Console owning fans of turn-based strategy games, specifically the late, lamented Advance Wars and similar military themed titles set in fictional scenarios really haven’t had too much to cheer about (well, other than still having the ability to go back and replay those older games whenever they like). PlayStation-only owners have a handful of games like this, but Area35’s very solid Tiny Metal ($24.99) is the coolest and closest thing to Intelligent Systems’ games you can get on the PS4. It takes inspiration from Nintendo’s series (which needs a new version one of these days) and adds a few nice gameplay twists to the formula that keep the battles past the early tutorial maps pretty engaging overall.
There’s a story here that basically pits an initially small force of troops and hired mercenaries against a powerful nation’s military after their president’s plane is shot down over enemy territory and the mission is to find out if he, along with a great military hero traveling with him are still alive. The game is set up so you’re going to get lengthy static manga cut scenes pre- and post-mission with the occasional mid-mission break when the story wants to nudge in some more dialog. There’s a lot of back and forth communicating here and everyone is suitably wrought to overwrought as they sell their lines in pretty melodramatic fashion. Interestingly enough, You can only select English for in-battle squad commentary – the cut scenes are all subtitled. This isn’t a bad thing, mind you (especially if you like your games in their native language as much as possible and don’t mind subtitles).
Battles consist of tried and true movement, structure capturing, troop/vehicle summoning, and plenty of combat with nicely stylized Unreal powered visuals that run pretty smoothly. Capturing buildings not only give you factories to build up your forces and assorted buildings to heal your troops, you’ll also earn a daily commission to spend and yes, you can run out of money or not have enough to summon higher priced stuff if you blow it all on a tank set that gets blasted into scrap by a bigger enemy tank (or a few groups of bazooka-toting Lancers). A key gameplay element is the Lock-On feature that allows multiple allies to target a single enemy and hit it hard. This is great when you’ve got an enemy just arriving to capture a building or factory and you get to remove them from the map before that occurs.
Capturing structures can only be done by soldiers on foot and each map has at least one hidden structure that takes a bit of hoofing it around and keeping those troops out of harm’s way. There’s a fog of war system in play where you’ll not know what’s coming until you either gain a line of sight or enemies appear closer on each map. This leads to a bit of suspense when you see enemy movement trails capturing buildings and sending out who knows what sort of troops, armor, or air power. The difficulty ramps up nicely, although you can expect things to get really tough if you try to take it too easy. In addition to the campaign (about 15 – 20 hours), you get some great Skirmish maps where you face off against 2 – 4 AI players. Maps range from small and brief to larger, longer ones where every move is crucial. Thankfully, both Campaign and Skirmish mode can be saved and resumed if you need to take a break.
One minor quirk is although polygon-based, you can’t change the fixed camera viewpoint at all. This is a shame because other than the battle scenes (which can be sped up or turned off entirely), you can’t zoom in and get to soak in the nifty little details shown in that attract mode video above. Then again, I can see the need for the developers to not get funky with the camera because that’s killed the fun in some other strategy games when there’s too much control and camera manipulation turns into a juggling act. You can also choose a grid overlay or no overlay if you like. Yes, it’s pretty basic, but it works well and the art style in both the cut scenes and what looks like hand-painted characters and backdrops in some cinemas all look quite nice.
While not flawless in terms of AI, a recent patch has made the game more challenging and according to the dev team, there’s an online multiplayer mode coming soon. This bodes well for the future, although I hope enough gamers will pull themselves away from some of the usual online suspects and sit down with a fun little strategy like this. I guess I should be miffed this game isn’t also a cross-buy/cross-play for the Vita, as it would be a perfect fit on Sony’s handheld. Of course, with Sony consigning that handheld wonder to a too early grave, I can see why there wasn’t a port. Nope, I don’t own a PSTV and I dislike Remote Play because it defeats the purpose of only having one system on at a time. Eh, that’s how I roll, folks. GO give this one a try – I’m going through it again just so I can post a few more videos at some point.
Score: B (80%)
Review code provided by the publisher