Halfway through playing WarGroove, which is secretly a pretty odd game, a thought occurred to me which turned out, the more I considered it, to be a pretty odd thought. What if this game isn’t made by Chucklefish as the title screen suggests, the thought began. What if it isn’t a forensic attempt at reconstructing an Intelligent Systems turn-based tactics game? What if it actually is an Intelligent Systems game, a new one, and this whole Chucklefish smokescreen is some grand social experiment, like that psych study that pretended to be measuring the efficacy of electric shocks on memory or ESP ability or whatever, but was really exploring people’s willingness to administer electric shocks to strangers in the first place?
This thought bedded in and refused to go away. What I think I was really pondering, I guess, is the fact that I had approached WarGroove knowing it was a copy of something beloved, and that sense of it being a copy may have been dulling my enjoyment somewhat. Or was it?
WarGroove is a careful reworking of games like Advance Wars and Fire Emblem. It takes the medieval fantasy of Fire Emblem, for example, but then its campaign flows more like Advance Wars, with little of Fire Emblem’s cross-mission complexity. It’s a very close study: the cheery tiled maps look almost identical to those of Intelligent Systems’ games, while unit selection, movement, attack animations and all that jazz are very similar too. It’s tempting while playing to work out which of WarGroove’s units match up with which of Advance Wars’ or Fire Emblems, but more importantly the action feels the same because the underlying principles are the same: capture towns to earn cash that allows you to mint new units from special buildings on the map, work out which units are strong against which other units and try to avoid overextending yourself. CO powers from Advance Wars become the titular WarGrooves here – each commander has a special ability that is charged up through play and will allow you to do something cool like heal everyone within a certain radius or pull friendly skeleton troops out of the earth to fight alongside you – and the battles unfold in a lovely corrugated manner as you press forward and then pause and then press forward again, getting the most out of different terrains like forests and mountains, pushing back fog of war on the maps that have it and, if you are really on top of things, placing units in the precise configurations that allow them to score critical hits.