Genre: Turn-based tactics
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer (Local, Online)
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch
Release: Feb 1, 2019
With all the video game genres that have come and gone over the past few decades, it’s nice to see that turn-based strategy is still going strong. X-COM is still kicking 20 years later, Civilization is still as addictive and popular as ever, and Fire Emblem shows no signs of slowing down despite its rapidly increasing age. Advance Wars, on the other hand, is one such franchise that has since become lost to time. While many fans have been patiently waiting the past ten years for another entry, even more are unaware of the 2001 original’s three sequels despite remembering it fondly. These two groups are exactly who Wargroove is for. As an enticing and loyal replication of the original Advance Wars blueprint, Wargroove is a great reminder of what made the GBA classic so great, even if it's a bit too faithful for its own good.
The Tip and The Top
Wargroove has some incredibly competent yet fairly simple turn-based strategy gameplay that's lifted straight from its inspiration, and it still holds up well today. It's a grid-based affair that tasks you with moving your units and attacking your enemies’ forces while defending your own. The mechanics do quickly balloon in complexity by requiring you to take terrain types, currency management, and hero abilities into account; but Wargroove does an excellent job at staggering out the new mechanics at a steady pace over the course of its single player campaign. The turn-based system has some good versatility that’s amply explored in the story’s experimentation with epic large-scale battles and smaller objective-focused skirmishes. The pace of play can slow down if you have to watch through all the attack animations which are an Advance Wars hallmark, but they can be turned off if you don’t mind missing out on some cinematic flair.
Being a turn-based strategy game to its core, Wargroove’s no-nonsense difficulty isn’t for everyone - but it offers some surprisingly serviceable difficulty options for those who want to just kick back and enjoy the ride, and the masochists who want one slip-up to cause them the battle. There are three difficulty sliders that allow you to finely tune the damage you take, the currency you receive, and the speed at which your heroes gain their special abilities. You are penalized for making things easier by not being able to get higher rankings on the story’s missions, but you’re otherwise more than welcome to tweak the difficulty so that your quest is more fun than it is frustrating. Wargroove’s default difficulty doesn’t mess around and the AI are more than willing to smack you around if you’re not properly prepared - but the difficulty options ensure that newcomers can get their fair share of fun too.
Wargroove has some excellent music which is much appreciated since you’ll be hearing the battle music so often. This is a turn-based strategy game after all, and you could spend hours on any one map with all the deep consideration and planning that can go into every turn. That being the case, you should prepare yourself to hear that battle music more times than you’d care to, but it’s still pretty good. The music everywhere else is great and jives well with the high-fantasy setting that Wargroove takes place within. This is certainly a soundtrack worth listening to in your free time.
Wargroove doesn’t only sound great, but it looks great too. It faithfully recreates its inspiration in the visuals department which isn’t surprising, but it can still be a visual treat. The heavily GBA-inspired sprite art looks and animates extremely well. The pleasant visuals are further enhanced by a vibrant color palette that makes Wargroove very easy on the eyes despite its typical indie look.
While Wargroove spins a tale that’s far from original - especially for its setting - it’s still filled with enticing character interactions between the members of its charming cast. You’ll follow a combat-hardened princess who finds out her father (the king) has been assassinated, and she takes charge as the one to lead the war against the opposing faction that’s made up of vampires, walking skeletons, and other less than natural beings. The story is structured like a fantasy road trip that has you traversing the island’s territory and fighting the various factions you encounter who eventually pledge allegiance to your cause. There are plenty of colorful characters to encounter, and they not only have some fun banter courtesy of some great writing, but they also contribute to the setting’s lore which is impressively deep if you’re willing to dive into the game’s written codex.
Wargroove has plenty of content to chew on, especially for its $20 price. The story has some decent length with a good helping of side missions and three star ratings to achieve, but there’s still plenty to do after the dust has settled. Each hero has their own arcade mode that runs you through a series of predetermined battles in addition to a puzzle mode that requires more deliberate planning and forward thinking. There’s even a multiplayer suite that lets you play locally or online to test your mettle against human opponents on user-made maps. If you like what Wargroove has to offer, there’s plenty of excuses here to keep playing it well into the foreseeable future.
The Flip and the Flop
Wargroove adheres to the old philosophy “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” a little too rigorously. The gameplay here is almost an exact replication of Advance Wars and little else. There aren’t any persistent upgrades, significant unit unlockables, or really any forms of progression whatsoever. There are plenty of battles to be won and challenges to overcome, but it’s the same old song and dance as the 2001 Game Boy Advance game it seeks to usurp. The strategic gameplay is still fun since this formula has popped up so infrequently over the years, but it still could’ve used a little something extra to keep players incentivized throughout longer play sessions. It can be especially difficult to avoid putting the game down for a while after experiencing a long and drawn-out defeat.
The story in Wargroove is also a bit disappointing. Oddly enough, its options screens are far more interesting than the actual plot’s locales as they depict interesting indoor settings that are nowhere to be found in the story itself. The story here unfolds in little scenes that happen almost exclusively on outdoor battlefields before and after missions. There are bafflingly few personal moments or lore-building scenes - the character dialogue gets all the attention. It’s a shame as some of the game’s menu screens show off a roaring forge, a glittering treasure trove, and a lush forest clearing that are nowhere to be seen in the campaign. They’ve got some strong characters here with some very neat designs - it’s just unfortunate that they don’t let you get to know them very well.
Final Verdict: B
Wargroove is the Advance Wars spiritual successor that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, namely give us another excuse to think through the series’ trademark turn-based strategy battles that many have grown to love. Though there isn’t much new here in the gameplay department, there’s still plenty of content in Wargroove that gives you no lack of excuses to kick back and conquer the opposition one turn at a time.