Advance Wars definitely set the bar pretty high in regards to adorable, pint-sized warfare. That game had player controlling tiny soldiers, tanks, helicopters, and so forth as they blew up other teensy armies in what had to be the cutest depiction of all-out military combat.
However, for whatever reason, Nintendo seemed to abandon the series, leaving fans of pixelated destruction with very few games to turn to. Indie games like Wargroove have had to take up the mantle, and now it's Tiny Metal's time to shine.
Not Exactly Saving Private Ryan
As you may have guessed, Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble is a top-down tactical turned-based strategy game that takes quite a bit of inspiration from the Advance Wars series. There seems to be a growing number of games trying to ape Advance Wars (such as the excellent Wargroove), and considering that the series seems to be dead in the water, it's nice to see more and more spiritual successors popping up.
In terms of story, well, there isn't really much of one. While some kind of plot that could help contextualize why you're sending cute little soldiers off to meet their doom would be nice, it's not necessarily a priority. Which is good, because the plot of Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble is basically given in a big text crawl at the beginning of the game. Basically, there's an evil A.I. controlled army that's looking for ancient Lost Tech relics that will likely be used to take over the world. Your characters kind of don't want that to happen, hence the full-on war.
There are cutscenes that continue the plot along, but everything is mostly just anime nonsense. There's a weird samurai commander with a subordinate who's a tad too attached to him, a generic white bread protagonist who seems to be about 16 years old yet somehow is leading an army, an evil clown, etc. These scenes are also fully voice acted, which is nice, except the voice acting is poorly mixed in some cases, and not particularly great.
Aside from the cutscenes, the game has a very simplistic, polygonal art style. It's colorful, although it can look a little plain at times. The unit designs and maps are a little generic, although the soldiers are cute in a newspaper comic strip kind of way. They kind of look as if characters from the Peanuts grew up, and decided to enlist.
Unleash The Tiny Dogs Of War
Fortunately, the game itself makes up for most of the shortcomings of the narrative. If you've played Advance Wars, then this game is going to be second nature for you. You start out with some units, and unlock more new kinds of units as you progress through the game. The standard squad of riflemen is included, who later can have sniper rifles, or even rocket launchers to help deal with enemy vehicles. There's also all manner of tanks, APCs, jets, fancy mech suits, and other armed vehicles that you can build to help wipe out an enemy nation.
From there, you go around the map capturing cities to help strengthen your troops. Money can be earned from capturing cities, which can be used to build more units. Capturing factories also allows for the creation of more new units. The game also has a fog of war mechanic, where your soldiers have a limited line of sight. This means you have to be cautious moving your units forward, as they could get ambushed if you're not careful.
Optional objectives that can be completed for extra money in the game. These are usually something like finish the fight before day five, or don't let your soldiers die. They add an extra layer of challenge and gives completionists a little something extra to strive for. There's also the option to battle online, if you have a keen mind and stomach to take down other players.
Overall, the game plays quite well, and I actually had some real fun playing. The best tactical strategy games give you that little dopamine rush when you're building up your armies, and just annihilating everything in your path. The battles feel good, and it actually does do some things that Advance Wars didn't. For example, you can have your units lock onto an enemy, and then all fire on that enemy at once. Plus, when you use this move, the enemy will only retaliate on the last unit firing, which means you can put your weaker or damaged units into the fray without worrying about them dying.
Some Tiny Metal Problems
That being said, it does have some issues. On PC, the game's interface doesn't really change if you're using a controller, so trying to figure what button does what on a gamepad is doable, but not intuitive. The graphics aren't always the best as some parts, including the overworld map and some of the battle scenes are kind of ugly looking.
Also, for some reason, the game seems to force you to build something with your factory. There's an option to skip this, but no matter how many times I hit that, the game wouldn't move on until I built a new unit even when I was trying to save my money. You can just end your turn from the menu, but it seemed like an odd design choice.
The most egregious error I ran into was when I booted up the game and went to continue my save, only to find that it had mysteriously disappeared. Somehow my progress got lost, which was a major bummer as I was quite a few missions in. Hopefully, that's not a widespread issue.
A Decent Successor, But Not Exactly The Most Advanced
In the end, the biggest problem with Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble is that it doesn't do a lot to differentiate itself from Advance Wars. It wears its inspiration on its sleeve, and aside from a few choices here and there, it doesn't stray too far from that. That being said, I did have a good amount of fun with this game. Plus, the game is also available on the Switch, and since there are no new Advance Wars in sight, you could do much worse than Tiny Metal, as long as you're already done with Wargroove.
There are some bugs and issues that could definitely be ironed out, but overall, Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble is a fine choice if you want to play out your General Patton fantasies in an adorable setting.
3.5 Out Of 5
A review copy of the game was provided to TheGamer by Area 35. Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble is now available for Nintendo Switch and PC.