Advance Wars was a good game series. If you didn’t know they were a series of games released on the Gameboy Advance and were designed as turn-based tactical strategy games that you could play on the move. The sprite art was lovely, the gameplay was challenging and it became a bit of a cult classic until the series died off with the system it was based on. Now however it seems Chucklefish have decided to take it upon themselves and release the spiritual successor to this series. Does Wargroove live up to the expectations of fans? We shall see.
The story of Wargroove is told through the campaign mode and tells us the woes of the Cherrystone kingdom and it’s Queen who after the assassination of her father must deal with the impending threat to her people from the Felheim Legion, a collection of Undead led by a powerful Necromancer. It’s up to you to recruit new allies and bring the fight to them and maybe uncover a secret power that others are looking for. In terms of the actual story it’s rather generic fantasy stuff you’ve all seen before but the dialogue is often fairly humorous which certainly helps to make it more enjoyable. There is also a type of smaller campaign for each commander in the ‘Arcade’ mode which allows you to try out various scenarios and understand the background behind each character a little more. Ultimately however this all works to simply be stages for the gameplay and by doing that it works well. I do however enjoy the fact that the lore of the various factions and characters in this universe are collected in a codex that you can view and unlock new pages from during gameplay as it certainly helps to make the world feel a bit more unique.
The presentation in this game is utterly gorgeous for a nostalgia nerd like myself, The sprite art perfectly encapsulates the style of Advance Wars in a fantasy setting which is exactly what the developers were going for, Animations look smooth and make battles look more epic than just small sprites moving about a grid (though they do tend to get a bit drawn out as the game goes on). I also like the variation in unit looks between each faction as they all feel perfectly natural within their respective groups. While the music hasn’t produced any notable songs I am listening to constantly it was appropriate for the battles and helped them to feel a lot more exciting. I particularly enjoyed the themes for each of the commanders, especially that of the vampire Sigrid. While the general look of the world may seem a bit generic compared to many other fantasy worlds I still enjoyed it though I do wish there was a bit more variety in the locations that you visited as the map tiles tended to look fairly similar as time went on.
The gameplay is one of the most important aspects for a strategy game and Wargroove certainly doesn’t disappoint. As I mentioned this is basically Advance Wars but with Knights and Dragons instead of Soldiers and Tanks. Due to this the gameplay is a lot more melee based and you really have to watch your positioning. Having all your knights charge into an enemy horde is fine and all but if they have a large amount of ranged units then you can say goodbye to them next turn. The variety of units then help to make the gameplay far more tactical and interesting rather than just getting as many people as possible and charging into the enemy. This is also helped by the critical hit system which rewards you with positioning and tactical maneuvers rather than just blindly attacking. A good example of this is the archer units who can cause a critical hit for more damage on enemies if they don’t move from their current position on that turn. This encourages you to funnel enemies through choke points and position your archer just out of harm’s way so the bad guys can be taken out. This focus on tactical gameplay also flows into the campaign which is actually quite challenging as you get further into it. At times I felt as though I might give up and lower the difficulty but as I recollected each mission and thought about them methodically I eventually secured victory which made me feel amazing. Every faction also has several Commanders which are powerful units with a unique ‘Groove’ ability that is unique to them. Some heal your allies while others deal damage to enemies or move units around and must be charged up by doing certain actions. This helps to make the factions feel a bit more unique and also allows you to choose the Commander that best fits your playstyle. While the Campaign and Arcade modes are rather extensive there are also various other gamemodes including a puzzle mode, local and online co-op or multiplayer battles but the most fascinating of them all is an in-built map editor and scenario creator. With these tools you can essentially make your very own campaigns and even brand new gameplay mechanics by tweaking game settings and making your own cutscenes complete with dialogue and acts. I feel as though this influx of custom content is where this game will truly shine as some people have already done amazing things like implementing Fire Emblem gameplay mechanics into the battles or mapping out every single Advance Wars campaign map. From the amount of custom content and how easy it is to create and experience this truly feels like the Halo 3 of turn-based strategy games and if you know me at all you know how big of an honour that comparison is.
However the game does have some faults to it but the developers do seem very active around the release of the game so some of these problems may be addressed in the future. The main problem I had was the lack of variety in unit types between the different factions. I’m aware that it was like this in both Advance Wars and Fire Emblem with everyone sharing the same type of units however due to this game’s emphasis on a faction system it would make sense to have variations of at least the stats between the units. Things such as having the Undead Skeletons be weaker than the Cherrystone Knights but also they would be cheaper to make. Things like this would help to make each faction feel a bit more unique rather than just feeling like a bunch of different skins with a unique commander. I also found the lack of saving in the middle of battles to be unfortunate, especially with how difficult this game can get. You can save and leave in the middle of battle but you cannot reload that save if you make a mistake or something later on which while it would make the game easier I also feel it would help alleviate some of the stress I had with some of the missions.
In conclusion I loved my time with Wargroove. I feel it truly is deserving of being the spiritual successor to Advance Wars and I think that the new gameplay mechanics they added help to distinguish it enough to feel like a unique experience. Ultimately I feel as though this game will live on through the custom content that people can make for it and I personally am extremely excited to see what content people will make for the game years down the line. This could very well be the ‘Strategy Game Framework’ game for all sorts of talented modders and map makers to make entire new stories and gameplay around which is an extremely exciting prospect to think about.