All’s much more than fair in love and Wargroove.
Nintendo hasn’t put out a title in the Advance Wars series since 2008’s Days of Ruin on the DS, so developer Chucklefish decided to take matters into their own hands and give fans what they’ve been clamoring for. For over a decade, many have begged for another Advance Wars game, and while it might not share the name, Wargroove delivers in spectacular fashion. It changes up the gameplay in a number of ways, most of them good, but the end result is still an immensely satisfying turn-based strategy game with loads of content and replayability.
Wargroove’s Campaign mode sees hero Mercia go on a journey to avenge her father and vanquish the evil powers that have assaulted her homeland of Cherrystone. With her trusted advisor Emeric and faithful hound Caesar, she sets out to acquire allies and prepare for the ultimate showdown. In doing so, Mercia visits three other factions that represent different territories of the game world, and the commanders of these factions become both your teammates and rivals. The basic gameplay involves producing units like swordsmen and knights, capturing buildings, and eliminating enemy units. The story elements are funny and compelling and serve as a nice backdrop for the more thoughtful and strategic gameplay. Each of the seven acts has about three story missions and a couple side missions, with the latter allowing you to learn more about each commander. Finishing the side missions also opens up new characters to play as in Arcade mode.
Arcade mode pits each of the game’s commanders against a series of five opponents in five different battles, with map layouts that aren’t seen in Campaign mode. After choosing among easy, normal, and hard difficulty levels, you play through all five battles in succession, but a loss ends your run and forces you to start over. Playing on a higher difficulty setting rewards you with more stars, which are used to unlock art in the Gallery menu. Stars are also earned in the Campaign and Puzzle modes and represent a neat way of tracking your progress.
Puzzle mode features 25 stages that must be completed in a single turn. All of the stages are available from the start, but the ones near the end of the list are extremely elaborate and require an immense amount of thinking and planning. It’s a nice chess-like take on the gameplay and perfect if you don’t have 30 or more minutes to set aside for the regular maps.
In terms of multiplayer, a local hotseat option allows 2-4 players to take turns passing the Switch in portable mode from person to person. Online multiplayer allows you to join and host games for friends or play a quick match against a random opponent. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to test out the online play before launch, but it should only add to an already excellent package.
For the more creative among us, Wargroove offers extensive tools for campaign and level editing. Even better is the fact that all of your creations can be shared across PC, Xbox One, and Switch, so there is sure to be a ton of awesome content out there for download. The map and campaign creation tools are plentiful, if not a little overwhelming, and even allow you to create your own cutscenes and events. Because of the sheer amount of content and the level of detail, though, tutorials would have been a good inclusion. As it is, I suspect much of the creating will be done by a small portion of the player base, but with a healthy community, the number and variety of scenarios and stages could be endless.
The visual presentation is fairly simple, with bright colors and a whimsical, cartoon-style that fits the setting really well. The music is fine and suits the aesthetic, but I didn’t really spend much time with it since the gameplay lends itself so well to throwing on a pair of headphones and your favorite podcast. The menus are easy to navigate, and the different battlefields are both unique and clear, making it a breeze to move your units around and distinguish between different terrain types. A nice touch is in how the names and appearance of the units change based on which of the four factions you are playing as.
As I have done and many others will do, comparing Wargroove to Advance Wars makes a lot of sense, but there are some key differences. In Wargroove, the commanders have “Groove” abilities that charge up and can be used as a standard action. Mercia’s ability allows her to heal herself and units around her; other commanders can, for example, summon units to their side or leap into a group of foes to damage them. The CO Powers in Advance Wars seem to be more impactful and game-changing by comparison, often affecting more of the battlefield. As well, rather than granting specific bonuses to all units of a given type or making certain purchases cheaper or more expensive as in Advance Wars, the commanders in Wargroove are simply powerful units; they don’t alter the attack or defense of lesser units. Instead, all units, like trebuchets and mages, have a specific condition that enables a critical strike for extra damage. For instance, if an archer doesn’t move and only attacks on their turn, the attack will hit even harder. Another significant difference is that captured buildings can defend themselves and restore allied units’ hit points, for a price.
In spite of how solid the overall experience is, Wargroove does have a couple weaknesses worth mentioning. When looking at a unit’s strengths and weaknesses, you see small portraits that indicate how your unit would fare against others, and the size and detail of the portraits makes them hard to distinguish. Into The Breach, another standout turn-based strategy game, allows the player a do-over once per map, but Wargroove doesn’t offer such an option, and it would have been nice to see. It hurts to accidentally end a unit’s turn and lose a scenario you’ve been playing for over an hour. Finally, the Campaign mode stages award up to three stars and a letter-grade for completing each one, but it’s not entirely clear how to earn three stars or an S-ranking. The only piece of information you get in this regard is that if you tweak the damage, income, or Groove meter settings, you can only earn a maximum of one star.
Wargroove offers a robust and content-laden package that turn-based strategy fans will adore. Because of the sheer number of customization options and modes, newcomers and more casual fans will find a lot to love here, too. Unlockable characters and codex entries, local and online multiplayer, and three different single-player modes make Wargroove the next must-buy title on Switch. We first saw it two years ago, and it’s been a tough wait, but Chucklefish have rewarded our patience in spades. Now, I’m looking forward to the 2019 reappearance of Deee-lite and their newest hit: “Wargroove is in the Heart.”