There’s not many games where punching in the download code and seeing the icon pop up on the front of your Nintendo Switch elicits genuine butterflies in your stomach, but in the case of Wargroove I can probably be forgiven. This is indie developer Chucklefish’s amalgamation of Intelligent System’s unparalleled Fire Emblem and Wars series, and long-time fans of Nintendo’s tough but fair strategising – who, like me, have been deprived of a new Advance Wars game for over a decade – have been keeping a keen eye on how it’s going to turn out. It’s soon apparent, right from the opening moments in fact, that Wargroove is utterly wonderful.
War breaks out between the evil Felheim – they have undead soldiers so you know they’re the bad guys – and Cherrystone, with the newly crowned Queen Mercia rushing to action to protect her nation. She has the goodest of good boys at her side in the form of her armoured pooch Caesar – a commander in his own right – and trusted advisor Emeric, and as you progress you’re hindered or aided by a colourful collection of other distinct and memorable characters, from the Eastern-flavoured Heavensong Empire to the leafy Floran tribes.
If you’ve played any of the Advance Wars games or classic Fire Emblem titles, then you’ll immediately understand the strategic gameplay that Chucklefish have done such a great job of imitating. You move your units across the map in turn-based combat, with the general aim being to wipe out the opposition’s commander or capture their base. There are other mission structures, some of which see you with desperately limited units or having to fighting your way to an escape point, but the fundamentals remain the same.
Each unit has its own strengths and weaknesses, and you’ll come to know what works against what, their range, and what units to give an exceedingly wide berth. Your basic soldiers are cheap to recruit, have decent range and can capture villages, but they’re often little more than ballista fodder for the enemy. You recruit more powerful units as you progress though, such as the Mage units who can strike airborne foes with lightning and heal your troops as well, and you end with access to a formidable range of options.
The most powerful unit in your arsenal is your commander though, and they can cut a swathe through the enemy, easily shrugging off attacks from all but the most powerful units. However, you’ll need to be cautious about just how gung-ho you are with them as their demise spells instant defeat and it’s easy for them to be surrounded and picked apart if you’re not careful. They do each have a special ability, their Groove, which makes them even more important. Whether you’re healing units with Mercia or creating a powerful shield with Emeric, they’ll always be at the centre of any strategy.
There are some quirks to Wargroove’s systems that might throw out Advance Wars and Fire Emblem players, but they all feel natural and haven’t been crowbarred in. Every unit now has a Critical Hit condition, whether it’s not moving for a turn, or being positioned next to another unit, so for modern Fire Emblem players there’s a new reason to huddle your units together rather than making babies.
Capturing villages serves to provide extra funds for the war effort, but here you capture them by stopping off for a turn. Each time you capture a village it’ll gain a garrison equal to half the number of soldiers doing the capturing. This number will grow every turn until there’s a full unit tucked away inside. Rather than taking units back to base to wait to be healed as well, you can instantly reinforce a wounded unit from the soldiers at the village, dropping the numbers garrisoned there back down.
Throughout it’s obvious that there’s a clear and concise understanding of what Intelligent Systems have achieved over the years and Chucklefish have done their utmost to offer a modern take on the developer’s strategic style. These range from major to minor; the number of times my Gameboy Advance must have been turned on and off again when playing Advance Wars or Fire Emblem in order to restart a level is an often-painful thought and while you’ll definitely find yourself quitting out of plenty of Wargroove’s encounters in order to get it right, there’s at least a menu option to do so.
To be honest the primary annoyance in the game is the unit information screens, which offer plenty of information but simply aren’t clear enough over when it comes to what units they’re effective against or vulnerable to. What you get is a tiny icon with other unit heads on, but they’re so small that it’s not always clear which is which. There are ways around this; you get a damage pop-up before entering into any combat you’re initiating so you can see what outcome it’ll have, and of course the further you get the more you’ll simply know what units counter others, but it would make life much easier if the information was simply there.
There’s plenty of genuine challenge to be had, even for fans of the style, and unlike Tiny Metal – the most recent pretender to Advance Wars’ throne – you can’t simply fudge your way through encounters by throwing legions of powerful units at the enemy. The overall experience comes so incredibly close to Intelligent System’s work that you could almost believe it had been designed by them, and it’s perhaps only the occasional map that feels slightly too large that reminds you it’s not.
This is all before considering the rest of the package, and it’s clear that despite its relatively low asking price Wargroove is setting out to be a regular part of your gaming for many months to come. First up there’s cross-platform multiplayer, so Switch, Xbox One and PC owners are able to cheerily come together to destroy each other’s painstakingly planned strategies, while you can also indulge in a spot of local multiplayer with up to three friends if you prefer to see the literal whites of their eyes as you hurriedly tap your D-pad.
On top of that there’s also Arcade mode which has you facing off against five enemy commanders in a row, and Puzzle mode which challenges you to find the solution to a set scenario in one turn. It’s here that you’ll really be tested on your knowledge of how each of your units behaves, and success will largely depend on understanding which order you need to perform each action in.
Where Wargroove is set to truly embed itself in your life though is in the creation suite which allows you to put together your own campaign and share it with the world. Besides creating your own maps, which is more than enough intuitive fun to have you tinkering away for hours, you can then link them up in a series to tell your own tale. The icing on the cake is the ability to then make your own cutscenes, plotting them out with the simple tools to create a narrative, adding in dialogue, movement, sound and music.
Your limits are that you can only use what’s available in the game, but there’s still an immense sense of satisfaction to be found in putting it all together in your own way. My story of Bassalt, the faithful Golem protector of an unhatched dragon egg has only just begun, but I can’t wait to craft out the rest of the story. I really hope that Chucklefish add more content for creators to use in the future – I’d happily just pay for more music – but it really is something quite special.
In a world bereft of a new Advance Wars, Wargroove is a worthy successor. Its fantasy retro strategy stylings mark it out as a wonderful amalgamation of the classic Fire Emblem and Wars games, and while it doesn’t revolutionise the genre in the way that the modern Fire Emblem games have it nails the feel of Intelligent System’s best games – while standing proudly on its own.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Also available on Xbox One and PC, and coming to PS4 soon™ .