Back in the early 2000s, 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 to 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). Japanese studio Area35 and UNTIE, Sony Music’s new publishing company, clearly saw the gap in the market and thus, Tiny Metal was born.
It would be unfair to call Tiny Metal a direct clone of Advance wars as it does try to do certain aspects in its own way by 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 that is built up of various unit types, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, such as:
Soldiers (Rifles/Rocket Launchers): These units are weak in terms of defence, yet strong against other soldiers and vehicles, based on their weapons. They are also the only units that are able to take over the various buildings (which allows you to build new units or gain money per turn).
The Scouts and various Tanks: These are good against soldiers and vehicles, just like the Soldiers, only they have much more ‘oomph’ in their attacks, although sometimes at the sacrifice of movement spaces.
Helicopters are used in order to quickly traverse across the battleground whilst offering a decent offensive against all ground units.
Ultimately, Tiny Metal inherits the same ‘Rock-Paper-Scissors’ mechanic used in previous Advance wars games and titles such as Pokemon, there’s always something better than something else. It’s a case of choosing the right units for the right job based on both the strengths and weaknesses on offer.
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. 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 what’s 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 see why we only got the option for a Japanese dub.
Gameplay mechanics are nice and straightforward – if you’ve ever played an Advance Wars game in the past then you already know the strategy involved. The first thing you’ll want to do is explore and use your footsoldiers to take over various buildings to generate income and grant access to unit-creation stations. You’re given a small number of units initially but they will only be able to support you for so long. Once you have control of a factory and buildings generating revenue, it’s time to explore the map further and seek out and destroy the enemy units.
However, not only is this your task but it is usually the enemies task too! You’re shown what your opponents are up to during their turn, this often results in seeing them also taking over new buildings and creating new units. This means that you’ll probably want to seek out and take over the factories and money-making buildings the enemy owns, otherwise they’ll continually spawn in new units with one thing in mind – taking you out!
As mentioned above, each unit has its own strengths and weaknesses; however, these can both be amplified by the terrain the unit is currently residing in. For example, if you’re up on a hill or mountain then you’ll gain an advantage within both your attack and defence stats, as it’s easier for you to see the enemies than they see you. Similarly, if you are within a city or a forest then you gain a defence boost thanks to the environment.
As with most of the best 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. However, the percentage shown is a little misleading as it’s based upon the initial number of units in the group. For example, if you have a 60% chance of wiping out the group, this means you’ll kill 6/10 of the individual units. But, if you’ve already killed a few units, it’ll still show 60% rather than an adjusted percentage based on how many are left.
if you don’t kill all of the enemy units upon your first strike, the remaining units will retaliate and auto-attack you immediately after you had your turn.
A new mechanic, which is introduced in this game, is called ‘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. I particularly loved using this new mechanic as it adds a lot more strategy and forward-thinking to the game. Basically, you can line up three units in an attack position and then attack with another unit nearby. This causes all four ‘focused’ units to attack in unison, not allowing the enemy to retaliate until the final unit has had its shot.
However, if you line up a bunch of units with Focus and then don’t use it, you’ve effectively wasted a bunch of potential attacks!
As the game progresses you’ll uncover some new abilities, units and 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 a certain building so it’s imperative that you aim to take over that building in order to secure this powerful ally.
You can also choose to ‘assault’ the enemy whilst they’re trying to take over a building, this comes at great risk but the payoff is pretty good. Basically, once a troop group has started taking over a building there are two ways to stop the process from proceeding. You can either wipe them out or they have to leave the building square entirely. Assault allows you to attack the enemy but let them attack you first (the risk), if you have remaining units in your group after the pre-emptive attack, you will automatically knock the enemy back a square (away from the building) and you will take their place. Whereas it isn’t the best of attacks, it’s great if the enemy is close to taking over a building and you want to reset their progress.
Size-wise, Tiny Metal 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 active yet. 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 that 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. I can honestly say though that it looks and plays great with no hiccups or issues at all.
Graphically, Tiny Metal looks gorgeous with its bright, colourful and very cute art style, especially for a game about 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. I found myself often flicking between them really quickly as the switch was too sensitive! I feel this is something that should have been assigned to a button rather than the pressure-sensitive triggers.
Just like Advance Wars, there’s a mini cutscene every time you attack an enemy, showing your units, their units and any casualties caused as a result of your interactions. I really enjoyed watching these but you can disable them if you want to speed up the gameplay.
Sound-wise, the game is great – you get good music that 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. They do tend to repeat themselves after not too long.
Tiny Metal has clearly taken inspiration from the Advance Wars series, although they have thrown in a few new mechanics to play with during the decent length single-player campaign. 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. If you factor in the 56 levels of Skirmish, the upcoming Multiplayer and the ability to replay missions to gain up to a gold medal, you get a tonne of content for your money with this game.
I highly recommend Tiny Metal 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
- Plenty 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 its 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%
- The Follow-up game never released on PlayStation platforms