove and each can go toe-to-toe with even the heaviest of regular units (though they’re unable to retaliate against ranged or flying units). Each commander also has a powerful and unique ability that only they can activate called a Groove. Some Grooves allow you to heal nearby allies. Others allow you to summon reinforcements directly to an adjacent square.
Wargroove is easy to pick up and hard to put down, and it fits neatly into that paradigm of easy-to-learn-hard-to-master (“just one more level”) tactics games. Early missions, which can vary in length from a brisk twenty-minute affair to an hour-long engagement, introduce new units and mechanics. Later stages of the game’s single player campaign task you with putting all you’ve learned into practice in order to secure victory.
Though Commanders and Grooves are very much the spice that separates Wargroove from its inspirations but there’s still plenty that the game has in common with the Advance Wars of old. Like those games, the moment-to-moment gameplay here has an snappy thrill to it. And the layers of strategy that sit below the game’s charm sense of aesthetics only enrich that appeal over time. The more you understand the systems in the game, the more it feels like you get out of interacting with them.
Beyond the single and multiplayer content in Wargroove, there’s also a level designer that lets you create your own battlefields and even your own story-focused campaigns with custom cutscenes. Taken as a package deal, this game includes just everything you could want.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, Wargroove feels like an Advance Wars game made by fans of the series who finally got fed up waiting for Nintendo and Intelligent Systems to revisit it. The lack of mid-missions checkpoints or saves can sometimes be frustrating but every other aspect of Wargroove hits the mark.
What’s more, Wargroove never outstayed its welcome. Stick to the critical path, and you’ll be able to blaze through it in fifteen or so hours. Catch the bug? There’s plenty of side-content to feed your addiction. The game’s fast-paced tactical loop is addictive in the best possible way. Save for those who bounce off the game’s animated look, Wargroove goes above and beyond in terms of the value it offers.
Whether played casually or in longer intensive sessions, Wargroove is a turn-based tactics game that pushes all the right buttons. It’s both the Advance Wars game fans have been waiting for and one of the freshest debuts the genre has seen in quite some time.
Wargroove is available now on PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One X and Nintendo Switch.