Review: Tiny Metal

By Sean Couture 17 Jan 2018 0

Review: Tiny Metal

Released 21 Dec 2017

Developer: AREA 35
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Available from:
Steam

Anyone who owned a Gameboy Advance back in the day may remember a little title called Advance Wars. It took the Turn Based Strategy genre, made it accessible to everyone, and slapped a bright coat of primary colours and cute sprites on it, whilst still keeping a fair amount of depth. Area 35’s Tiny Metal is trying to recapture that magic, albeit in 3D rather than 2D.

 

You play as Lieutenant Nathan Gries of the Artemisian first army. After Artemisia's King, along with a famous war hero called Colonel Lindberg, has his plane shot in an mysterious circumstances your nation is invaded by the Shogunate of Zipang but mystery and deception are afoot. Much like Advance Wars, Tiny Metal is a turn based affair, you and your band of cutesy soldiers go from scenario to scenario dispatching enemies and capturing important structures. At the end of each mission your performance is scored, do well enough and you’ll unlock secret missions.

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On the field of battle itself, Tiny Metal is a well put together game -- especially when you consider that it comes from a small indie studio. You have your standard roster of units: infantry, tanks, helicopters, scout units and so on; each has particular enemies it’s good at killing whilst also also being vulnerable to certain other units. For instance, tanks can easily steam roll infantry and scout units but they are weak to Helicopters and Anti-Tank infantry. Area 35 have done a decent job balancing out units so, for the most part, completing missions requires players to field a force of combined arms.

When unit’s engage in combat, you get a little cinematic for each participating unit that shows them firing from respective positions. So if your tank unit that you placed in a woodland area fires on enemy infantry in a city, each will be surrounded by the corresponding terrain. It’s a nice touch that helps makes the map feel a little more real. Terrain isn’t just for looks however, cities and woodlands will impart defensive bonuses on units whilst also hampering vehicle movement whilst hills and elevated terrain give units a longer LOS, helping you peel back more of the fog of war.

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Tiny Metal is by no means a hard title, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The difficulty never suddenly spikes or drops, and for the most part it remains just challenging enough to keep your attention. The AI can be a little stupid however, with damaged infantry units sometimes believing they can take down full health tank units. In the thirteen or so hours it took me to beat the campaign, I never had to restart a mission, and I can assure you that I am by no means a brilliant tactician.

Damn near all of Tiny Metal’s mission involve you clearing the map of hostiles, capturing the enemy’s HQ or holding out for a certain length of time. Whilst the lack of variety certainly isn’t a dealbreaker, it does make the campaign drag in the latter portions. I also have to say that infantry are probably one of the weak links in Tiny Metal’s unit roster. Whilst they’re useful for capturing cities and production buildings, which give you money and units you buy with said money, the fact that they are so slow and that you spend most of the game on the offensive means that they are often left behind in later levels. It would’ve been nice for them to be upgraded with transports of some kind to help them keep up with the largely mechanized forces you’re handling in later levels.

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Lack of content can often be a huge sticking point for gamers, especially when it comes to indies titles where the devs simply don’t have the time or funding to compete with the amount have content bigger budgets games come packaged with. Now Tiny Metal’s thirteen hour campaign not sound all that bad but I do sincerely believe that it is too long. But around mission six or seven you kind of seen all the game has to offer. Yes new cooler toys, like AA and MLRS units, show up later but the mechanics and missions remain largely the same. Had the campaign been shaved down by three or four hours it would’ve made for a far tighter experience and the games weak plot wouldn’t have been stretched as thin.

Speaking of Tiny Metal’s plot, it is one of political misdirection, false flag operations and cunning masterminds, but sadly it’s execution doesn't really get that across properly. Plot-twists and character betrayals are so telegraphed that you see them coming from a mile away. Tiny Metal’s characters also fall short of ever really being memorable with the exception of an arms dealer called Orzio. Aside from looking generally out of place in the game’s overall aesthetic Orzio is easily one of the most annoying characters I’ve run into in long time. All of this could forgiven though, in the strategy genre stories and narratives are just an afterthought, they’re just there to ferry players across levels with some sense of purpose. The problem though is that Tiny Metal, really, really, really wants you to pay attention to its story. When characters aren’t talking at length over asinine plot details between missions, they are interrupting you mid-mission to do so. The fact that this happens all to often is then compounded upon by the game’s atrocious dialog. I’m not sure if this because the game is translated from Japanese, but all conversations between characters are far too long.

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To give you an example, early on in the game you stumble upon a friendly tank company trapped behind enemy lines. A soldier informs Gries, stating stating how odd the situation is since there hasn’t been any word of any friendly forces in the area, before finishing his report and departing. Gries then says to himself out loud how odd the situation is since he wasn’t informed any friendly forces in the area. Wolfram, an ally you run into early on, then shows up asking Gries what is wrong, he tells her about the tank company. She asks if he was informed of their presence, Gries says no and Wolfram states how odd the whole situation is. This entire conversation could’ve and should’ve been two or three sentences at most but instead was turned into a five minute ordeal of characters regurgitating the same two pieces of information over and over again.

To summarize Tiny Metal is solid title does most of what it set out to do, it doesn't quite live up to Advance Wars legacy, but then nostalgia is often a dangerous beast. It’s gameplay is enjoyable overall, with no heinous or egregious design decision that are deal breakers. On the technical front the game looks and runs well though I must say the camera likes to wander on it’s own occasionally. Tiny Metal’s main drawback is a bland story that forces itself upon you at every turn. For anyone looking a for a fun, casual turn based strategy title Tiny Metal is a shaky recommendation.

A fun and well made TBS title held back by lackluster plot and mission design

Review: Tiny Metal

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