Music is the spice of life or so it has been said many times before. The touching beauty of your first wedding dance. The teenage rite of a live gig. A mix-tape painstakingly constructed for the love of your life. Music is quite literally the soundtrack to our lives. But have you ever tried to use it to pummel a flamingo into submission whilst defending your merry band of comrades from a ramshackle bunch of marauding pirates? Chucklefish and Robotality have now very kindly provided us with that opportunity in the form of Wargroove 2.
Featuring an array of adorable characters, Wargroove 2 is a turn-based, top-down strategy game, building on the shoulders of genre giants such as Advance Wars and Fire Emblem. With a huge array of larger than life characters on offer, from the anthropomorphic to the piscine, human pirates to talking plants. Presented in a glorious Game Boy Advance-style pixel art aesthetic, you’ll battle through three campaigns, unravelling the secrets and mysteries of the Isle of Aurania as you go.
For those without prior experience of these classic tactical titles, you’ll take turns against what can be overwhelming odds, manoeuvring units, gathering resources, and battling tooth and nail to live another day (hell, just another turn sometimes). Gameplay is generally slow-paced, weighing up your opponent’s next move before countering with your own amassed army, units each offering distinct strengths and weaknesses in given situations. There’s a surprisingly deep rock/paper/scissors style of battling to get to grips with.
Movement and its advantages vary by unit type, such as cavalry offering quick dashes to close down the enemy, but can be obstructed easily by rough terrain. Scouts can scale mountains, clearing the fog of war (a thick cloud covering the map, obscuring your opponent’s movements) in a larger area than regular units, but are generally weak to attack. You’ll have to play smart, utilising each turn as efficiently as possible to keep one step ahead. Critical hits are available to each unit type based on a prerequisite being completed, such as spearmen dealing more damage when next to another spearman, or archers hitting even harder if they don’t move during their turn before letting arrows fly. This extra damage can make all the difference whilst trying to decimate the enemy forces and should be taken advantage of at every possible opportunity.
The lynchpin to your Wargroove 2 force will be a commander. These characters must be protected at all costs, as their death means failure. They do however have unique abilities to help turn the tide of battle, in the form of Grooves. These multi-tiered special moves range from area of effect healing of your comrades to an electrical burst that will spread from unit to unit, friend or foe, shocking each in turn as it goes. There’s plenty to learn, with commanders often changing mission by mission, and it’s a joy to see each’s Groove in action on the battlefield.
With an array of objectives on offer for each encounter, along with bonus secondary objectives for the completionists, you’ll be hastily defending a town square one minute, then running scared from a horde of bloodthirsty bandits the next, rendering tried and tested tactics redundant as you adapt to whatever challenge is currently being thrown at you.
And Wargroove 2 does not play around when it comes to challenge. You’re eased in gently through the prologue and, with a few basics under your belt, will soon be into the campaign proper. It’s at this point that the real challenge begins. With complex battles featuring teh or more units per side, you are quickly punished for even a momentary lapse of judgement. You’ll often be asked to fight on numerous fronts, replenishing units whilst defending resources to keep your front lines fighting fit, and for those without a lot of previous experience, it can soon feel daunting.
More than once I’d find myself nearly an hour into a mission, only to fail at the final moments. Having to repeat the battle felt like harsh punishment for what was seemingly only a minor mistake. Not known for my patience, I’ll openly admit that I soon became down-heartened. But then I discovered the joys of Conquest Mode.
Conquest Mode offers a new way to play, with smaller battles taking place on a larger world map reminiscent of Slay the Spire or Inscryption. With multiple paths to explore, you choose from three commanders and one of three squads to take with you into the fray. Themed around an annual competition, this was exactly what I wanted, with short, intense skirmishes on tighter maps replacing the longer, more epic clashes of the campaign. Your progress carries from fight to fight, with wounds needing to be healed, and units being recruited between encounters; each choice still feeling weighty. It’s in this mode that you create your own unique stories.
Within each run, you’ll amass shards which can be spent to open up further commanders, shops, and potions. These permanent unlocks create opportunities for small advantages to snowball, allowing further and further progression throughout the four campaigns on offer. I genuinely love this mode and its more pick up and play style. It’s the reason I’ll be returning to Aurania again and again.
Although there’s plenty of narrative on offer between battles throughout the main campaign, those hungry for more lore can dive deep into the codex, offering further insight into characters, their grooves, strengths, and weaknesses. For those who just want to jam out, there’s a jukebox mode available for a less stressful way of enjoying the numerous musical numbers from throughout the adventure. With further fun on offer via custom maps as well as local and online multiplayer, there’ll be plenty to keep you coming back for more.
Wargroove 2 is an excellent game that builds on its predecessor, offering both a classic, narrative driven campaign for genre veterans alongside what is swiftly becoming my favourite rogue-like experience this year. I’ve not seen a game with more nostalgic charm in a long time. With more than a little determination, a lot of careful planning and just a bit of luck, even strategy game newbies will find a lot to love in this cute, jolly, and sometimes brutal world.
Eye-pleasing GBA style artwork
Addictive rogue-like mode
Great level of challenge for series veterans
Difficulty ramps up very quickly in campaign mode
Some overly long missions
Can be initially daunting to newcomers