It's not often that fans' requests for a new entry in a series are ignored, except that an independent developer provides the perfect answer. And that's exactly what we have in Wargroove, an apparent Advance Wars series facsimile that has been inactive for more than a decade. While the immediate appeal is to fill a void that has few games to play in recent years, Wargroove introduces smart enhancements and impressive custom content tools that make this experience a fantastic strategy game.
Wargroove's basic gameplay is barely distinguishable from Advance Wars (a benchmark the developer Chucklefish himself has not bypassed). It is a turn-based tactical game based on a tile-based map in which you can build an army, take control of structures that can build units or generate gold, and (usually) work to eliminate or target a particular target to destroy. Every action is a significant commitment. Since units can not stack on the same tile and buildings can only produce one thing per turn, you need to think through your strategy carefully each round. The same goes for the fight. Since the damage is determined by the amount of health of a unit, aggressiveness can help you take less damage later. None of this is new, but it serves as a solid base that enhances Chucklefish.
Wargroove not only ignites the classic gameplay of Advance Wars, but also its visual style. The pixelated, cartoon-like cards are filled with little flourishes that help them to feel alive; Birds fly over them, fires burn, and the shadows thrown by clouds slowly move along the ground. When the fight starts, the action switches to a 2D side view that shows the two units that are in quadrature and show great-looking animations. The best of these is the dog commander Caesar, who shows an honestly impressive level of nonchalance, scratching himself, and spending his time as his crossbow guard. (Despite the presence of dog bodies – Battlepups! – the amount of whining is reduced to a minimum if they are damaged.) As beautiful as everything looks, I have noticed the breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses of the units – from small, often similar looking portraits – unnecessarily difficult to read.
Aside from swapping Advance Wars firearms, jets and tanks for swords, dragons, and magic, the most obvious change is the way the commanders work. Commanders are not powerful units on the map that dominate you like any other. In most cases, eliminating the commander of the other team is one of the available victory conditions, so you always want to keep yours safe. What makes the commanders so interesting is the way they encourage them to be aggressive.
Commanders each have a unique ability – the titular grooves – such as healing neighboring units so that neighboring units can become active again during combat, summoning a current turn, a friendly unit, and so on. These build up passively, but are gained much faster by eliminating opponents with your commander who, unlike standard units, gains some health each round. Therefore, it is often advisable to work with your commander to maximize how often you can use your groove. However, this gives you difficult decisions. Does it make sense to hurt a strong unit with your commander, but not kill to mitigate the damage he can do and kill a weak enemy with another unit? Or should your commander secure the final strike to get your groove much faster, but are you risking the next strong unit attack that inflicts more damage? Units each have opponents they are strong and weak against, and the terrain can provide defensive buffs or nerfs. In addition, the commanders provide an extra consideration that makes even a simple consideration something that you need to investigate more thoroughly.
The same is true for Wargroove's critical hit system. Instead of being a coincidence, each non-commander unit has specific criteria for when a critical hit occurs. Pikemen get critical hits near a friendly pikeman, rangers when attacking without moving, trebuchets when their target is at the edge of their attack range, and so on. As a result, you sometimes have to balance the risk of over-exertion to get a critical hit and the risk of being in a more vulnerable position. In one case, you could endanger a spear just to make sure someone else gets a critical hit. In another case, you could easily retreat in a round with a knight, so that in the next round you can use your maximum range of motion (trigger a critical strike) to kill an enemy and avoid a counterattack. In some cases, the logic behind the critical hit requirements is not resourceful – the one for naval units just encourages you to be in a certain kind of water tile – but they provide another welcome depth layer for combat and additional unit differentiation ,
Healing your damaged units is another tricky decision. The main method requires you to move alongside a structure that you own and then pay gold that would otherwise be used to buy units or activate certain abilities. But such healing comes with the downside of commercial health from this structure (which is slowly getting better each round) to unity (which does not). Sometimes this means that you are not necessarily able to heal anyone, even if you have the gold to cover the costs. It can also mean that you have to leave your buildings – and thus your source of income and additional units. There are no easy decisions here, and the aforementioned commander health regeneration offers you the risky option of giving you tank damage and hoping you can recover from it for free.
Although she has so much to juggle, the action is rarely overwhelming. This is partly due to the availability of a manageable number of device types. The four factions of Wargroove differ only in their appearance, although each of the three commanders has its own unique groove. It is disappointing to know that the introduction of a new faction means little, but there are enough unit types and systems to keep things interesting. Having to consider dozens of additional unit types would have slowed every turn to a crawl every time they tried to remember how they all work.
Although there is so much to juggle, the action is rarely overwhelming.
Which unfortunately slows down The measure down is the process to determine the danger zone in which you can be attacked. Instead of allowing you to see the total possible attack range of the opposing team, you can only see it unit by unit. In particular, when managing expensive antenna units that can be easily dropped if certain air defense specialists are within reach, these areas must be carefully checked and retested. This adds unnecessary boredom to each round, especially in large battles involving a significant number of units at the same time. Consequently, it takes more time than would otherwise be necessary to facilitate this hard work.
These seasons have occasionally proved frustrating in the campaign. While I only had difficulty in a handful of missions, I often came to the end of 20-30 minutes of games. Without a chance to create a rescue during the mission, a loss can be daunting, especially if it is an accidental click (it's far too easy to end a round or accidentally wait for a unit) or because of you They did not notice any enemy unit and therefore did not claim their attack range.
Some of my frustrations at these failures were due to the fact that I was curious about what the next mission would do. Most offer some new wrinkles, such as the introduction of a new type of unit, or a different mission structure (eg, assistance in retreat). Dialogues are sometimes funny, but the story is forgetful. It is a series of conflicts that could be avoided if characters really try to explain why they are not enemies. However, history is not an essential part of the experience, and much of the world's knowledge is associated with a code. Plus, the ever-new ideas that the action itself offers are the reason why you have to go through the campaign.
Even after the campaign ends, there are many other ways to keep playing. The arcade mode offers you a series of five battles and a lightweight narrative wrapper for each commander, so you have a lightweight campaign that you can see through in a single session. Puzzle Mode offers you a fascinating level that needs to be completed in a single move, forcing you to ensure that every movement maximizes your damage. The four-player multiplayer mode that supports both local and online games works well and presents a more rewarding, unpredictable challenge than what the AI can muster. However, the lack of online support for private games and AI players (available offline) is a regrettable omission.
The greatest potential of Wargroove lies in its custom build tools. Not only can you create maps, but entire campaigns with main missions, side missions, and cut scenes. These can easily be shared and downloaded directly in the game. While Wargroove's authoring aspect is initially overwhelming – all you have to do is discover the myriad of tools available to you, and the end result is the ability to create a campaign that matches that of the game. The entry into this creation suite is not for everyone, but everyone can benefit from those who do. A minor criticism of this setup: There is no way to jump directly into a new map when you are looking for new content, and if you fail on a stand-alone map, you will be booted back to the main menu without complications.
Outside of campaigns and standard missions, there is also the option for card creators to develop completely new ways of playing. An example of this is the Chessgroove card, which picks up two teams in a standard chess formation and allows players to play only one move per turn. It's a fascinating concept, but it quickly becomes tiring. Since units are not killed instantly, as in chess, you can not quickly assess possible moves, turning a relatively fast paced thing into a boring slog. As uninteresting as I was when I played Chessgroove again after my first match, it gives me an idea of what kind of "outside-the-box" concepts people might find.
That's good news, because Wargroove is a joy to play, and the possibility of an endless supply of content is a tantalizing prospect. Chucklefish could have offered Advance Wars in online multiplayer mode for a nice game. Instead, significant improvements have been made, making it a satisfying answer to the desires of the famished Advance Wars fans and a truly great experience for themselves.