A lot of people jumped onto the Wargroove bandwagon when it was first announced. I was no exception. A spiritual successor to the Advance Wars franchise that not only mimics it in terms of gameplay but graphically as well? How could you call yourself an Advance Wars fan and not be hyped for this game’s release? The game, at least based on what we could see, promised to offer everything that its source material did and more. And, while a lot of promises like that don’t pan out, Wargroove’s did — but I feel like I got more than I bargained for.
“Fun” and “frustrating”. Those are the two words that fight for dominance when I think about my experience with this game. On one hand, Wargroove does deliver a phenomenal tactical experience and is jam-packed with as many Advance Wars elements that it can fit in. On the other hand, it also attempts to go beyond that. Now, adding in additional elements in order to make a game your own is totally fine. I’d even go so far as to call it “necessary” unless you’re willing to resign yourself to having designed nothing more than a clone of a pre-existing game (which the devs of this game absolutely weren’t). To its credit, a decent amount of what it threw in was actually good. But it only takes one rotten apple to spoil the bunch. And, while Wargroove is nowhere near being “spoiled”, I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t a little off in some places.
The First Campaign
In a manner which is, curiously, more fitting within a cliché horror title, Wargroove‘s story begins on a dark and stormy night, as well as with the invasion of Cherrystone Castle by a lone vampire named Sigrid. Despite having no backup at all, Sigrid easily, and stealthily, storms the castle herself, making quick work of any hapless soldiers who get in the way. Soon enough, she arrives at King Mercival’s chambers and, with no one to stop her, swoops in, attacks the King, and demands that he hands over a certain “key” — which he does not. Angered with his noncompliance, she kills him and leaves to search elsewhere.
Shortly after King Mercival’s death, his daughter Mercia is made Queen of Cherrystone. Before she can begin adjusting to her new position as a ruler, or even properly mourn her own father’s death, however, she soon receives word that her kingdom has come under attack by the kingdom of Fellheim. Led by the dangerous and enigmatic Vader, Fellheim’s legion of undead poses a serious threat to Cherrystone if left unchecked. Thus, with little else to do than fight, Mercia charges into battle to save her beloved homeland.
Wargroove may be about war, death, and the struggle to thrive, but don’t let that fool you; its story is anything but morbid. Despite the oftentimes serious nature of the overarching plot, as well as a select few characters, Wargroove has a distinctly goofy feel about it. With a cast consisting of your boisterous, undead rival, a cheeky plant girl, and a dog that is somehow also able to command an army, it’s hard to take this game entirely seriously. And that’s okay. No one ever said that a game about war had to be overly dramatic (I mean, just look at Advance Wars). A game like this doesn’t need a lengthy, convoluted plot, and its expressive pixelated graphics are more befitting of something simple and fun, anyway.
Foreign, Yet Familiar
As I’ve already mentioned more times than I care to count, Wargroove plays a lot like Advance Wars. In fact, in many ways, it’s basically Advance Wars with a medieval-themed coat of paint slapped onto it. Its gameplay works largely the same as its predecessor’s, with the player needing to use their tactical knowhow and military might to overthrow their opponent. Many of Wargroove‘s units have comparable Advance Wars counterparts as well. But I’m not here to focus on the similarities. Instead, I’d like to talk about what Wargroove offers helps it to stand out from the rest of its ilk.
Despite how it may play on a technical level, a good chunk of Wargroove does not, in fact, feel like Advance Wars. And this is largely due to the several small mechanical changes that, while seemingly small, really shake things up. The first of these changes deal with structures. As always, players are able to capture settlements such as towns and barracks in order to procure more funds and deploy more units. The way in which capturing is handled, however, works differently. While capturing neutral structures is still as easy as walking up to and clicking on them, enemy structures must actually first be defeated before they can be captured. Attacking a structure works the same way that attacking a unit does and, because units now take damage when trying to take property away from their opponents, it becomes even more crucial to plan your takeovers carefully.
Additionally, each team also (normally) has a commander which is deployed at the beginning of the battle. True to their name, Commanders are much more powerful than their normal unit counterparts and are even capable of unleashing a Groove (similar to a CO Power), which can turn the tide of battle. While Commanders are a great addition to the meta, fighting as and against them can be troublesome sometimes, as having your Commander die results in an automatic loss.
While Wargroove‘s campaign does have more than its fair share of skirmish-style maps, it isn’t all that the game has to offer. A good number of levels are less about how well you can overwhelm the enemy, and more about how efficiently you can complete a given task. These are primarily carried out via what can best be described as escort missions — something more befitting of Fire Emblem, than Advance Wars — and are much more trial-and-error based than standard skirmishes. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t exactly what you would call “fun”. As much as I appreciate Chucklefish for trying something new, throwing in missions that require you to protect a scant few units generally came across as frustrating to me. Placing the player in a precarious situation is fine and dandy (and this game does that a lot), but the amount of finesse that this game expects you to have with some of its less-traditional levels is ultimately very frustrating.
Riddle Me This
While its main campaign is rather sizable, Wargroove didn’t see itself content to not include as much content as possible. Alongside the main course, players are also able to indulge in Arcade and Puzzle Modes. Almost working as a second story mode itself, Arcade Mode lets players pick and choose from any of the game’s characters (as they unlock them) and take on five back-to-back battles in a row in order as they attempt to complete their quest of finding the “ultimate weapon”. Unlike the Campaign Mode, Arcade Mode maps are much more evenly divided, giving players a more authentic and balanced version of the game’s combat (and is personally one of my favorite features). Working opposite to that is Puzzle Mode, which throws 25 maps at the player — all of which must be completed in a single turn. Truthfully, I was very impressed by Puzzle Mode. As maddening as some of the puzzles could be, they were very satisfying to play through. Just be sure that you know how every unit works before diving in!
If all of that still isn’t enough, then you can just go ahead and make your own game. What? No, I’m not being snarky. You can literally do that. Thanks to what has to be one of the most impressive customization features I’ve seen in quite some time, players are given free rein of all things Wargroove in order to create and share their own content. Not only does this mean that you can create maps, but you can literally create entire campaigns — complete with your own stories, dialogue, levels, and special rules. Is that a lot of work? Heck yeah, it is. But the fact that this game gives you the option to do that is incredible.
Marching to its Own Beat
Wargroove isn’t perfect. Some of its (admittedly well-intentioned) decisions were questionable, and the game had me stressing out more than I would like to admit. But, those few hang-ups aside, there really is a lot to like about this game. Not only does it feature a veritable smorgasbord of content for players to enjoy, but it even goes so far as to ensure that players can tweak things to their liking with its customization features. If you consider yourself an Advance Wars aficionado and still haven’t picked up Wargroove yet, do yourself a favor and do so.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Chucklefish Limited ; Developer: Chucklefish Limited ; Players: 1 – 4 ; Released: July 23, 2019 (PS4) ; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone Ages 10+; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Wargroove given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.