I really like Advance Wars and to a lesser extent turn-based tactics games. Into the Breach was one of my favourite games of 2018. When I saw TINY METAL I was positive it would be up my alley. Then I played through the first several missions. Oh boy.
Developer: Area 35 Inc
Publisher: Area 34 Inc
Release Date: July 11th, 2019
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC, Switch
TINY METAL: FULL METAL RUMBLE is the latest game from Area 35 and a faithful homage to Advance Wars. I don’t like making comparisons to other games, but so much of TINY METAL is owed to what inspired it. Matches involve commanders deploying a variety of soldiers, vehicles, and aircraft in a bid to wipe out their opponent. Victory is secured when either you capture your opponent’s headquarters, or destroy their forces. There are also buildings to capture and every commander has a super power that charges overtime. If you’ve played Advance Wars then you’ve played a better version of this.
I’ll start with fog of war as that is a high point. TINY METAL implements fog of war similarly to other strategy games. The entire map begins concealed meaning you won’t have the lay of the land. Scouting becomes an integral part of overcoming your enemy as you remove the veil of fog. The increased emphasis on scouting adds value to weaker units which possess high vision stats meaning there are less redundant unit types.
The way fog is implemented also makes maps play more dynamically. You aren’t able to determine the winning tactic for a map immediately. Instead, players are forced to explore and evolve their strategy as new information becomes available. While TINY METAL’s implementation of fog of war is derivative, it is a notable improvement over the games it clearly wants to be.
The other areas where TINY METAL doesn’t directly imitate is the introduction of hero units and focused fire. The former are powerful units that can be summoned into battle. Conceptually they’re neat, but every mission can be finished without using them so they’re entirely superfluous.
Focused fire allows for multiple units to team up on a target. This can help with taking down bulky foes, especially those which you don’t possess an immediate counter to. The enemy is also able to focus fire, though they use the mechanic sparingly so players won’t be overwhelmed. Unlike hero units, this mechanic is a welcome addition.
Alright. Onto the bad.
While I like the character art, I find the overall style of TINY METAL to be boxlike. The units and environment have a very stiff appearance. The presentation makes playing the game feel a lot more rigid than it would otherwise. The lighting is also garish making the game difficult to look at. At the time of writing there is currently no setting to alter how bright the game looks.
On that note, TINY METAL also occasionally struggles to provide appropriate levels of visual contrast. Most of the different armies are coloured in such a way as to provide contrast, but one faction’s colour is a light grey. This looks very similar to the default white colouring of structures. While playing this nation I had difficulty telling what buildings I was in command of. More visual contrast for this nation would’ve been helpful.
Additionally the camera during the enemy turn is nausea inducing. I do have an acute motion sickness problem, so your experience may vary. When the enemy moved without attacking the camera would dart around the screen so quickly it made me feel ill. An option to reduce camera movement would be appreciated.
Visuals aside, it took me quite a while to nail down exactly why I wasn’t enjoying TINY METAL. The reason was a lack of variety. TINY METAL features an exhausting thirty nine mission campaign with many indistinguishable missions. Four factors influence this blandness: mission objectives, bonus objectives, map design, and unit types.
Firstly, mission objectives. The vast majority of the games missions require you to capture the enemy HQ, or wipe out all of their forces. It becomes incredibly tiresome to defeat one’s enemy in exactly the same fashion every mission. Even when you’re given alternative victory conditions, you can still complete the standard ones to win. This leads to a lot of repetition.
The side objectives are just as bad as the main ones. There is about seven different side goals, three of which are assigned to each mission. Completing the same challenges repeatedly became tiresome to the point of boredom. Many of them are linked to basic gameplay that players would do regardless, which makes them even more mundane.
It would turn out that designing maps which challenge players in a variety of ways is an incredibly difficult task. Despite coming in several shapes, sizes, and layouts many of the maps in TINY METAL feel identical. The player usually starts as far from the enemy as possible, and there is an annoyingly large gap between them filled with obstacles. The maps all feel similar, which makes playing their corresponding mission incredibly monotonous.
The map design also heavily encourages the use of a subset of the available units. With how large maps are combined with the volume of obstacles there isn’t much reason to use many of the available units. The gunship in particular feels incredibly overpowered as it is cheap, relatively strong against most units, ignores terrain effects, and is capable of traveling large distances every turn. With a powerful unit like this available it is sub-optimal to utilize other units.
The culmination of all these short comings is an immense lack of variety, which manifests as a feeling of repetition. A greater variety in mission types and better map design would address this, as well as encourage a variety of play styles rather than allowing for a single dominant strategy to be used et nauseam.
Finally a few house keeping items.
I wasn’t a fan of the story. It’s not bad, but it didn’t draw me in either. With how weak the gameplay elements are a strong story might have provided the motivation I needed to keep pressing forward, but TINY METAL’s story isn’t anything to write home about.
I also ran into a few technical issues. The game crashed to desktop once. When using a controller the keyboard controls were still used onscreen. If you press the A button on the bonus objectives screen in the sub-menu you’ll cause the game to enter a never ending load screen. None of these are deal breakers, but they do feel like another problem TINY METAL didn’t need in conjunction with all the others.
In a world where so many other games already do what TINY METAL does but better, it is impossible to recommend it. The entire experience is pedestrian compared to what came before it. I could live with the issues I had regarding the visuals being rigid and garish, as well as the lack of story and technical hiccups. However, the complete lack of variety across the entirety of the game I can not. TINY METAL is offensively monotonous. Your money and time are better spent on other games.