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Wargroove—Advance Wars Spiritual Successor Takes the Genre in a Fresh Direction

Somewhere, at some unspecified point in time, in some unknown room within Intelligent Systems Kyoto Prefecture headquarters, a decision was made.

A decision that took a well-loved, turn-based strategy action game with a fun chunky aesthetic, and turned it into a dark and gritty post-apocalyptic strategy battle game with a less than original look and feel.

Not an inherently bad thing, granted, but not what the series needed.

I am, of course, talking about the one and only, Advance Wars. A tremendous series of  turn-based strategy games with an emphasis on leading stylized armies on campaigns across the world to battle the forces of evil. Predominantly found on handhelds, with only three of the twelve games in the ‘Wars’ series appearing on home consoles, the series has always had a special place in the hearts of strategy game enthusiasts.

So, what went wrong and why is Wargroove, a spiritual successor and turn-based tactics game with a medieval fantasy spin, potentially the fresh direction that this genre needs? Well, it all starts with the reinvention of the setting.

The aforementioned gritty post-apocalyptic strategy battle game is Advance Wars: Days of Ruin (Dark Conflict here in Ireland), and it failed to innovate upon previous entries in the series, and failed to introduce new gameplay mechanics that were worth noting.

It felt too similar to the Wars games that had come before it, except it was also missing the series iconic art style that was much more lighthearted and colorful. Not only that, but the previous cast of CO’s, the player’s character, had been removed and replaced with a new brand cast of characters. More at home in an edgy war anime than an Advance Wars game. The general reception was okay, but not as good as previous entries in the series. The sales were okay, but not as good as previous entries in the series.

Enter Wargroove, a spiritual successor to Advance Wars that takes the AW style and gives it a new coat of paint, a new setting, new unit types, and it even takes some old features and brings them into the modern day.

Developed by the delightfully named London-based independent games developer and publisher, Chucklefish, Wargroove brings modern concepts back in time and saturates them with medieval fantasy elements.

Attack Helicopters? Now they’re fire breathing dragons who swoop over enemies to douse them in torrents of flame.

Infantry battling in the streets? They are replaced with units like the Swordsman of the Cherrystone Kingdom, and the Druid-like Slashers of the Florian tribes.

CO’s take on new life in Wargroove in the form of your Commanders, the game currently plays host to twelve commanders, three for each faction of the game and each is the master of their own “Groove” which is, in effect, the Advance Wars CO Abilities given a new name and purpose.

This new setting is exactly what makes Wargroove such an interesting game to look at and see in motion. Gone are the days of palette swapped infantry lining up in formation to take turns hosing each other down with gunfire—we are now transported to a mystical age where the swordsman charge each other through wooded thickets and open fields, trebuchets rain death from afar, an age where mages tear aerial units from the sky with powerful magics and giants roam across the battlefield, crushing lesser opponents ‘neath their mighty tread.

Taking an old formula and making it new again is a provably effective strategy in game design when it’s done right, and in many cases, it’s not done right. But Wargroove will be looked back upon, not as the reinvention of the wheel, but the next iteration in an ever evolving gaming world.

The inclusion of design tools in the game allows players to create their own campaigns and stories to be shared online is a brilliant move, giving the game legs to stand on long past it’s officially supported release.

Coincidentally, a similar mechanic was available in Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, but frankly speaking, the 2008 online player base for sharing player made maps in a Nintendo DS game wasn’t exactly thriving. It was a brave move, and a move that was potentially just a bit too ambitious.

Wargroove can be found on Nintendo Switch, Windows, Xbox One and PlayStation 4, so if you’re in the market for something to scratch your tactical itch, or perhaps just a game that reminds you of your days as a CO in the battlefield, maybe Wargroove is just the fresh new direction you’re looking for.

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