Let's just get it out of the way now: Wargroove is a lot like Advance Wars. I'm not the first reviewer to make that connection, and I'm sure I won't be the last. Many people even bought the game for that very reason, to the point that they're recreating Advance Wars maps in Wargroove. The comparison is inevitable, and at times it seems like developer Chucklefish even designed Wargroove to be a Game Boy Advance game. So what does that mean in 2019?
Basically, Wargroove is a solid strategy game jam-packed with old-school charm and content to spare. It's so faithful to its inspiration that it contains some questionably archaic design decisions, but these small issues do little to slow Wargroove's march to victory.
The game makes what it is apparent the first campaign mission, which is probably where most players will start. You play as a vampire who slaughters her way through castle halls on the way to assassinate the king. That sounds pretty hardcore, right? Except Wargroove is presented through adorable sprites and cartoony animations. Again, it hearkens back to Advance Wars on the Game Boy Advance. A time before Call Of Duty became a yearly reminder that war is terrible and gritty but also somehow cool. In Wargroove, groove overpowers war.
Of course, the "groove" in Wargroove actually refers to a game mechanic and not a disco vibe (though that might have actually been cool). Players can select from several different commanders, each with their own Groove, a special power that does things like heal allied soldiers or deal damage in a certain area of the map. These commanders all have very distinct personalities that really shine through their few voice-acted phrases. The soldiers under them also come in a wide variety of designs, with harpies, samurai, and tree golems taking the field.
Actually playing the game goes like this: two to four armies take turns moving units and maybe attacking enemy units. Damage is calculated based on a variety of factors like who attacked first, what type of units are fighting, and where the battle is taking place. For instance, a shaman casting lightning magic from a mountaintop will zap harpies into oblivion. The commanders personally join their troops as powerful fighters even without their Grooves. Victory usually means defeating the enemy commander or destroying their base.
It's easy to learn and you get the impression that that's the point. You don't have to master the meta to be great at Wargroove. Every army has the same unit types as one another so you can play any faction without having to re-learn the game. The commanders differ in their grooves, but there's only around 12 of them so there's not a huge roster to memorize. Honestly, that simplicity is one of Wargroove's greatest strengths. It lets players use their brains to play the game how they want.
Another area where Chucklefish excelled was incorporating modes from other games into Wargroove, making for a very robust package at $20.
Of course, Campaign is the bulk of the game. That's partly because that's just how it is for many video games and partly because you need to play through the campaign to unlock certain things. The story is pretty straightforward; a princess suddenly finds herself a queen facing an undead invasion and must travel across the continent to enlist aid before an ancient evil consumes the world. Like with the vampire example from before, it sounds more epic than it is. Most of the time is spent on silly character interactions where commanders throw their soldiers to the slaughter over a simple misunderstanding. Still, it gives the characters due spotlight and teaches you the game.
In Wargroove, groove overpowers war.
The rest of the single-player experience is broken down into Arcade and Puzzle mode. Arcade is just like it is in fighting games, letting you pick a character and take on a gauntlet of challengers. It's nice when you want some quick AI action but don't feel like replaying story levels. Puzzle mode gives players set units with which to maneuver a victory out of many wrong possibilities. The puzzles are Chucklefish's way of really testing self-proclaimed masterminds.
Multiplayer supports local and online play right away, both going up to four players. The real game-changer, however, is Custom Content. Players can create their own maps, a feature also found in Advance Wars. Chucklefish actually did its inspiration one better, however, by greatly expanding the function. Maps can be shared and downloaded online, as can custom campaigns. That's right, you can basically make your own story DLC and put it out into the world. People pay money for that type of experience by itself, and yet Wargroove just has it as a feature.
I'd be remiss if I didn't point out some of the game's flaws. Chucklefish did an amazing job capturing the charm and surprising depth that won Advance Wars so many fans. Unfortunately, it also contains some of the outdated concepts of a Game Boy Advance game.
There's a thing called Fog Of War, which is when you can only see the parts of the map where your troops are. It's meant to make you plan more carefully or lose big, but for some reason the AI is not subject to the same vision deficit. It's a frustrating feature that took me back to when games were just cruelly unfair instead of legitimately challenging. The animations are full of spirit... until you've seen them the hundredth time. There is an option to skip battle scenes, but even then you have to sit through A.I. soldiers plodding along individually on their turn. It's not just me, either. Chucklefish has received enough complaints about Wargroove's pacing that it's already working on a fix.
There are more little hiccups like this - our own Patrick Sklar outlined them in greater detail - but in the end, they are a few swords poking the mighty dragon that is Wargroove. Oh yeah, there are dragons in Wargroove. And they're awesome.
A Switch copy was purchased by The Gamer for this review. It's available now for Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
4.25 out of 5 stars.