War never changes, but this one is pretty adorable.
Wargroove is a new strategy game for PC, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One, inspired by the Advance Wars series. Shifting from an industrial setting to light fantasy, the game is full of cute pixel art, light-hearted dialogue and soldiers getting massacred over simple political misunderstandings. Low value of life aside, it is a throwback to the Gameboy Advance era of strategy games which offers an accessible alternative to newer fans of the genre.
The main storyline is as follows: the King of the Cherrystone Kingdom is assassinated by a Vampiric intruder from Felheim, which leads to a war between the nations. Mercia, the new queen, has to flee from the invading forces and their necromancer leader Valder. With the help of her trusted advisor Emeric and her armoured dog Caesar, Mercia gathers allies from the Floran Tribes and Heavensong Empire to fight against the invasion. The Felheim legion are trying to uncover a weapon of incredible power, the Requiem, but the legend of this weapon is shrouded in mystery. It is up to you to stop them!
As a top-down strategy game, the main mechanics of Wargroove are to build units, capture buildings and fight enemies. You win by eliminating the enemy commander or destroying their stronghold. Some levels have different requirements, such reaching a certain area on the map, evacuating refugees or only using a limited number of units. There are plenty of units to choose from, which are slowly introduced so as to not overwhelm the player in early levels.
There are the standard ground units from barracks, infantry, cavalry etc, but you also have a selection of Air and Naval units that can only be recruited from towers and docks respectively. Each unit carves out its own niche; ballistas and trebuchets can move long distances but cannot attack after moving, sea turtles can only target other naval units but have lots of mobility and dragons deal huge damage to ground units but cannot engage in air-to-air combat.
Each commander has a Groove, which is a special ability which charges up over time/after combat. Some are heavily damage-focused, like Ragna’s Shield Jump. Others provide utility like Greenfinger’s Wild Growth, which creates impassable plants. However, one of the strongest abilities and the one that you will become most familiar with is Mercia’s Healing Aura. Different commanders are obviously better suited to certain strategies, but it is possible to play all of them in the same way if you are stubborn. A lot of the variety comes from the unique scenarios in each level as well as the different maps. If there are lots of villages to capture, you should recruit lots of basic infantry. Lots of mountains and rivers? Invest in flying units!
As well as the campaign mode, there is also an arcade mode and a puzzle mode. The arcade mode allows you to play as any of the characters that you have unlocked and you play 5 or so fights against different enemy commander to find the mysterious weapon. Completing a character’s arcade run shows you an alternate ending to the story where your chosen character wields the legendary weapon for their personal motives, as well as unlocking more lore.
The puzzle mode is one of my favourite parts of the game. You are tasked with defeating a commander, destroying a stronghold or escorting a refugee in only one turn in a specific map scenario. Not every unit may necessary to complete the puzzle, but you often need to get characters to use their critical hit by fulfilling certain requirements: spearmen need to stand next to another spearman, trebuchets have to hit a unit at their maximum range etc. It reminded me a lot of Hearthstone’s Puzzle Labs; both games turned their complex strategy game into an intuitive medium for clever puzzles.
There is also online competitive multiplayer, but I personally prefer to play the game alone. There is so much single player content to enjoy (with many secrets to unlock!) and it can be played at a leisurely pace, as opposed to a tense multiplayer situation with time pressure which does not help you progress. Local multiplayer can be fun, but not as a casual party game. I can imagine hardcore fans putting their honour on the line and making ludicrous bets on matches, but not me personally (my extreme gamble game is Mario Strikers Charged, Daisy main, fight me).
Music to my ears
The gameplay of Wargroove is nostalgic but builds on the Advance Wars formula. Combat strategies can vary wildly with a balanced roster of units and Air and Naval combat are well-integrated so that they feel connected to the rest of the battle. As mentioned, the puzzle mode is a real highlight of the game. The music creates a cheerful atmosphere and, despite how little we see the characters interact, the quality of the writing makes the archetypal story and characters relatively memorable. The side missions and lore give you plenty of opportunities to get to know the characters better and offer additional insight into the world of Aurania.
Wargroove is packed to the brim with content, especially for the price, and fans of the game will be rewarded for their commitment. There is also an emerging community online to help you improve your play and figure out tough levels.
However, Wargroove is not a perfect game. Despite its engaging strategy gameplay, difficult levels can try your patience and matches can drag out if your playstyle is quite defensive. There are also a couple of minor quality of life issues, such as being unable to lock attack ranges of enemies so you are unable to see all of the enemy units’ areas of control at a glance. The game’s battle scenes are well-made, but last a long time. In large scale matches, it is often better to turn them off unless you want to artificially double your playtime.
In short, Wargroove is a fantastic game for casual fans of the genre and hardcore strategists alike. You can really get your value out of this game, with its variety of different modes and multiplayer but is well worth picking up just for the campaign. The developers have done Advance Wars justice and hopefully there will be more to come!
Score: 8.7 🐶⚔️