An Advance Wars clone in the best way possible
Wargroove takes no shame in riffing Advance Wars. It completely copies the turn-based tactical formula that made Advance Wars such a hit on the GBA and DS. The game mimics even the minute details such as terrain bonuses and unit types. While I enjoyed my time playing Wargroove there was always a sense of deja-vu, as if I’m not playing a new game but rather a fantasy mod of Advance Wars.
Wargroove has a few original ideas. The first of which is that the commander is a playable unit on the field. In order to charge the commander’s special meter you have to use him/her in combat. The specials or “grooves” aren’t as game changing as in Advance Wars but nevertheless give you a slight combat advantage such as a short range healing aura or defense barrier. Play too aggressively with the commander and you lose. If the commander dies, it is game over. The same goes for the enemy, eliminate their commander and you win. While it might seem like a winning strategy is to keep your general “at home”, I found that Wargroove encourages the opposite.
Wargroove favors aggressive moves. Buildings can be fully captured regardless of unit health. Healing is fairly expensive and costs a proportionate amount of the unit’s build cost. All ranged units except for the Trebuchet and Ballista can move and attack on the same turn. These changes make turtling disadvantageous in most situations. Unfortunately there are a few missions in the campaign that require you to hold a defensive position completely going against the game’s ethos.
The second striking feature of Wargroove is how each unit can land a critical hit. Instead of an RNG value (like in the Fire Emblem series), critical hits are based on specific conditions and varies from unit to unit. Spearman can land critical hits if they are next to other Spearman, Archers land critical hits if they do not move before shooting, etc. This feature makes battles more tactically interesting and encourages players to use all units optimally.
The campaign is serviceable and gives players an opportunity to meet all four factions. Just like in Advance Wars, the different factions are color-coded in red, blue, green and yellow and they all have access to the same units. The story is a generic coming of age story where Princess Mercia has to avenge her father’s death and eventually become the leader of the Cherrystone Kingdom. While on her journey, Mercia runs into the different factions who all seem to want to fight her for odd reasons, eventually they all become allies and defeat the evil plaguing the land. The story is nothing to write home about and can be completely skipped. The campaign itself however features some challenging missions that would even cause an Advance Wars veteran to sweat.
Wargroove also features other modes to pass the time. There is an arcade mode where you play as one of the commanders through a series of mini-quests. There is also a puzzle mode that challenges your ability to win the scenario in one move. There is local and online multiplayer and also a custom map editor that you can play around with. I haven’t played through all of the arcade mode scenarios or completed all the puzzles but I can guarantee you that there is a significant amount of varied content that can keep players entertained for weeks.
All in all, Wargroove doesn’t place any huge bets and sticks closely to the Advance Wars formula. The introduction of commanders being on the field and the critical hit feature are nice touches which add strategic depth to battles. The campaign has a story as generic as video game stories come, but the missions are well designed and challenging with the minor exception of the turtling missions. While I question the legitimacy of copying another game so openly, I do recognize there is an Advance Wars drought. The last Advance Wars game, Days of Ruin was released in 2008. For Advance Wars fans itching to play anything close to that in 2019, Wargroove will fill that void.