Back in the early 2000’s there were three games I played constantly on my Gameboy Advance; The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Final Fantasy Tactics and Advance Wars. The latter of which and its sequel, Black Hole Rising, would keep me company as I travel too and from work for many months. Fast forward to 2017 and the series seems all but dead, other than a re-release on the Wii U Virtual Console back in 2013 (which I also bought); however, in comes Japanese studio Area35 and Untie, Sony Music’s new publishing company, with Tiny Metal. It would be unfair to call it a direct clone of Advance wars as Tiny Metal does try to do certain aspects in its own way whilst modernising the Nintendo classic. Let’s take a look and see if Tiny Metal is more Advance Wars or Advance Bores…
In Tiny metal, you take control of an army which is built up of various unit types, each unit has their own strengths and weaknesses. Soldiers (Rifles/Rocket Launchers) are both weak in terms of defence, yet strong against other soldiers/vehicles, respectively, and are the only units able to take over various buildings (Which allows you to build new units or gain money per-turn). Then we have Scout Vehicles and various tanks, who are also good against soldiers and vehicles respectively yet have much more oomph in their attacks, this is sometimes at the sacrifice of movement distance. Helicopters are also used in order to quickly traverse across the battleground and pack a punch against all ground units. The game inherits the same mechanic used in Advance wars and also games such as Pokemon or Rock-Paper-Scissors, there is always something better than something else, it’s just a case of choosing the right units for the right job.
The campaign has you playing the role of Nathan Gries who is a lieutenant in the Artemisian army. A plane, which is carrying the Artemisian monarch, is shot down during flight and the blame instantly lies upon a nation known as Zipang, in turn, this triggers armed conflict and causes our forces to intervene. As you would expect in a game like this, nothing is what it seems and our protagonist goes through a few scenarios where he has conversations with various people which leads to him questioning whats happening and where his loyalties really lie. The story is engaging and kept me interested throughout my playthrough even though the game is entirely voiced in Japanese (apart from in-game one-liners) and subtitled in English. I would have loved for the game to receive an English dub but due to time and money constraints, and the fact it is just a small indie studio, I can kind of see why we only got the option for a Japanese dub.
Gameplay mechanics are nice and straight-forward, if you have played an Advance Wars game in the past then you already know what i’m about to say! You must manage your units correctly as you navigate the mini battlefield missions, use your footsoldiers to take over various buildings to generate income and allow you to create new units whilst using you initial heavy units, such as tanks or scouts, to attack any enemies who try and stop you. Once you have control of a factory and buildings generating revenue then it’s time to explore the map and seek out and destroy the enemy units. However, not only is this your task but it is usually the enemies task too so throughout the enemies turn you will see they have obtained various buildings as well. This means you must not only take out the units in play but also seek out and take over their factories as if they are still active then the enemy can continue to create new units.
As mentioned above, each unit has it’s own strengths and weaknesses; however, these can both be amplified by the terrain the unit is currently residing in – if you are up high on a hill or mountain then you gain an advantage in your attack and defence as it’s easier for you to see the enemies than vice-versa. Similarly, if you are within a city or a forest then you gain a defence boost as it’s harder for the enemies to target you in defence or offence. As with all of these turn-based strategy games, before you attack you are given a percentage of how many units you will defeat during battle – this can be used to strategically plan out if you will wipe them all out or not, if you don’t kill all of the enemy units upon first strike then they will retaliate and the remaining units will auto attack you immediately afterwards. The percentage meter is a bit misleading though – say the unit, at full capacity, was 10 footsoldiers yet you have killed a few so they only have 4 left in the group. If you attack this group and you have a 60% chance of killing them all, you will wipe them all out in one hit. This is because the percentages are based on the ‘original amount’ and not the ‘remaining amount’ – this took me a while to realise and I feel the game should really adapt and tell you the percentage based on how many are left – but that’s just me being picky.
A new mechanic which is introduced in this game is ‘Focus Fire’ – this is an effective way of ensuring you take down the enemy in one hit, so they can’t retaliate and risk killing some of your units. In order to use the mechanic, you must have a few units near the one you wish to attack and then you move a unit adjacent to them as if to attack, but you select ‘focus fire’ from the menu instead of ‘attack’. You can do this with up to three units as the last one you move in there will just attack as normal. If you have any units with ‘focus fire’ selected then they will all attack immediately after your unit and before the enemy is given a chance to fight back. This means if you have a few units with only a few troops in each, you could get them all to gang up on an enemy group and aim to take them down in one attack rather than multiple. the risk with this is that if you set up the focus fire but then don’t do a normal attack to initiate it then your units won’t attack and you have just wasted a turn for all those units you placed on standby. It’s all about forward thinking and planning out your next move ahead of the one you are currently taking.
Throughout the game, you will uncover new abilities, new units and new commands. One such command is the option to call in a ‘Hero Unit’ which is basically a new variant of an existing unit yet with much better stats. This unit can only be called in from certain buildings so it is imperative that you aim to take over that building in order to secure this powerful ally. You can also choose to ‘assault’ the enemy if you wish, this comes at a great risk but the payoff is pretty good. Basically, once a troop has started taking over a building there are two ways to stop the process from proceeding. You can either destroy the unit or it has to leave the building entirely – assault will allow the enemy to attack you first (the risk) but if you have remaining units in your group after the pre-emptive attack then you will automatically knock the enemy back a square (off the building) and you will take their place. So it isn’t the best of attacks, but it’s good if the enemy is close to taking over a building and you want to reset their progress.
Size-wise, the game should take you about 15 hours or so to complete the campaign. There is also an option for taking on skirmishes which allows you to play one of 56 available maps/challenges which all have varying difficulties. There is an option on the main menu for Multiplayer but it isn’t yet active – upon looking into this further, they are promising online and local 1v1 matches which will be very interesting and a great addition to the game; however, I can’t find any information on when this mode will be activated. Another thing which may please some of you out there, on the PS4 Pro, this game renders and plays at a full 2160p (4k) at 60fps. I’ve been playing it on a 1080p tv and it does look like supersampling is there, although it’s hard to tell due to the cartoony nature of the game, but I can say that it looks and plays great with no hiccups or issues at all.
Graphically, the game looks gorgeous – it’s bright, colourful and very cute – for a game of war. Like the aforementioned Advance Wars titles, the game is played on a grid only this time the game is in 3D with three camera settings; top-down, isometric, and up close isometric. These can be selected using L2 and R2, although switching between them is clunky and not very smooth as it quickly changes and can result in you having to press the trigger just a little. This is something that should have been assigned to a button or change in steps as at the moment its like it’s a slider and as you press the trigger it quickly slides. As you attack, the screen will create a mini cutscene showing your group with the number of units you have left in it which then zooms over to show the damage you caused and then any returning fire and casualties if applicable. It’s basically just like in advance wars and even similar to Fire Emblem games. You can turn these cutscenes off as well if you want to cut a few minutes off your playtime.
Sound-wise, the game is great – you get good music which fits the situations and the Japanese voice acting is really well done, but don’t forget that you have no English voices in the game. Well, that isn’t entirely true as during gameplay your units will spurt out one-liners in English every now and again. This can be changed to Japanese to match the rest of the games audio if you wish or you can disable them if you begin to grow tired of hearing them as they do tend to repeat themselves after not too long.
Tiny Metal has clearly taken a lot more than inspiration from the Advance Wars series, although they have thrown in a few new mechanics and a decent length single player which helps make this game it’s own. The story is engaging, exciting and compelling and will have you intrigued all the way to the end with each battle different to the last due to the reveal of new units and mechanics along the way. Factor in the 56 levels of Skirmish, the up-coming Multiplayer and the ability to replay missions to gain up to a gold medal and you get a tonne of content for your money with this game. I highly recommend it to fans of games like Advance Wars, Fire Emblem, and even Xcom. This is a great first game from Area35 and I can’t wait for their next title.
- Interesting story which keeps you engaged and excited
- Perfect homage to Advance Wars
- Plent of content with a campaign, Skirmish and an upcoming multiplayer mode
- Great graphics, with PS4 Pro support
- The new mechanics help the game differentiate itself from it's influences
- No English Dub
- Not enough in-game one-liners
- Damage percentage prediction should be adapted based on how many units are left and not as if the unit is at 100%