Wargroove — The dogs don't die
And now we’ve got the most important part of the review out of the way with the title… Wargroove brings a breath of life to a genre untouched for a long time, popularized by the Advance Wars series in the West. Does it still hold up in a time where Fire Emblem reigns supreme?
Basics — Groove’em up
Wargroove is a turn-based tactics game — you control a bunch of units (and most of the time a commander as well), moving them around the map and fighting the opposing forces. Unlike the Fire Emblem series though, there are building you can take control of and recruit more units on land, air and sea. The game allows for playing either with a controller or just the mouse, which is great for people with limited mobility.
Aside from the units, each of the four faction has three commanders. Commanders are a unique named unit with great power and a special ability called a Groove. Once a commander has gained enough power by fighting and landing last strikes they can unleash it, these can really mix up the battlefield. One of the commanders is a dog called Caesar, which is amazing in itself.
Visuals — Every pixel a painting
Something Chucklefish’s catalogue excel at is pixel art — every game from them boasts beautiful pixel art, and Wargroove is no exception. Every commander is easily recognisable, every unit looks different, every army has a different influence, and yet all feel like a part of the same world. All the maps look incredibly clean too, every single tile is recognizable as a forest or a beach, regardless of the map’s theme.
The game’s audio is also amazing. Something that became a staple in the Advance Wars — different tracks for every single commander — is here in full swing. And while the variety in tracks is smaller than in the aforementioned series (no electric guitars in this fantasy world sadly) they all feel connected. You can tell which faction the character belongs to based on the instruments playing.
The sound effects are nice too, with each unit having their own taunts and damage noises. But, hearing the same shout dozens of times per game did get old for me fast, but the sound effects can just be muted to resolve this. I did notice that some effects keep playing for a while after skipping through combat. I assume this will be taken care of as Chucklefish is working hard to fix all issues that came up during the launch.
The Feel — Help me, I can’t stop playing
Wargroove is very simple to learn — the tutorial (which is the whole first act of the campaign) teaches you everything you need to know if you never played a game of this type. It was presented nicely and didn’t demand you read a wall of text — you can still do that though with the use of Codex, the encyclopedia of this game. You can read up on all the commanders and units as well as the lore of the world which you unlock during the campaign.
The campaign itself takes you all around the continent and makes you fight either as or against every commander on land, water and in air. Something that can be noticed early into the game are the difficulty spikes. While the general difficulty curve seems to be fair, there are missions that are vastly harder than the rest. Most of those are usually side missions, but some can grind your progress to a halt. Thankfully, there is a way to help yourself.
Accessibility in games is an important issue, and Wargroove works it in well. Apart from colourblind mode and changing the size of the UI, the player can also change the damage amount done to their units, daily income per village as well as the Groove charge amount. This makes the missions easier in one way or another, but it also limits the maximum stars gained by a mission to only one. You win some (missions) you lose some (stars).
There are also a few more changes to the formula that I found really appealing. Buildings such as villages or barracks can’t have units on them, which makes blocking them harder for opponents. You can also use buildings to heal units by spending money (amount based on unit type and amount healed) you can transfer health from the building onto the unit. This makes money even more useful, especially on maps with no ability to recruit.
Units themselves have some new stuff under their belt. Some units have special abilities which can be used, for a price, instead of attacking. This can be healing or dealing small amounts of damage over large areas. This gives you even more ways to interact, and more ways to help you win on maps, especially large ones — Wargroove maps feel bigger than Advance Wars maps, and thus feel a bit more sluggish.
Something that makes the game faster, however, is the critical hits. Each unit has a special condition under which it will deal extra damage. This adds to the tactical element of the game, making unit placement even more important. Putting two pikemen next to each other means a possible one-hit kill on another unit.
An important thing for a game’s longevity is the amount of content. Here, if you have access to the internet, it is unlimited as the game boasts a really complex map creator which allows for creating custom scenarios and even whole campaigns. Sharing the maps is easy: Uploaded maps have a code you can find it by. You can then play by yourself, or with friends, as the game allows for both local and online multiplayer.
Wargroove, even though I’d like to think so, isn’t perfect. There are a few quality of life missteps and issues, and I had a bug that had me digging through the game’s files to fix, a bug which could have potentially erased my save files. And while most of those are being patched by Chucklefish it feels like some of them shouldn’t be there in the first place, like the issue of readability about which units are effective against what.
I enjoyed myself every time I opened up Wargroove, regardless of small issues and major difficulty spikes here and there. The execution of the core of the game is impeccable. The campaign is really cool, there is an arcade mode, one turn puzzles and a bunch of other extras to unlock. And as when I spent hundreds of hours in my childhood playing Advance Wars with my friends, I plan to do so again, but this time with dogs.
Wargroove is available on Steam, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PS4.
Some games don’t let you interact with your environment — be it move chairs, pet dogs or use fire to your advantage. Some games make everything interactive, such as Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. Pikuniku achieves the perfect level of interactivity by letting you kick everyone and everything.
Basics — Hands-off
Pikuniku is an absurdly charming platforming puzzle/exploration game created by Sectordub, a self-described indie game laboratory. The main character, Piku, is a red, armless oval who moves around by slapping their feet about. The story follows them as they wake up, try to remember what’s going on and dismantle the bourgeoisie by accident.
Controlling Piku is very simple — apart from moving around and jumping they can tuck their legs in and roll, swing on their leg at certain spots and most importantly kick everything and everyone on their path. This allows for a good variety in the traversal options and challenges laid out in front of you, both on the platforming and puzzle side of things. You also end up talking with a bunch of characters with some limited choices — usually one simple choice per discussion.
In addition to all of that there are some items and hats that aid you in your quest, such as a pencil or a watering can. There are also a bunch that do nothing other than flop in the wind or look nice on your head. Completely useless headwear is the cornerstone of the gaming industry these days.
Visuals — LocoRocking my world
The first thing that strikes about Pikuniku is the visual style — the creators went with a very simplistic approach. The whole game is filled with a lot of simple shapes and flat colors. Character detail is also minimal, something very reminiscent of the wonderful PSP classics LocoRoco and Patapon. The style is wonderful and charming now, and it will stay like that forever.
On a similar note, so is the music. All the tracks, created by Calum Bowen, work perfectly with the visuals and add a great deal to show. The multitude of different honks, bells and other sound effects make the experience so much more enjoyable. The character voices, made by a bunch of random sounds strung together in an Animal Crossing-like way, work well too.
Feel — Absurd is the key to my heart
The overall experience isn’t too long — the game suggests around four to five hours for the campaign. And while my playthrough only took me three hours I have not collected every single trophy that can be found. For me, this is a good thing — you can finish it in possibly even one sitting, the story is well paced and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Difficulty wasn’t an issue either. The majority of the experience was a breeze, and even the boss battles weren’t much of a challenge — I died once and only because of my own mistake. The most challenging parts are the optional gauntlets, and even those have plenty of checkpoints and an easy way out if you want to leave and get back to the overworld.
The game tells a nice story about the rich trying to create a utopia that would work only for them, and how a random variable such as Piku waking up in a cave somewhere can screw it all up by accidentally joining and headlining the revolution. The main side characters Piku meets on their way are funny and likable, and their actions are logical, unlike some other bits.
That is because the game is filled with the absurd. An attempt to fix a toaster sends you into the toast dimension. There’s a compulsory dancing mini-game after you get your swag up and enter the exclusive club. There is a sports game that does nothing, and you can not partake in it at all. The side content in the game is not at all connected, and yet fits in perfectly within the world created by Sectordub.
In addition to all of that, if you have a friend with you then you can both play the co-op mode. It consists of nine long levels that can satiate your hunger if you needed more floppy platforming and puzzle solving. Some of them have mechanics that are never used in the single-player campaign, so it’s worth checking just for those gimmicks — who doesn’t want to ride in a tiny car?
Pikuniku sparks joy. The weirdly charming story works perfectly with its timeless aesthetic and absurd sense of humor. Whether playing the campaign or figuring out the puzzles with your close ones, it is a game worthy of going back to once every couple of years just to enjoy its simplicity. And to kick everyone and everything.
Pikuniku is available on PC on Steam, as well as on the Nintendo Switch.
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