[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]
It seems like an awfully long time since we had an Advance Wars title and in truth, we may never see another one. The series last saw the light of day with 2008’s release of Advance Wars: Days of Ruin and there don’t seem to be any plans to release another one. Thankfully, Tiny Metal (which was released in December) is here to fill the gap, but is it any good? Let’s find out.
Calling Tiny Metal a straight up clone of Advance Wars would be a bit unfair, because it does bring a few new features to the table, but there’s no doubt that the links are here. The game structure features both a campaign mode and a series of skirmish maps that can be played solo, as well as a multiplayer mode that has spent a lot of the time since release as a non-functional TBA feature (at least on the Nintendo Switch, which is the version I tested.)
The campaign mode features a fairly interesting storyline that is delivered via charming characters and reams and reams of text, which can mercifully be skipped through quite quickly. I did enjoy some sections when I was in the mood, but as is often the case with Japanese games that pitch youthful heroes into some kind of conflict, there is quite a lot of philosophical exposition that can drag on a bit between missions.
When campaign missions actually kick off, or when a skirmish mission is chosen, the real strengths of Tiny Metal begin to show themselves. Much like the game that it seeks to replicate, Tiny Metal is a top down (albeit at a slight angle) turn based strategy game that depicts battalion level combat on small, densely packed maps that feature elements of base building and traditional paper, rock, scissors gameplay.
Visually, it is highly appealing. Each unit is nicely animated with cartoonish flair, whilst the maps themselves are bold, bright and colourful, with only a few terrain or building features proving hard to identify at first glance. What is more important is the depth of strategic gameplay as the result of roads, grassland, forest and mountain tiles, which really forces a decent focus on how best to tackle each scenario.
As an example, most maps feature a kind of circular or snaking route through them that will likely become the main focus for the battle, with tanks, artillery and other vehicles forced to stay on (or near) the road due to their movement restrictions. Meanwhile though, the savvy commander will use more mobile units like infantry to probe more direct routes through forests and over hills. A fog of war system ensures that such advances can be practical, whilst a number of different radar vehicles counter them.
I said earlier that Tiny Metal does a few things differently to Advance Wars and that is correct. The first is the mix of units, which initially seem to mirror the original roster from Advance Wars, but soon expands to include a fair few more, each with a more distinct specialty. This makes tactics like spamming a single type of tank much less viable than it was in Advance Wars, which is saying something given that it was never a rock solid tactic.
The other key difference is that whilst attacking units still fire first (in most situations) Tiny Metal includes a teaming maneuver that enables two friendly units to attack an adjacent enemy, which (assuming it survives) will only be able to return fire on the second unit that fires at it. This approach enables a weaker unit to combine firepower with a stronger one with no fear of return fire, at the cost of only being able to target one enemy. It’s a nice feature if you can create situation where you have a numerical advantage.
Ultimately, the great looks, lengthy campaign and myriad of skirmish missions make Tiny Metal a really nice addition to the Switch catalogue of games, especially given that there are currently no Advance Wars games in the pipeline. What it lacks in the outright charm of the series it imitates, it makes up for with greater unit choice and its own brand of visual flair, which is further underpinned by strong, strategic gameplay.
About Matt S.
Matt is a 34 year old gamer from the north of England. He has worked in the games industry for 18 years and loves consoles dating right back to the NES, as well as PC and handheld gaming in almost all forms. He has a soft spot for Nintendo, for deep strategy and for board and card games both digital and physical. Need to get in contact with Matt? Use the contact page or reach him on Twitter.