Game formulas can occasionally be challenging to duplicate. For instance, take Intelligent Systems’ Advance Wars, a critically and commercially successful series that spurred four iterations in the first decade of the new millennium. But following the 2008 release of Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, the developer has shifted focused to other properties, leaving an ample opportunity for another developer to craft a series of similar faceoffs.
Efforts like Field Commander and Great Little Wargame have tried to capture the duplicate Advance Wars mechanics, with only Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars coming close to matching the mixture of accessibility and meditative turn-based strategy of Intelligent Systems’ franchise. And while the recent release of Area 35’s Tiny Metal won’t dethrone Advance Wars, it makes the absence of an actual sequel a bit more bearable. While the title has shipped without a multiplayer component, once that’s patched in, Tiny Metal has the potential to grow into a serious contender.
Tiny Metal shows progress over its peer when it comes to narrative. Most turn-based tactical games want to get down to business. But Area 35 isn’t afraid of creating context, with opening exposition explaining the contentious backdrop. Here, a downed diplomat is the impetus for quarrel, reigniting the tensions between the nations of Artemisia and Zipang. Our narrator through the conflict is Lieutenant Nathan Gries, an officer tasked with using his ingenuity to defeat his abundantly equipped rival.
Occasionally, Tiny Metal’s dialog can become a bit too loquacious, prompting impatient players to fast forward through the conversations. But bypassing these interchanges might prove to be an impediment. Not only are there some interesting moments, where Gries’ allegiances are challenged, but there’s the occasional bit of conversation that proves prudent on the battlefield. Gamers might try to skip the game’s opening cinematic, but even that imparts some foundational knowledge.
Watch the opening animation and Tiny Metal hints as the central strengths of weaknesses of each unit type. The introduction first showcases riflemen, who are capable of seizing cities, subsequently producing revenue able to expand your military force. However, they are susceptible to mobilized scouts, who can easy defeat a squadron with their mounted machine gun. The game’s eponymous Metals are mighty tanks capable of obliterating any lightly armored vehicles, but with their limited movement range and constrained vision are at risk of being hunted by an agile, rocket launcher-carrying Lancer.
While some might bemoan the lack of any naval fleets and the ability to merge two injured squads into a healthy new unit, Tiny Metal isn’t content with merely aping Advance Wars. Pleasing, it brings a number of divergent mechanics into battle, building an element of distinction. Focus Fire recalls the team attack of the Disgaea series, permitting a number of adjacent troops to combine their efforts into a formidable strike. Like Nippon Ichi’s SRPG, the maneuver requires a bit of planning, requiring multiple units to lock onto targets before issuing the attack order. But the extra planning reaps dividends, with combined forces easily destroying an especially irksome foe.
Entrenched enemies can often be exasperating for armchair strategists. Mercifully, Tiny Metal provides the option to Assault an imbedded opponent. The option isn’t without risk, opting to assault allows an adversary to fire first, which can whittle down your unit strength. But survive the ambush, and you might be able to push a unit back one space, allowing you to commandeer their position. Troop location, is unsurprisingly, something you’ll want to prioritize. Some spaces like Forests and Hills offer addition defensive protection for smaller troops. Urbanized spots like Cities, Factories, Airports, and Labs are also key captures, with most paying out currency on every turn and allowing the manufacture of associated units.
While the title extends a number of standalone skirmish missions to complement its twenty-hour campaign, currently the game lacks any multiplayer component. The absence of even local competition might initially seem a bit perplexing, but since Tiny Metal recovered from an unsuccessful crowdsourcing attempt, the approach is understandable, but still a bit disheartening considering the game’s twenty-five dollar price. On the upside, Area 35 pledges to amend the deficiency, but currently there’s no conclusive time frame.
Visually, Tiny Metal uses the Unreal Engine to offers on the sprite-based combatants of old. On the PC, the effect is especially effective, offering an attractive isometric view of the battlefield. On an undocked Nintendo Switch, the end result is almost as eye-pleasing, save for a bit of framerate woes during cinematics and a loss of responsiveness when unit numbers escalate.
But being that Metal is a turn-based affair, the transgression isn’t too serious, only effecting aesthetics. Fans of Japan art will undoubtedly appreciate the contributions of Koji Moriga, Go Takahashi, and Mutsumi Odax. While the trio might have a lot of name recognition in the West, their expertise working on titles like I am Setsuna and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is evident in the character design and unit modeling. Embarrassingly, I enjoy a strategy game that’s pleasing to the eye, and Tiny Metal’s output was able to keep the retinas charmed during the 45-minute stretches some missions took.
Like Advance Wars, Tiny Metal is a just as much as a puzzler as it is a strategy game. Each mission gives players a toolset, and tasking them to come up with a solution that involves seizing opportunity and limiting risk. Save for the lack of any multiplayer and a slightly constrained selection of units, Tiny Metal is a worthy successor, capable of engaging players who want to test their own mettle.
Tiny Metal was played on the PC with review code provided
by the publisher. A Switch copy was paid for by reviewer.
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PC
Developer: Area 35
Publisher: Sony Music Entertainment Japan, UNTIES
Release date: December 21st, 2017
Price: $24.99 via digital download