The Tricky Difficulty in Wargroove

Wargroove Logo
Credit: Chucklefish

Like so many games that I get excited about, I bought Wargroove as soon as it released on the Switch. I played five or six missions and then it sat collecting digital dust on the shelf. I do this a lot, buy a game, taste test it, but then inevitably get distracted by something newer or simply something different.

Wargroove is a great strategy game that calls back to the likes of Advance Wars, a Gameboy Advance game I obsessed over back in high school. Complete with pixellated graphics and charming characters, Wargroove was absolutely a game I could get behind, especially with its price at $20. I started playing the game recently as one I’d like to finish as part of my Four in February, and right now is a great time to start playing – they just released a free co-op campaign!

An Emberwing roasting Greenfinger.
Combat animations are colorful and even skippable. (Credit: Chucklefish)

In Wargroove, each map has you leading a commander character to victory. Manuever your units around the battlefield, capture villages to earn more money each turn, and then spend that money on fresh units to bolster your army. Each soldier has strengths and weaknesses when matched up with an enemy, and you can set up unique conditions to have your soldiers land a critical hit when they attack. For example, your basic Swordsman will land a critical blow when positioned next to your Commander, or the Knight hits theirs when charging six spaces and then attacking. Your commander is “unit” in more ways than one, tanking a lot of fire and dishing out the pain every time they swing.

When released a year ago, Wargroove had a static difficulty setting, but also included individual sliders for three key components of the battle: Damage Received, Income, and Groove Charge (your commander’s special ability). Early players found the game pretty damn tough, and I felt the same way when I picked the game back up recently. However, a month after release, Chucklefish released their first major update that added shorter combat animations and five preset difficulty options: Story, Easy, Medium, Hard, and Custom). If you bump the difficulty down a notch to Medium you can still earn 3 stars per mission, but the highest rank you can attain is A, rather than S.

Wargroove's Difficulty Screen
Adjusting the difficulty is easy and great for small tweaks.

Thankfully, Wargroove’s custom sliding difficulty still honors stars based on the Medium/Hard benchmarks. So for example, once I got the hang of things again and found Medium to be a little easy, I was able to start ticking up the “Damage Received” from 80% to 90% without sacrificing the number of stars earned per mission. As the campaign progresses, I’ll likely keep bumping this up until I get back to 100%, the Hard setting.

I won’t be a completionist in any sense for this game, but I love the ability to individually slide pieces of the difficulty around to find that sweet spot: challenging, but not frustrating. The level of control offered in Wargroove is certainly a great step for a strategy game like this.

Emeric achieving victory
The best I can get at my current difficulty, I’ll take it!

It’s Never Too Late: Metal Gear Solid 2 Steps Forward, and Back

I love starting video games. The sense of mystery with the story to come, unique game mechanics that surprise you, but my favorite part is seeing how a series evolves with its next entry. If I have access to a sequel or the next game in a series, I’ll pop it in as soon as the credits roll on the previous game. That’s been the case for each Metal Gear Solid game as I work my way through the series, and the gap between the first game and Sons of Liberty is drastic. The leap in graphics is even more pronounced since I played the HD edition on Playstation 3.

After finishing the first Metal Gear Solid in early January, I decided to write about my experiences here. Is it too late to review a game that released in 1998? Probably. But with the “It’s Never Too Late” series, I show that you can absolutely still enjoy a game even 20 years post-release.

The Protagonist Problem

I know that Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was controversial when it was released in 2001. Hideo Kojima subverted expectations by only letting players control Solid Snake for the first few hours of the game (the Tanker episode). So fans expecting a full Metal Gear Solid experience with their gruff protagonist were disappointed to be playing as a younger blonde guy codenamed Raiden. I can see why’d they were upset.

I didn’t mind having to control Raiden instead of Snake. To me, it was a cool way to have a “boots on the ground” supporter for the Big Shell mission, something more tangible than only radio guidance. This also allowed for cool co-operative moments like Snake/Otacon defending you in the helicopter during the Harrier jet fight. I loved escorting Emma along the oil fence, sniping enemies before they could hurt her too much as she tried to reach Snake on the other side.  

However, Raiden wasn’t nearly as interesting of a character when compared to Snake. They tried to create a deeper backstory near the end with the child-soldier/Solidus reveal but it honestly got a little too confusing. Speaking of confusion, was this mission all a VR simulation? The answer to that question is both yes and no, which is just frustrating. So many people google that question that it has its own dropdown search result:

Google results
The trippy simulation reveal was a little confusing, I was wasn’t the only one a little lost.

The Sons of Liberty story was confusing to me, but only the last two or three hours. I still experienced lengthy monologues from bosses, Codec conversations, and double crosses. On top of that another character soiled themselves in fear (which is apparently a Hideo Kojima signature) so that’s fun. Regardless of the lead protagonist, players still get to sneak around, use cool tech, and occasionally get themselves out of sticky situations.

Streamlining Controls and Action

All of this action felt a lot smoother in Sons of Liberty, especially with the inclusion of more streamlined first-person mode. Although I do wish I had experimented more with knocking radios out using the tighter aiming controls. Raiden (and Snake) also had an amazing addition to their arsenal with the silenced tranquilizer gun, my favorite item in the game by far. Eventually I learned that knocked out enemies would wake up, which threw wrenches in my so-called “plans”.  I ended up putting most enemies to sleep with the tranquilizer and then shooting them in the head with my silenced pistol. Don’t look at me though, Raiden was cold-blooded.

I liked that there wasn’t nearly as much backtracking in this game as there was on Shadow Moses island. The mission felt varied as it took you from disarming bombs, to finding the President, to saving the President, to escorting Emma, to stopping Solidus. It was also a nice changeup from the very dark environment of MGS1 to much brighter and more colorful in Sons of Liberty, at least with the Plant episode. Whereas Metal Gear Solid 1 showed its age in clunky controls and hard to see graphics, its sequel cleared up a lot.

Bummer Boss Fights

Unfortunately, boss fights weren’t as compelling as the first game. I enjoyed the mechanics of the Fatman fight, but a bomb-loving boss sipping on wine while scooting around on rollerskates wasn’t very intimidating. I really liked the fight against Metal Gear Rays, but it became so easy to knock them out that they didn’t seem very threatening at the end of the fight as it became repetitive blowing apart seven or so war machines.

All in all, these boss encounters were also a lot easier than the first game. I found myself knocking them out on the third or fourth try compared to some of the harder ones in MGS1 like Psycho Mantis, Metal Gear Rex and Liquid. There weren’t as many bosses either, which was disappointing. Even though some of them broke my spirit in the first game, I loved the creativity of the original enemies and they were spaced out to bring some much needed variation to the overall experience. I was hoping the bosses would evolve just as much as the graphics and general gameplay.  

Overall Thoughts

Despite the setbacks in my book, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty pushed the series forward in important ways. It’s a crucial piece of the ongoing story and it was absolutely enjoyable. If you got through Metal Gear Solid, you should definitely give Sons of Liberty a shot, if only to see the major evolution in controls and graphics. If you find yourself finishing the game, then perhaps you’ll follow my lead and start the third Metal Gear Solid game that same night.   

It’s Never Too Late: Reflecting on Metal Gear Solid

I recently had an enlightening conversation with a good friend about time and video games. I’ve grown up with games my entire life, but when I was a kid a video game was a luxury. We wouldn’t get many video games over the course of a year (typically Christmas and birthdays), so each one was savored, replayed, and loved. Now as an adult, I have access to more video games than I could ever play simply through Xbox Game Pass, free games through PlayStation Plus, and using disposable income to buy new releases. 

I’ll never get to play every single game, nor would I want to. It’s important to remember that not everyone will get to play the same video games as you – it’s our ability to share our passion through conversations, YouTube videos, Twitch streams, or blog posts that allow us to nerd out about the experiences we love. 

With that in mind, I’d like to start writing about some of these experiences with a series called “It’s Never Too Late” – because while I do occasionally play a game right as it gets released, most of my gaming is months and even years behind. To lead off, I’d like to reflect on a series that I recently dove into: Metal Gear Solid. 

A Daunting Task

Whenever the Metal Gear Solid series came up in a conversation with my friends, I always told them the same thing: I had finished the first and second game, but put Metal Gear Solid 3 on a hard enough difficulty that I had gotten frustrated enough to give up. 

Looking back on the series now, I don’t think I ever actually finished the first game. I remember renting the Twin Snakes version for the Gamecube back in high school, but I don’t believe I made it all the way through the game. I also distinctly recall buying Sons of Liberty for dirt cheap as a used copy my freshman year of college and playing through its entirety in my dorm room (ah, back when video rental stores existed). 

A few years ago, I borrowed the Legacy Collection on PS3 from my twin, but it’s mostly sat collecting dust until the beginning of this year. An interest in Death Stranding finally motivated me to fire up the old PS3 and restart Metal Gear Solid. Over the course of four days I experienced a weird mix of nostalgia, an innovative blend of gameplay and narrative, as well as some truly frustrating moments. 

A Little Rough Around the Edges

To start off, I played the original Playstation game as a classic on my Playstation 3. So yes, the graphics were quite blocky and rough around the edges when it comes to today’s standards. I’ve never really been too concerned with how a game looks, and I’d like to think I would never scoff at graphics. Sure, I’ve been blown away by Read Dead Redemption 2 and Gears 5 in 4K, but I knew that MGS was released over 20 years ago. About an hour into the game and I felt like I had gotten used to the dark style, and my mind was filling in for some of the missing pieces like facial expressions. It felt right. 

What I had a hard time getting used to were the game’s controls. Around the time of meeting the DARPA chief I realized that the PS3 has a separate menu option for turning on the analog sticks, which certainly helped give Snake’s sneaking a little more fluidity. Even with smoother movement without the D-Pad, I encountered a very sticky railing early on in the Tank Hangar. I would successfully cling to a wall to sneak past a security camera, but then as I tried to move onto the stairs before the camera swept back, Snake would get caught on the railing and the enemy would be alerted. This happened three times in a row and irked me quite a bit. 

Tough, but Rewarding Boss Fights

Some of the touchy controls also bled into the penultimate boss battle against Metal Gear Rex. This was a doozy of a fight for me as I had a hard time avoiding the constant barrage of rockets so death was a familiar friend during this section. What made it harder to conquer was the constant flipping between items – bringing out the Chaff Grenade to block the boss’s targeting system, using R2 to swap over to the Stinger for a brief second, and then utilizing first-person aiming to hit the mech in the right spot. I felt like the timing of the boss attacks left very little room for error in getting this sequence down.  

I played through the game on Normal, and while many of the bosses were difficult, only Metal Gear Rex felt a little cheap. A few bosses took me three or four tries like Revolver Ocelot, Cyborg Ninja and Vulcan Raven. Some took around a dozen attempts like Liquid Snake and Psycho Mantis. Others were knocked out on the first try like the Tank, the Hind, and Sniper Wolf. Some of these fights were infuriating at the time, but ultimately I believe they will be memorable. 

Breaking the Fourth Wall

I’m sure one of the reasons this game is so unforgettable is due to its creativity. The bosses and their weaknesses were unique, especially Psycho Mantis. Revolver Ocelot didn’t just have slick gunplay for show, his bullets bounced off walls and nailed Snake directly. The game broke the fourth wall several times and actually made me chuckle in its execution. After a torture section where you have to tap O repeatedly, Snake’s ally Naomi directs you (the player) to put your controller on your arm and she’ll help the pain. A short controller vibration later, and I was all smiles at a small and clever little gesture. 

I dug the story for Metal Gear Solid a lot, and it never really felt too convoluted for me. Most of the story is told through Codec calls, which is a radio, but silent? I guess that never really clicked how Snake was able to have full conversations mere feet away from a guard, but I just rolled with it. The voice acting in these scenes, as well as the more animated cutscenes was fantastic, especially considering how long ago the game was released. A few characters could be overly dramatic at times (Otacon) or ultimately they were a melodramatic villain that I expected to tie my friend Meryl to railroad tracks (looking at you Liquid). 

Overall Thoughts

Metal Gear Solid is a sneaking game that forces you to be stealthy – it’s not easy to fend off an attack if you’ve been discovered. Other games like Dishonored give you some leeway once you are spotted: make a few quick kills and maybe the problem goes away. For MGS, you need to be patient to successfully sneak past guards and cameras. It’s a different skill set, and you certainly need to be in the right mood to take your time.

So with all of that in mind, was it worth playing Metal Gear Solid for (mostly) the first time, over 20 years after the game was released? Absolutely. If you haven’t tried this game or series, jump on in. It’s $10 on Playstation 3 and you’ll have a good time. If you enjoy it, there’s always several more games in the series to play as well.