I love turn based tactical RPGs. Games like Shining Force, Fire Emblem, and Final Fantasy Tactics. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea (especially here in the West apparently), but they’re some of my favorites. Intelligent Systems, the Nintendo subsidiary that created the Fire Emblem franchise, also created a series called Famicom Wars in Japan, which is known as Advance Wars here in the States. If you know your Nintendo trivia, you’ll recognize Famicom as the Japanese name for the NES, and that the Gameboy Advance came out fifteen years later, which tells you how long it was a Japan-exclusive franchise. It was kind of like Fire Emblem with a Civilization spin, with RPG elements removed and unit building and resource collecting added, in a more modern setting (guns, tanks, planes, etc. rather than overdone fantasy RPG tropes). Personally I prefer the Fire Emblem style RPGs, but Advance Wars was pretty fun too. I always appreciated the simple twist that a unit’s health equated to strength, which encouraged more aggressive strategies, as counterattacks always deal less damage. Apparently bringing the game stateside wasn’t enough to make it profitable for Nintendo, because the last one was released on the Nintendo DS over ten years ago.
As so often happens when a big company abandons a niche franchise, it was up to indies to pick up the slack. Chucklefish, who you may know from the “Terraria in space” game Starbound, recently released a new game called Wargroove in the Advance Wars tradition. This would have me interested in and of itself, but they went one better by adding a map editor that would allow you to upload your maps and campaigns to the cloud or play others’ custom maps, à la Super Mario Maker or StarCraft II Arcade. The Advance Wars games had a map editor, but with no way to share maps online, you were pretty much stuck playing maps you designed yourself, which isn’t terribly exciting. Quite honestly, I had forgotten it was even a thing in Advance Wars until it was mentioned in some Wargroove reviews.
The graphics are really nice quality pixel art, with smooth animations and bright colors. The story is pretty good, with plenty of memorable characters, including a playable commander named Ceasar who just so happens to be a majestic golden retriever. The campaign does a great job of slowly introducing new units and their strengths and weaknesses. I like that each unit has a “critical” condition. This isn’t a random “rolled a 20” type critical as you might expect from the name, but rather a condition that, when met, allows a unit to do extra damage. For instance, if a Pikeman is standing next to another Pikeman, they do critical damage, or if an archer hasn’t moved this turn, they do critical damage. I don’t think this mechanic was ever present in an Advance Wars game (though I haven’t played them all, and it’s been a while, so I could be wrong) and it adds a surprising amount of depth to unit placement strategy. I haven’t ventured into multiplayer yet, but it includes both co-op and skirmishes, both locally and cross platform online multiplayer (between PC, Switch, and XBone only; Chucklefish recently made headlines for stating that they wanted to include PS4 in cross platform play, but were denied by Sony, despite their supposed openness to cross platform now). Casual players will be happy to know that there are a number of difficulty adjustment settings, which is nice because my one complaint about the campaign so far is that it has a few difficulty spikes.
It’s not for everyone, but if you enjoy strategy games, I highly recommend this one!