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March 2018

Tiny Metal

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Unties
Developer: AREA 35
Release Date: Dec. 21, 2017


PC Review - 'Tiny Metal'

by Cody Medellin on March 9, 2018 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Tiny Metal is a turn-based strategy game of skill and tactics inspired by Japanese arcade war games such as the Advance Wars series.

If you're a fan of Nintendo titles, then you know that it can sometimes be difficult to proclaim yourself as a fan of one of their franchises. With very few exceptions, the company doesn't dole out sequels at a rapid pace. If you're a fan of something like Fire Emblem or The Legend of Zelda, then you've been blessed with a multitude of entries in a good timespan. If you're a fan of the Advance Wars series, however, then you're currently in a drought, since the last entry was seen roughly 10 years ago on the Nintendo DS. An opportunity to please those fans comes in the form of Tiny Metal, an homage to Nintendo's dormant strategy game. The game arrived on the PS4, Switch and PC.

Fifty years after a great war put the Earth in a state where electronics have become unreliable and progress has stalled, the nation of Artemisia has suffered countless skirmishes due to its prosperity. During a diplomatic mission, the Artemisian king's aircraft was shot down, and blame immediately went to the isolationist nation of Zipang. After repelling an invasion by a small Zipang force, young Lieutenant Nathan Gries brings the fight to Zipang to rescue any crash survivors.

The story feels like an anime, complete with the requisite tropes. You have a plucky young commander who's honest and full of heart. There are several mysterious people who will side with you but try to manipulate you for their own gains. There's also a villain who can only be defined by their motivation for combat in the first place. All of this is told through a combination of narration and spoken cut scenes straight out of a visual novel, and there's plenty of it happening in between each mission and before a mission ends. There's so much of it that you'll often be tempted to hit the fast-forward button since the scenes can be quite lengthy, even with the dialogue automatically progressing without player input.

If you're a PC strategy game aficionado who hasn't touched Advance Wars or Fire Emblem before, then you'll come into Tiny Metal in a different manner. For the most part, the story missions usually have one of three objectives: take over the enemy base, destroy the enemy forces, or survive for a set number of turns. The scenarios don't stray from this, so it's never a mystery about what you need to do to win. While you can choose from a variety of forces, you aren't going to be bogged down by their stats. Instead, the game relies on a much simpler rock-paper-scissors formula to determine who wins. For example, foot soldiers might do well against rocket-launching enemies, but they're almost useless against tanks. Those same rocket-launching soldiers are quite good against those same tanks and scout jeeps, but they can be eradicated by super tanks. All of those units level up when they defeat other enemy units or take over buildings, so it gives you a little incentive to keep them alive instead of sending them out as cannon fodder. Everyone unleashes counterattacks after being hit, so it pays to attack first.

The gameplay remains sound, but there are a few tweaks and additions that make Tiny Metal feel like more than just a carbon copy of Nintendo's title. For starters, only soldiers can take over buildings to generate more cash, so you can make more troops and vehicles. Since lowly foot soldiers are more effective at this than those touting rocket launchers, you'll always want them present. Building occupation plays a big part in the strategy, so you have the assault tactic, which gives you the chance to knock out an enemy unit — but only if you're willing to take a hit first. Finally, there's the lock-on/focus fire feature, which lets you send multiple units of any type to gang up on an enemy.

While simple, the formula works quite well for those who are just getting into the genre. The maps are well laid out but not too complicated, so it's easy to get to a fight or a point of interest. Each unit only has one attack type if you don't count the lock-on ability. Though there are loads of different units you can use, it doesn't take long to figure out their weaknesses and strengths.

Then again, the simplification of strategy can sometimes go too far. Being in a forest might give you some extra protection against attacks, but you'll barely notice the difference. Likewise, elevation doesn't play much of a part in either attack or defense, so while putting your troops on a hill sounds like a good idea, it doesn't feel that way once a fight begins. The major flaw, however, lies in the enemy AI. Until you're in the campaign's final level, you won't feel like the opponent puts up a challenge because they spend their time either taking over buildings or going after your weakest opponents first, no matter how weak your stronger units are. They never seem to use the lock-on ability or the assault, and they never use their larger numbers to flank you. For the most part, it feels like you're going up against an opponent that only knows the most basic of strategies, so there's no incentive to improve your own skill unless you want to end fights quickly.

Beyond the 14 missions, you have the option to play through New Game+ with the expected difficulty increase. You also have Skirmish mode, which has you going through roughly 54 scenarios against the AI. The good news is that these scenarios have more than one simultaneous AI opponent, so the battles can feel larger in scope. The bad news is that the AI hasn't improved, so you can effectively sit back and wait for the other forces to weaken themselves before picking up the scraps.

The presentation works well even if it can be a little confusing at times. The bright colors are exactly what you want from something that's trying to be like Advance Wars, while the 3-D models look awesome against a simple backdrop that has some nice details, like reflections whenever a gun fires. It runs smoothly, and the isometric camera never succumbs to navigation difficulties or accidentally hiding enemy positions. The music is decent, and the effects are fine, but the voicework is confusing. The cut scenes are done in Japanese with a pretty low volume, so you're thankful for the subtitles since you can barely hear it. In combat, all of the vocal shout-outs by troops are done in English with varying accents. There's no option to make everything fall under one language, and even though the vocal calls by troops can get repetitive rather quickly, it would've still been nice to not have that language jump.

If you're tired of the game's AI, then you have the option to play against others in multiplayer. That's the theory, since the option is currently grayed out. There's word of an upcoming patch to unlock the mode, but with no timetable set for that, it's anyone's guess as to when the game will feel complete.

That's the real thing that holds back Tiny Metal. There's no doubt that it has the basics covered, and the new focus fire mechanic works nicely when you can initiate it. The campaign and skirmishes make up a very lengthy game once you put them together, though you'll have to deal with a lackluster AI in the process. The lack of multiplayer wouldn't hurt so much if it weren't already promised, and the fact that the game launched without that feature makes it feel like an Early Access title rather than one with a $25 price tag. If you don't mind such things, then Tiny Metal is still worth checking out if you're a fan of simpler strategy. For anyone else looking for some challenge, it might be best to hold off to see if and when multiplayer goes live.

Score: 6.5/10

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