It’s been a while since the (what I would deem) wonderful days of the Advance Wars series. Although war games are usually very much out of my element, there was something about the way that Intelligent Systems’ cartoony, deceptively in-depth turn-based tactical war game presented itself that drew me in. And I can happily say that, even to this day, I consider myself fan of the series. So it wasn’t any surprise that, from the moment I was made aware of Tiny Metal, I was very keen on playing it. My days of traveling around Wars World with the likes of Andy, Max, and Sami may have come and gone, but I was more than happy to soldier into battle once more. And what I was met with left me feeling quite content.
Cannons and Conspiracies
Tiny Metal‘s story picks up approximately 50 years after an in-game event known as “The Great World War” — a war so intense that it (as the name implies) spread across the entire world, destroying most of its natural resources and covering its landscapes in a thick, impenetrable miasma in the process. Since the war, the world has been enjoying (to the best of its ability) a peaceful respite for the past several decades. However, due to the recent assassination of the King of Artemesia, and the subsequent blaming of the Artemesian King’s death on the country of Zipang, the world would find itself thrown into chaos once more.
Although the game does cover worldwide conflict, Tiny Metal focuses primarily on the exploits of Nathan Gries — a young Artemesian Lieutenant who finds himself on the front lines of the Artemesia-Zipang conflict. In terms of actual storyline content, it’s about what you would expect. Nathan makes a few allies along the way, and encounters several surprises toward the end. Seeing as how the story isn’t particularly meaty, I can’t detail things much further than that. But, to those trying to guess what happens, you’re probably spot-on. At least, if you’re familiar with games like this one. There isn’t anything particularly shocking about the game’s story. It does leave you with a few questions here and there (and I mean that in a good way), but never bites off more than it can chew.
War (Mostly) Never Changes
Just in case I haven’t been straightforward enough already, allow me to come right out and say it; if you’ve played Advance Wars, you already almost exactly how to play Tiny Metal. I’m not exaggerating, either. Even after a good 10-year hiatus, everything that I had learned instantly came back to me when I picked this game up. I’m not condemning the game for that, though. In fact, I’m happy about it. It’s a good genre, and one that I feel is majorly under-represented. If Intelligent Systems isn’t going to pick the torch back up, then it’s best left in the capable hands of another.
If you aren’t familiar with Advance Wars, then that last paragraph probably didn’t mean much. And in that case, allow me to go in-depth a little further. Tiny Metal is a turn-based tactical war game in which strategy reigns supreme. Players take turn moving their units across the map, strategically attacking their foes, capturing territories, and ensuring that their enemies can’t do the same along the way. It’s a simple concept, and one that allows players to strategize easily.
Like its predecessors, Tiny Metal is more complicated than it first appears. There’s actually quite a bit to learn when it comes to fighting effectively. And that learning starts with the game’s units. There are 15 different units to make use of, each of which fits into one of several categories like air, long-ranged, or infantry. None of the units are inherently complicated — the game tells you exactly what everything does. Figuring out how to use each unit effectively, however, is a different story. The further you get in, the more things like cost-benefit analysis and risk assessment come into play. It sounds silly, I know, but it’s true. Fortunately, the game tends not to go all-out on you, making it easy to get a grasp on things overall if you’re a newbie.
Tiny Metal may be similar to Advance Wars, but the folks over at AREA 35 shook things up to ensure that they weren’t exactly the same. For starters, unit direction is now a thing. Flanking an enemy or attacking them from the back will grant you a nice little damage bonus. The enemy can do the same thing to you, however, so it’s just as important to make sure that your units are facing the right way. There’s also Focus Fire. Instead of having multiple units attack a single enemy unit repeatedly, you can instead have them lock onto an enemy, and all attack at once. This not only increases the damage dealt, but also automatically protects all but the unit which actually initiated the attack from taking damage. Truth be told, Focus Fire became one of my favorite features very quickly.
The game also includes what are known as “Hero Units”. And that name certainly isn’t just for show. Hero Units are special variants of normal units, capable of dealing out and taking in greater damage than their mass-produced counterparts. Not surprisingly, they’re also much harder to come by. Instead of merely deploying them from factories and airports (as you do with normal units), Hero Units must be deployed via radio tower structures. Only one Hero Unit can be deployed per radio tower, making it vital that you choose carefully, but they allow for deployment in any area not completely covered by miasma. If used correctly, a single Hero Unit is enough to massively turn the tides on your opponent. So much so, that it’s borderline unfair.
Tiny Metal presents itself strongly on most fronts, but I won’t deny a slight lack of creativity. And I’m not even talking about the fact that it uses a familiar-feeling formula. It’s the fact that it doesn’t do everything that it could with that formula. Throughout most of the game’s Campaign Mode, for example, you work with one or multiple factions. And while these other factions do things in terms of story, you never see them on the battlefield as an ally. Every fight is 1v1. The game’s Skirmish Mode fares slightly better, presenting the player with a handful of free-for-alls. But the lack of these in Campaign, as well as an entire overall lack of tag-team matches is puzzling.
Running in Blind
Remember when I mentioned that The Great World War ended up blanketing the world in miasma? Well, it did. And it’s still there 50 years later. Fog of war (miasma of war?) plays a huge role in this game. And, although I much prefer clear skies, I can’t deny that Tiny Metal‘s miasma-filled world adds an extra level of strategy. Due to the fact that you can only see what your units see, it becomes increasingly important throughout the game to scout out surrounding areas. Some units, of course, are better than others at this. Infantry units, like Riflemen, are able to climb hills, which greatly increase their field of vision. They also get a nice defense boost, too!
There’s one more way to get around the miasma; radars. Tiny Metal provides players with three specific units (one air, two land), capable of partially piercing through the miasma. Although these radar units do not illuminate areas past their FoV, they do pinpoint enemy locations. This allows players to attack units that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. Although radar units end up being incredibly useful, there’s a downside; you can’t actually see what you’re attacking. This can (and has, in my case) led to instances of initiating combat with enemy units significantly more powerful than your own.
What’s Yet to Come
I’d like to wrap things up by point out that Tiny Metal is an incomplete game. I don’t mean that as an insult, it’s simply a fact. A fact that the game showcases on the title screen whenever you select “Multiplayer”. At least, that’s how I choose to interpret it. I’m not mad about it, or anything. On the contrary, I’m really happy to hear that there’s plenty more in store for the game. It’s really fun. It deserves additional content. But, by boldly displaying a feature which players can’t access in what is supposed to be a full game, I couldn’t help but feel as though the game was telling me that what I currently had in my possession was only “most” of the game. Not all of it.
Multiplayer aside, I obviously have no idea what’s in store for this game. But I can at least talk about what I’d like to see. Personally, I think the fact that there’s no “free play” is strange. To be fair, Skirmish Mode is close to this, and Multiplayer might be exactly what I’m asking for. But it’s not here right now. I (and probably everyone else) would love to see a map editor. Creating and playing on custom maps would be wonderful for a game like this. And the ability to share maps with other Tiny Metal players across the world would be an exciting and unobtrusive way to increase the game’s longevity. It would be cool if the game eventually did something with the player’s score, too. I get that it’s essentially a show of how much you’ve done overall, but it seems like that’s all it’s there for.
Tiny Metal, Big Heart
I’ll make it clear that, although Tiny Metal may play like Advance Wars, it is not Advance Wars itself. And it still has a little ways to go before it can avoid being overshadowed (albeit only partially) by its predecessors. Still, from it From where it’s currently standing, Tiny Metal most definitely manages to stack up nicely. And, from what I understand, it’s only going to get better from here on out. It you’re on the lookout for a solid tactical war game, then this will probably do quite nicely.
FINAL VERDICT: 3.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC ; Publisher: UNTIES ; Developer: AREA 35 ; Players: 1 ; Released: December 21, 2017 ; ESRB: E10+, for Everyone Ages 10+ ; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Tiny Metal given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.