It's often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And if that's the case Advance Wars should feel honoured. It is really apparent how Chucklefish has been inspired by the classic Nintendo franchise. But while Advance Wars was a fixture on older Nintendo systems, it's a franchise that Nintendo seems to have left behind in more recent times. And it's not that it wouldn't be a great fit on Nintendo Switch, and if nothing else Wargroove proves what a perfect fit it would be on Nintendo's latest piece of hardware.
For those of you who haven't tried Advance Wars here's a brief introduction to Wargroove. You command your troops around a limited grid and the same is true for your opponent. If you place your unit next to an enemy, you can then attack them, the attacker always hits first, and next your opponent gets to hit back if you haven't completely destroyed them with that first attack. Archers can attack from a distance but are vulnerable to melee attacks.
The game offers a wide range of troops, offering you plenty of opportunities to devise different tactics. If they're on a horse they can move further each turn, if they're heavily equipped they can't move as far, but may be better at defending themselves. There's a rock-paper-scissors design here so all units have those they are effective against and others they are weak against. They all have critical attacks that are triggered under specific circumstances; some hit harder with a unit of the same type next to them, others do more damage if they haven't moved before attacking. All of this is very familiar to someone who has played Advance Wars, but that's not a bad thing as it's a formula that works really well.
Thankfully, Wargroove takes the tactical depth further. If it is raining your archer will need to get closer to the enemy in order to hit them. If you get to a mountain tile you'll be able to see more of the map and disperse more of the fog of war. If you find yourself on a water tile your defence goes down, while the opposite is true if you happen to be on a forest tile. All of these conditions mean that there is always something you could have done better or differently. If you lose a battle, which you most likely will at some point, you'll come armed with knowledge and experience for your next try, hopefully setting yourself up for a better outcome.
Wargroove should also be commended for how it introduces you to its various mechanics. Newcomers are welcomed by a series of introductory missions that ease you into the game, slowly, but steadily. Once you've mastered one aspect or mechanic the game moves on to teach you another one and slowly but surely your range of units expands. Veterans may feel that it's a touch slow, but thankfully, the game soon loses the training wheels and challenges you more severely. As we were a bit rusty, we appreciated the slow start, which got us prepared for the challenges ahead.
And there is a challenge here. Don't be fooled by the cute animations and anime stylings; Wargroove won't go down without a fight. Chucklefish still manages to embrace both players who don't want to face defeat over and over and those who really want to test themselves. You can tweak the number of coins you earn each round, coins that are used to produce new troops. You can turn the damage your enemies do up and down, making your life easier or harder depending on which way you chose to go. When you start the game it will be set to 100%, something the developer refers to as "the intended Wargroove experience", and you can freely set this to zero or up to 200%. Of course, given how delicately balanced each map is, we'd suggest you stick with the "intended experience", but if you really struggle with a level you can turn it down and progress that way.
There is also the option to challenge others both online and offline. We didn't play much online, but the local multiplayer proved enjoyable. Up to four players get to pick an army, and it's all about outlasting the opposition. There's nothing to complain about as it simply works well and it rounds out the package nicely. Regardless of whether you want to play alone, or together with friends, there's enough content here to keep you busy.
There is no shame in borrowing from the best and borrowing is exactly what Wargroove does. But as Nintendo seems intent on keeping their popular strategy franchise in the freezer, then it's only a good thing that a developer which clearly enjoy the series has created something similar. It's not innovative, but the execution is very solid, in fact, it's so well crafted that you won't be bothered by the lack of new ideas or major changes. Wargroove is a love letter to Advance Wars, and it's both something new, yet also something very familiar. It's a reminder that there's an Advance Wars shaped hole, and there's still a place for this sort of game in today's gaming landscape. Here's hoping Wargroove is here to stay and that there's more to come.