And now we’ve got the most important part of the review out of the way with the title… Wargroove brings a breath of life to a genre untouched for a long time, popularized by the Advance Wars series in the West. Does it still hold up in a time where Fire Emblem reigns supreme?
Basics — Groove’em up
Wargroove is a turn-based tactics game — you control a bunch of units (and most of the time a commander as well), moving them around the map and fighting the opposing forces. Unlike the Fire Emblem series though, there are building you can take control of and recruit more units on land, air and sea. The game allows for playing either with a controller or just the mouse, which is great for people with limited mobility.
Aside from the units, each of the four faction has three commanders. Commanders are a unique named unit with great power and a special ability called a Groove. Once a commander has gained enough power by fighting and landing last strikes they can unleash it, these can really mix up the battlefield. One of the commanders is a dog called Caesar, which is amazing in itself.
Visuals — Every pixel a painting
Something Chucklefish’s catalogue excel at is pixel art — every game from them boasts beautiful pixel art, and Wargroove is no exception. Every commander is easily recognisable, every unit looks different, every army has a different influence, and yet all feel like a part of the same world. All the maps look incredibly clean too, every single tile is recognizable as a forest or a beach, regardless of the map’s theme.
The game’s audio is also amazing. Something that became a staple in the Advance Wars — different tracks for every single commander — is here in full swing. And while the variety in tracks is smaller than in the aforementioned series (no electric guitars in this fantasy world sadly) they all feel connected. You can tell which faction the character belongs to based on the instruments playing.
The sound effects are nice too, with each unit having their own taunts and damage noises. But, hearing the same shout dozens of times per game did get old for me fast, but the sound effects can just be muted to resolve this. I did notice that some effects keep playing for a while after skipping through combat. I assume this will be taken care of as Chucklefish is working hard to fix all issues that came up during the launch.
The Feel — Help me, I can’t stop playing
Wargroove is very simple to learn — the tutorial (which is the whole first act of the campaign) teaches you everything you need to know if you never played a game of this type. It was presented nicely and didn’t demand you read a wall of text — you can still do that though with the use of Codex, the encyclopedia of this game. You can read up on all the commanders and units as well as the lore of the world which you unlock during the campaign.
The campaign itself takes you all around the continent and makes you fight either as or against every commander on land, water and in air. Something that can be noticed early into the game are the difficulty spikes. While the general difficulty curve seems to be fair, there are missions that are vastly harder than the rest. Most of those are usually side missions, but some can grind your progress to a halt. Thankfully, there is a way to help yourself.
Accessibility in games is an important issue, and Wargroove works it in well. Apart from colourblind mode and changing the size of the UI, the player can also change the damage amount done to their units, daily income per village as well as the Groove charge amount. This makes the missions easier in one way or another, but it also limits the maximum stars gained by a mission to only one. You win some (missions) you lose some (stars).
There are also a few more changes to the formula that I found really appealing. Buildings such as villages or barracks can’t have units on them, which makes blocking them harder for opponents. You can also use buildings to heal units by spending money (amount based on unit type and amount healed) you can transfer health from the building onto the unit. This makes money even more useful, especially on maps with no ability to recruit.
Units themselves have some new stuff under their belt. Some units have special abilities which can be used, for a price, instead of attacking. This can be healing or dealing small amounts of damage over large areas. This gives you even more ways to interact, and more ways to help you win on maps, especially large ones — Wargroove maps feel bigger than Advance Wars maps, and thus feel a bit more sluggish.
Something that makes the game faster, however, is the critical hits. Each unit has a special condition under which it will deal extra damage. This adds to the tactical element of the game, making unit placement even more important. Putting two pikemen next to each other means a possible one-hit kill on another unit.
An important thing for a game’s longevity is the amount of content. Here, if you have access to the internet, it is unlimited as the game boasts a really complex map creator which allows for creating custom scenarios and even whole campaigns. Sharing the maps is easy: Uploaded maps have a code you can find it by. You can then play by yourself, or with friends, as the game allows for both local and online multiplayer.
Wargroove, even though I’d like to think so, isn’t perfect. There are a few quality of life missteps and issues, and I had a bug that had me digging through the game’s files to fix, a bug which could have potentially erased my save files. And while most of those are being patched by Chucklefish it feels like some of them shouldn’t be there in the first place, like the issue of readability about which units are effective against what.
I enjoyed myself every time I opened up Wargroove, regardless of small issues and major difficulty spikes here and there. The execution of the core of the game is impeccable. The campaign is really cool, there is an arcade mode, one turn puzzles and a bunch of other extras to unlock. And as when I spent hundreds of hours in my childhood playing Advance Wars with my friends, I plan to do so again, but this time with dogs.
Wargroove is available on Steam, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One. There is also a PS4 version coming out soon.