Wargroove Review – Nintendo Switch
Intelligent Systems has always been recognized for its stellar strategy game series, with Fire Emblem being the most popular. However, Fire Emblem may have never made it west without the colorful and militaristic style of the Advance Wars series. Despite its critical acclaim and the DNA it shares with Fire Emblem, Advance Wars never hit the same levels of popularity as its sister franchise. Perhaps this is why there hasn’t been a new Advance Wars game since Days of Ruin on the Nintendo DS back in 2008. With no new installment in sight, the responsibility of filling the void left behind has fallen to the fans, which is where Wargroove comes in. As a spiritual successor to Advance Wars, Wargroove succeeds in nearly every way, offering a heap of single-player content to keep players entertained for dozens of hours.
Wargroove begins in the land of Aurania. Here, the peaceful Cherrystone kingdom is constantly on guard against the frigid wastes of Felheim and its necromantic hordes. The story mainly follows Mercia, princess of Cherrystone, as she is thrust into the duties of a queen following the assassination of her father, King Mercival, by a Felheim agent. This, of course, precedes a full-fledged invasion. This isn’t a groundbreaking story, but the game is packed with diverse, colorful, and memorable characters that keep each level interesting and engaging, even beyond the excellent gameplay.
Each of these characters has an extensive backstory that is easily accessed through an in-game Codex, and each one toes the line between hysterical and more serious themes. For instance, there’s Ragna, a Felheim commander who is made up of sewn-together bits of deceased military generals. Ragna has an interesting, almost sibling-like rivalry with Mercia. Characters like this keep the story from getting stale. It’s amazing how the developers went out of their way to create a world with such a far-reaching and in-depth history.
If you’ve played Fire Emblem or Advance Wars game, you know what you’re getting: you’ll be spending the majority of your time examining grid-like maps and meticulously managing and placing units in a tightrope-walk to victory. However, there’s an interesting wrinkle: there is a multitude of units for each faction, and each has its own special way to initiate critical hits. For example, knights make critical hits if they attack an enemy unit six spaces away from where they begin their turn. Foot soldiers, on the other hand, gain critical hits when they are adjacent to their faction’s commander. This makes managing the placement of your units a deeply engaging part of planning your turn each mission.
The intriguing part of Wargroove is how many levels there are to combat. Do you purchase a bunch of cheap units to fan out and capture villages to increase your income of gold, or do you invest in a couple of powerful units and try to rush the enemy and defeat them before they can get a foothold? Once each team has amassed units and villages, you then have to decide where you want to focus your attacks and resources. Furthermore, as more and more diverse units begin appearing on the battlefield, team composition becomes increasingly important, as does what tasks you want each unit to carry out. These different levels ensure that you’re making each decision with the whole battle in mind. Throughout each mission, there are no right or wrong answers; seeing how your gambles play out and adapting to the results each turn makes sure that you’re constantly engaged. Battles can last anywhere between twenty minutes to well over an hour (thankfully, you can save and quit at any time), but the time seems to slide by easily thanks to the engrossing nature of the gameplay.
If you manage to complete the campaign, there are plenty of Arcade missions to dive into. As you progress through the campaign and meet new commanders, new levels open up in Arcade mode. In each of these, you run through a gauntlet of five random maps and see how far you can get. This allows you to further familiarize yourself with each commander’s unique skill set, and each successful run unlocks music, concept art, and other extra goodies. Puzzle mode, on the other hand, lays out specific situations and tasks the player with winning in one turn. This tests your knowledge of units and terrain types.
In addition to Arcade and Puzzle mode, Wargroove does have a robust map and level editor that allows players to create their own maps or even whole campaigns, with cutscenes. The level building tools are a bit wonky to start out with (and don’t feature touch screen support, sadly), but are simple enough to get a grip on. You can control placement of any character or tile type in the game, set soundtracks from unlocked music, create different conditions under which victory is achieved, and so much more. Once you’ve finished your map or campaign, it can be uploaded to a global server to be downloaded by other players. This adds a virtually infinite level of replayability to Wargroove.
In terms of presentation, Wargroove goes for a pixel-heavy art style that bears a remarkable resemblance to the Fire Emblem games on Game Boy Advance. It’s characterized by chunky, colorful sprites on the maps and during battles, with more detailed ones appearing during cutscenes. While not a particularly innovative look, it nails the same charm and style as the writing. Strategy games are best when they shoot for a simple art style, and Wargroove goes with one that gives it a memorable identity. The soundtrack is similarly charming, filled with sweeping fantasy-themed tracks that fit the setting well.
Wargroove is a superb strategy game, filling a niche that is sorely lacking in the Switch’s library as of right now. Extensive and deep gameplay, loads of replayability, and charming presentation combine to make this an easy recommendation to anyone looking for a strategy game on the Switch. And hey, at least this a worthwhile time-sink until Fire Emblem: Three Houses launches in June and consumes my life.