Tiny Metal has big aspirations

A recon of Tiny Metal’s first five campaign levels

With a perfect storm of cutesy charm and meaty turn-based tactics, Advance Wars was arguably one of the finest strategy series to grace a handheld console. ‘Was’ being the operative word, because we’ve not seen a new entry in the franchise since Days of Ruin on the original Nintendo DS.

Almost 10 years later, Area 35 are attempting to fill the void with Tiny Metal. I went hands-on with a preview of the game’s first five levels on PC and came away feeling cautiously optimistic about the scrappy spiritual successor.

What first surprised me about Tiny Metal was its scale. I expected a simple, to-the-point TBT game, but the action is fleshed out with a remarkable amount of voiced dialogue and story. Perhaps too much. A war fought between two factions called Artemisia and Zipang, it’s all a little overblown and silly, though it at least avoids taking itself too seriously.

Battles are also on a grander level than I anticipated. Tiny Metal does a good job of easing in the player and gradually building in complexity. Yet it’s not too long until you’ve captured numerous factories and cities and can churn out a sizeable army. This does have its drawbacks – commanding RTS-sized squads with TBT mechanics can be tedious. Imagine selecting a unit, choosing its destination, turning it to face the right way then picking the desired action twenty times in a single turn.

New units and abilities are introduced throughout the five levels I played, but I’m eager to see where it culminates. The first few stages left me wanting for variety at times, with only a couple of different infantry and vehicle units at my disposal. Mechanically, however, Tiny Metal is sound. Sticking to the tried-and-tested rock paper scissors format of unit battling, it’s a satisfying framework which Advance Wars veterans will feel at home with right away.

Crucially, it also nails the spirit of its predecessors in battle. Caricature-like soldiers and toy tanks gleefully follow your orders, hollering a ‘kaboom!’ or ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am!’ in British accents for good measure. When compared to the hand-drawn anime cutscenes with Japanese dialogue its style inconsistencies are mildly jarring, but this is a minor quibble.

I enjoyed my time with the preview overall and am keen to experience the full package. Tiny Metal deploys for battle on PC, PS4 and Switch on November 21st.