From the moment I started the first mission in Wargroove I was instantly transported back to my childhood and hours spent huddled around a Game Boy with friends marching tanks across the screen in Advance Wars.
In Wargroove you take command of a battalion of cute pixel art soldiers and use them to defeat opposing armies across pretty and well designed grid-based maps.
Chucklefish’s new turn-based tactics game clearly draws heavily on Intelligent Systems’ GBA classic, but cleverly modernises it and updates it into something new and highly enjoyable.
Most of the levels have simple victory requirements, such as defeating the enemy commander or taking their fortress, but many others have special requirements like evacuating villagers while under attack and rescuing prisoners from a bandit stronghold.
The campaign puts you in charge of the Cherrystone Kingdom a medieval style nation who are invaded by the undead Felheim Legion and driven out of their lands.
You take command of Cherrystone’s young queen and must lead her warriors to safety and seek help from the other factions to defeat the Felheim, such as the mantis like Floran tribes and the desert dwelling Heavensong Empire - standard high fantasy fare.
Units come in a variety of forms such as knights, spearmen, catapults, mages, and each is strong against certain units and weak to others.
The game requires a fair amount of strategic thinking and tactical foresight, for example one of the game’s key features is the critical hit system, where units will deal extra damage if specific conditions are met.
Take the Cherrystone knight, a fast heavy hitting but expensive unit. Knights gain a critical attack boost if they move six full squares first.
This meant I often had to decide whether to have them on the frontlines dishing out regular reliable damage, or utilise them as backline shock troopers instigating devastating hit and run attacks.
Every unit in the game has a different requirement to activate their crit - spearmen have to be next to another spearmen, archers must remain still before shooting and catapults have to hit targets at their max range.
This means having to plan each move out strategically, but it also means that you can unleash devastating combos on your opponent with the right set up and execution.
Terrain type is another an important consideration when positioning units across the map, with forests and mountains offering defensive boosts (but slowing movement), while rivers and open roads give penalties to defense.
Although these systems may sound complicated at first, they are cleverly introduced and clearly explained to the player across the first few levels, making them easy to understand.
I also often found myself regularly fretting over whether to throw my powerful commander unit into the fray, or hold them back to preserve them.
The commanders in Wargroove are a wonderfully diverse roster of characters, each with their own personalities and special abilities.
They each have a special ability known as a “groove” which is charged up by defeating enemies and can help turn the tide of a battle.
They are powerful units and can take quite a beating, but lose them and it’s mission over, quite a deterrent when most missions take upwards of 30 or 40 minutes.
That brings me on nicely to some of my gripes with this game, and my biggest one is the slow pace of some of the battles.
The maps in Wargroove are large and the units move slowly, this means it can take an age to set them up, and because their damage is based on their health they often become useless fodder after one or two hits.
Another personal issue for me is the lack of unit diversity between the different factions, which I know is done to ensure that the factions are all balanced and benefits competitive gameplay, but I’ve always preferred strategy games with very different factions like in the Starcraft series.
Each faction has its own unique artwork for units, but the Cherrystone knight works exactly the same as Felheim knights which work exactly the same as Floran knights.
Outside of the commanders there are no faction unique units, which I found slightly disappointing.
I also found myself craving a levelling system and an inventory for the commanders like in the Fire Emblem series, this would have given me something to work towards across missions.
All in all, Wargroove is a very enjoyable game but one which still feels rough around the edges.
They have obviously tried to be ambitious, but may have done better to move further away from their inspiration material as they suffer from many of the same problems which plagued the Advance Wars games.