Published by Chucklefish
Reviewed on Switch (also available on PC, Xbox, and PlayStation 4)
2D tactical strategy games are a rarity this generation and Wargroove seeks to fill that void. It immediately stands out with its resemblance to Advance Wars, a beloved, strategy game franchise that’s been dormant for a decade. It takes the well worn template established by that series and replaces the cartoony military concept with a colorful fantasy theme. Chucklefish, best known for popular titles such as Stardew Valley and Starbound, expertly replicates the formula and adds their own tweaks to the experience.
The game’s protagonist is Mercia of Cherrystone, a newly anointed queen who’s on a quest to reclaim her kingdom from the invading Felheim legion. It’s a familiar premise dating back to the original Fire Emblem, but the colorful cast of characters she encounters along the way helps differentiate it from standard fantasy fare. This includes Caesar, Mercia’s lovable pet dog that also serves as a commanding office, to the mysterious vampire Sigrid. Overall, the story adopts a more light hearted approach that will resonate with Advance Wars fans.
Wargroove is a turned based strategy game where two or more opposing armies battle for control of a map and its resources. This involves skirmishes featuring a wide variety of unit types and capturing towns to generate gold, the resource used to create more units. Units have 10 health points and are defeated when that’s reduced to 0. Damaged units dish out less damage, although it’s possible to restore health points at a cost when next to a town. Initial unit types range from foot soldiers, pikemen, archers, calvary, scouts, transport vehicles, etc. Certain unit types are stronger or weaker against other types; i.e. pikemen are strong against cavalry while calvary are adept at taking down enemy towns and foot soldiers. Terrain such as mountains and forests plays an important role in providing extra defense and additional line of sight. Weather patterns can also influence battles by hindering unit movement.
Wargroove distinguishes itself from tactical RPGs like Fire Emblem by doing away with RNG damage. For instance, pikemen do guaranteed critical damage when adjacent to other pikemen. Archers do more damage when they don’t move during their turn. Hero units like Mercia have unique abilities called Grooves that can shift a battle. Mercia’s Groove allows her to heal nearby units while Caesar’s Groove enables adjacent units to act again. This is ideal for moving trebuchet type weapons that cannot move and attack in the same turn. Compared to the CO abilities in Advance Wars, these abilities are thankfully not overpowered. The hero units often serve as the difference between winning or losing, but thankfully none of their abilities are game breaking. These hero units don’t level up or gain new abilities, so victory comes down to tactical skill rather than luck. Players will face risk and reward situations since losing one results in a game over.
Players will earn 1-3 stars per battle in the campaign depending on the number of turns taken. Stars are used to unlock bonus content as well as the true ending and epilogue. If the game is too difficult, players can tweak options such as damage taken, income received, and how quickly Grooves charge up. It’s an innovative alternative to the usual Easy, Normal, and Hard settings found in most games. Making the game too easy limits the ability to earn stars, which in turn locks out the true ending. Other accessibility options include locking units to specific colors for color blind players. There are no mid battle saves, but the game does have an automatic quick save action that picks up on the last turn.
Wargroove operates at a methodical pace with long stages that often become attrition warfare. The challenging, slower pace of the battles might not appeal to everyone, so ideally the developers will patch in a fast forward option. One needed fix are the icons that depict each unit strengths and weaknesses. They are hard to decipher especially in handheld mode. The longer battles can feel repetitive, but there are other types of scenarios such as escort, rescue, and escape missions that add variety to the campaign.
Presentation-wise Wargroove is a dead ringer for an Advance Wars title complete with a zoomed out 2D map with miniaturized sprites representing units, towns, and terrain tiles. When units initiate battles, the skirmishes occur via in screen cut outs with bigger, more detailed sprites and animations. The overall presentation is charming because of the expressive sprites and fluid animation. The soundtrack is serviceable and sets the tone for battles and most importantly doesn’t become repetitive. Voice acting is limited to one liners, battle cries, and grunts but adds flavor to the sound design.
Aside from the game’s multiple character campaigns, fighting game inspired arcade mode, and the tactics focused puzzle mode, Wargroove’s most notable feature is its robust map editor. Players can customize their maps with chess like rules where one hit equals death. It’s even possible to create a full campaign complete with dialogue sequences prior and after battles. These creations can then be uploaded and shared with other players. As of this writing, there are already several recreations of Fire Emblem and Advance Wars maps.
There are also competitive and co-op modes that support cross platform play online. The stand out option is the asynchronous, online cross platform multiplayer mode (on Switch, Xbox One, and PC) where neither player has to be online at the same time. Players can take a turn and even leave the game while waiting for their opponent to make their move. Upon returning to the game players will receive a notification if their opponent made a move.
Overall Wargroove is strategically filled with tons of content, fun characters, and innovative cross platform play. Cross platform multiplayer and user created content means Wargroove has almost endless replay value. The developers have promised balance and content updates, so there’s plenty more to look forward to in the near future.