Someone on Chucklefish has clearly grown tired of waiting for Nintendo to bring Advance Wars because Wargroove's turn-based tactical combat is the closest to a modern, fantasy-themed revival you'll find. But this is not a game that depends only on your pixel-art nostalgia to win your love: Wargroove is a challenging and extremely entertaining tactical game with great multiplayer options and a level editor strong enough to make a tactical game all. own.
Instead of controlling a group of bespoke heroes, as in a Fire Emblem game, Wargroove gives you a single commander and summons waves of disposable units in the middle of the battle. Obviously, you'll still want to play smart and keep your troops alive, but remove the fear of losing someone with a name and face to death-standing or having to worry about getting your favorite characters to take you to a lighter and faster tactical taste.
Each type of unit seems useful in one situation or another, with its utility depending heavily on the layout of the map and the enemies in front of it. The four factions of Wargroove are visually distinct in cool ways, but they all have access to the same troops – the exception is the commanders, who have a unique ability called Groove. Basic units have others against which they are weak and strong, and it is a satisfying task to adapt to what your opponent is doing.
Crits are determined by positioning, not by luck, making the movement more nuanced than just marching forward.
If a map is scattered, I will usually invest in faster units like the Cavalry to cover more ground, but this comes with the risk that the enemy could face against relatively cheap Pikemen. If they were buying many air units, I could try to counter-attack with Shamans (one of my favorites thanks to their ability to heal) or Ballists to knock them down. I also love that each unit has a tasty condition to deal with critical hits that are determined by positioning, not by luck, making the move more than just moving forward. For example, Pikeman crit when they are close to each other, while the lovely Battlepups have to surround an enemy like a bunch.
The battle animations for all these units are super cool, too – direct successors of those in Advance Wars – with lots of little details depending on terrain or combatants (like doggies "running away" instead of dying, thank goodness). They end up getting old – and, frustratingly, you need to hold the button to ignore them for about half the length of the animation itself. I ended up turning them off completely to avoid this frustration, but I wish there was an intermediate option just to speed them up.
Battles of the Kingdom
Wargroove's ten-hour campaign is expansive and fun, but it has some problems with overly long missions that can take an hour or more to win. Not all missions are so long, but those that are definitely difficult when they can feel won or lost long before they end. It would not be such a big problem if you could save in the middle of the mission (you can fold and get back where you were later, but do not create saves to load after a loss, presumably to avoid the economy of foam) at the end of a one hour match is much more frustrating than challenging.
Fortunately, the Wargroove campaign has adaptive difficulty options – far more granular than the easy / normal / difficult configurations of its Arcade mode – that allow you to scale damage received, money earned, and Groove loading time by increasing or decreasing individually and a little at a time. If you're having trouble with a specific mission, you can raise your money a little or, if you've already outgrown the campaign, it can make things difficult for an extra challenge. I ended up playing the last half of Wargroove with my damage taken in just under 100%, not because it was very difficult – although there are certainly some very difficult missions – but just to make sure I did not lose at the last second of a mission again, which is not fun.
Wargroove's Artificial Intelligence is surprisingly clever, which is good, but it can also occasionally cause all-but-won matches to creep.
Surprisingly smart AI from Wargroove deserves some of the blame, but "competent AI" is a good problem to have in the long run. It will not crush an experienced player or anything, but it definitely kept me tiptoeing more than most do. Unlike many other tactical games, I would not be easily drawn to my traps while I danced around his range of attack. He would also prioritize the weakening of my strong units (lower level of health also means less damage to Wargroove) and skillfully remove the damaged units. I just wanted the last tactic not to result in dragging matches every time, but I won as I chased an enemy commander in the corner of the map.
The light war story of the campaign is cute and funny, but as deep as a puddle. It's a pretty simple tale, full of goofy moments and even a pop culture reference here and there – at first, a character says that a horde of undead will "be back and in greater numbers" as a tip for Star Wars . His cast of entertaining characters range from an overly weak villain to a small child riding a large battle marionette to a damn dog in armored troops – his name is Caesar and he is a very good boy – but they are not much more than vehicles for jokes and fights.
Meanwhile, there is no leveling or progression out of the game beyond unlocking new quests, which causes the draw to try to get the highest possible score in each level. But you can not even choose which commanders you bring into battle, though your group of travelers grow as you go, and I often wish I had that extra control. The end result is a nice but rather thin campaign. Still, it's one of the secrets of the middle of the mission and the unlockables that I still have to find, and I'm anxious to get back to locating them.
Savoring the Trimmings
On the other hand, the fast and fun Arcade mode seems more suited to the strengths of Wargroove. In it, you choose one of the campaign's unlockable commanders and play five fights with some even lighter history to bring them together. The main difference here is that the maps are always mirrored and often much smaller, keeping the odds equal and matches at the nicest mark of 20 to 30 minutes. Varied maps are randomly selected from a few dozen handmade options, making the rapid construction of a strategy for each of them exciting, although that will slow down after a while when you start seeing them again.
Asynchronous multiplayer on custom maps across platforms creates an impressive set of options online.
Arcade is a good preparation for a similar setup in PvP, and Wargroove options are pretty much the gold standard for turn-based multiplayer strategy games. Local games with up to four players work well enough, especially for cooperative maps, but the online options are really impressive: Wargroove has cross-play for PC, Switch and Xbox One, including map sharing – Chucklefish says there will be no multi -platform for the PS4 version when it is released later this year. And while you can take turns as normal, it also allows for seamless asynchronous playback. This means that you can go out and back whenever it's your turn, manage multiple matches at once. Simply put, that rules.
The included puzzle mode is also a highlight, though one that kept me coming back to it less than the others. Each puzzle takes you to a small fight that is already in progress and gives you a single turn to achieve some objective: kill the enemy commander, pick up a unit from point A to point B, etc. They can be super difficult to solve, and often forced me to think about my movement in new ways that I could take with me to other ways.
But what really gives Wargroove its legs is its incredibly powerful editor. It is a very simple tool to learn that allows you to create almost any map you can imagine. Placing objects and painting on the ground seems more suitable for a mouse, but its user interface is easier to navigate with a controller, which means that it is generally easy and quick to use on any platform. There are some annoyingly absent features, however, as a simple undo button.
The PC mods will undoubtedly result in some really amazing custom maps, but the editor is impressive even without them.
In addition, Wargroove also lets you create and share fully-detailed campaigns, with your own scenes, optional side missions, and even co-op if you'd like. It's basically "Advance Wars Maker," especially when you think about custom sprites and other mods that will undoubtedly hit the PC version – I doubt it will take long for someone to literally redo Advance Wars with a mod, and Chucklefish currently has plans to allow PC gamers to share these modified maps as regular ones. But even without mods on other platforms, whether you want to create a simple PvP map, a unique collaborative level, or a whole new story mode, Wargroove offers integrated, affordable tools for you to use.
It's also super simple to share and download custom creations on all three platforms. There is a featured guide to highlight some of the major ones, although it is not entirely clear how things are selected to go there. The biggest thing that the custom browser is missing is a way to rank good levels or denote difficulty, similar to what we see in Super Mario Maker, but there is at least one "Report" button for the inevitable deluge of dong levels that will be loaded later launch.