America - Front
America - Back
By Evan Norris 27th Feb 2019 | 2,406 views
While it's generally discouraging when Nintendo shelves a fan-favorite property, sometimes it's a blessing in disguise. In the years after Nintendo put bounty hunter Samus Aran in mothballs, indie developers assembled to fill the void, turning in some of the industry's best backtracking 2D action-adventure games in the process. Likewise, with Advance Wars on ice for over a decade, upstart developer Chucklefish entered the scene with Wargroove, its own take on turn-based tactics. The result is spectacular. Featuring addictive strategic gameplay, a meaty single-player campaign, a sizable collection of secondary modes for one to four people, and handsome pixel art, Wargroove is a worthy spiritual successor to Advance Wars and one of the finest titles of the year so far.
Set in the land of Aurania, Wargroove follows a military campaign led by the queen of Cherrystone, Mercia. When invaders from the western tundra arrive in her kingdom, Mercia is forced to retreat. Along her circuitous route to recapture Cherrystone, Mercia travels across Aurania, engages in a few dozen battles, recruits several allies, and sheds light on a dark conspiracy.
Populated with sympathetic characters, a few plot twists, and a warm sense of humor, the narrative in Wargroove is a solid, if unambitious one. While there are a handful of contrivances—mistaken identity sets in motion no fewer than three unnecessary battles—the story follows a mostly natural, engaging path. Moreover, for any fans who wish to dive deeper into the characters, places, and lore of Aurania, developer Chucklefish has installed a rather robust codex filled with detailed background information.
New codex entries arrive at certain intervals during the game's 20-30 hour single-player campaign, which is extraordinary. It's a substantial adventure, with dozens of story and side missions, several playable protagonists (each with their own unique commander ability, or "groove"), and decent replay value thanks to mission grades and stars. It's also remarkably measured and paced (for the most part), with Chucklefish introducing new units and offensive strategies at regular, digestible intervals. Things grind to a halt in Act 4, a series of difficult desert missions—mission 4-1 is particularly daunting—but this is the exception to the rule.
While the campaign is by itself worthy of game-of-the-year contention, it's but one mode of many. Joining the campaign under the "Single Player" banner is Arcade mode, a side story where you take on five commanders in quick succession, and Puzzle mode, a series of 25 clever brain-teasers where you have a single turn to complete each battle. On the multiplayer side of things, up to four players can battle for glory in local play, or join the fight online. Available across multiplayer are dozens of maps; customizable match settings like weather, turn timer, fog of war, etc.; and the option to complete 1v1, 2v1, 2v2, or free for all. Ultimately, Wargroove is worth buying either for its single-player or multiplayer modes; together they form a formidable package.
Yet that's not all. Wargroove also packs a rich, flexible map creator that allows aspiring tacticians not only to create individual maps but to plan out entire custom campaigns. That's right: you can set the map name, the stage logic, manually connect individual missions to each other, and then populate each map with specific weather effects, units, and victory conditions. Basically, once you've exhausted all the modes and maps the game has to offer, you can start creating your own. After you’ve saved your creation, you can share it with others online or download fan creations from around the globe.
None of these modes and customization options would mean much without compelling mechanics and situations, though. Luckily, Wargroove delivers some addicting turn-based tactical gameplay that's equal parts business strategy, military science, and risk management. It's exciting to plan ahead and move your 2D units into position across the game's many grid-based maps; it's downright exhilarating to time everything perfectly and destroy an enemy unit or installation and emerge relatively unscathed.
Now, there are some instances, particularly during the campaign, where a few wrong moves or a faulty strategy can lead to a tedious, protracted war of attrition. Here it's best simply to cut your losses and restart the mission with a new outlook—otherwise you might be fighting over the same patch of land for hours.
In addition to its rewarding turn-based mechanics and wealth of modes, Wargroove sports some great-looking pixel art. The 2D models are chunky and nicely-detailed despite their small size, and character portraits bring the game's heroes and villains to life. The soundtrack by Pete "Phonetic Hero" Lepley is a winner too, with fantasy tunes that draw on the sounds of the medieval eastern and western worlds.
No Advance Wars, no problem. With its gratifying gameplay, sizable campaign, worthwhile online and offline modes, flexible map creator, and attractive assets, Wargroove is a perfect replacement for the dusty turn-based tactics franchise. A few narrative contrivances and a mid-game difficulty spike are minor flaws in one of the deepest, most substantial, most polished productions of 2019.