Advance Wars was one of the few handheld based strategy series ever developed. It excelled at being simple and easy to pick up, but had a difficulty curve that meant as the game went on, it could get very tough. Wargroove picks up the slack where so many spiritual successors and attempts to replicate the series have been disappointing, except here it has left the realm of tanks and planes and ventured into medieval fantasy.
Same Same but Different
Wargroove is undeniably similar to Advance Wars, both in the overall design of maps and the units moving on them to the combat itself to some degree. In fact it almost feels like part of the series at first glance considering how similar the 16-bit designs are across the board. However, it finds its own path and creates a more unique game in the process. Not only are you getting a variety of units that can have many strengths, weaknesses, and attacks, but some can have their own unique abilities. Commanders each have a charging ability that is also the namesake of the game itself, Wargroove. These Wargrooves let them do special things like heal or summon units to the battlefield. The commanders themselves are quite tough and can deal some of the best damage in the game, but their being alive is always one of the requirements for completing a level.
Another area where Wargroove differs from its inspiration is that many of the maps seem to be fairly large and unit movement is relatively limited, meaning it can often take multiple moves to get a unit into proper position. This design opens up the game to a lot more tactical placement, especially given the terrain bonuses and penalties to defense, but it does have some drawbacks. The most obvious is that it adds to what ultimately makes matches much longer. It can sometimes take 30 minutes or more to complete a single level. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue in most circumstances as strategy games generally have levels that last that long, but the difficulty of later levels means that you can easily be restarting and spending hours trying to get past a particularly tough one.
While Wargroove has a pleasant little story with enjoyable dialogue driven cutscenes for missions featuring a partially voice acted cast of characters – each of whom is unique and well designed – the single player campaign is only a portion of the huge amount of content. The campaign also features a number of side quests that have you taking control of some of the secondary characters as commander. While the different factions have distinct designs for each type of unit, the units are actually the same across the board, but the commanders each have their Wargrooves which can function in a wide variety of ways which may change the way you play for that mission. This allows for a bit of fun in the way the side quests are designed.
Beyond the campaign, there are also the Puzzle and Arcade game modes. The Puzzle game mode puts you on a smaller map with set units and gives you a specific goal to accomplish. For instance the first mission has you trying to destroy all of the enemy units in a single turn. The ‘puzzle’ aspect is, of course, that there is usually only one real way to do this and you have to figure it out through your knowledge of unit abilities and perhaps some trial and error. Arcade puts you in the role of one of the commanders you’ve unlocked for the mode and has you face off against five different commanders in five short combat missions.
All of these game modes give you ‘stars’ that can be used to unlock hidden art designs and lore in a special menu. Arcade wins unlock the music section of that menu allowing you to listen to the pretty great selection of music included with the game. There’s even a map creator that allows you to create and share battles for skirmishes.
Wargroove also has a multiplayer selection that has an optional feature, an ‘asynchronous’ setting, that lets you get alerted when people in your match finish their turn allowing for you to play this turn based strategy even slower if that’s your choice. The good part is that it’s cross-platform, at least for everyone but PS4 users, for whom the game isn’t even released yet, but even when it is they will have to play only among themselves.
Everything I wanted, but there could be more…
Seeing this game two years ago announced when the Nintendo Switch first came out, I was instantly excited to have a game that could potentially give me more of that fun Advance Wars experience I hadn’t had in so many years. I am happy to say it definitely delivers that in a way that wasn’t exactly what I expected, but in a lot of ways delivered more. It isn’t without issues though. The first is of course the pacing can be brutal. It makes you want to play the game more aggressively than it should be played and that can make what is already challenging even more so. The game’s difficulty sliders feel like a necessity for some of the tougher missions and that’s kind of disappointing since I’ve always felt like developers should have ‘normal’ be just challenging enough to be fun for the majority. I’m not sure what all can be done to improve this beyond bolstering the game’s current speed-enhancing elements like skipping combat sequences and increasing movement speed across the map. However, taking out as much of the slog as possible will mean a game that has a broader appeal.
Wargroove is a must-play for fans of Advance Wars, and given how it’s going to be on every modern console and PC, it should be available to all of those fans. There may be some disappointment with the pacing and possibly the online element. Even with it being cross-platform, the online multiplayer may not hold out for too long, but Wargroove is set up on a solid base of enjoyable content that can only get better with time and a committed developer like Chucklefish Games.
Wargroove is something that will satisfy fans of Advance Wars and probably create a lot of new fans with its broad multi-platform reach. It won't win over people who aren't fans of slow games and it could benefit from some enhancements to get the pacing up throughout.
- Great art and aesthetic
- Easy to pick up gameplay
- TONS of extra content
- Cross-platform multiplayer on multiple systems
- Solid soundtrack and voice acting
- Slow pacing in turns and gameplay
- Difficulty can be too much for some, tricky difficulty settings