The following is a transcript of the above video review, for those that wish to read the review rather than watch the video.
Ahh Yes, Tiny Metal. I first heard about this title roughly a month before it released as my interests was peaked looking for an indie alternative for Nintendo’s own Advance Wars, a franchise that hasn’t seen a new iteration since Days of Ruin in 2008 on the Nintendo DS. Having now been practically a decade since then, Tiny Metal seemed like the perfect title to scratch my itch of a war based tactical grid & turned based strategy game. It’s true of course that Fire Emblem offers some similar feelings in terms of game type, but having something based on military units was always something that appealed to me growing up.
Tiny Metal released on Nintendo Switch on December 21st 2017 for $24.99. Full disclosure, I purchased this game myself, though I am unsure of my exact playtime since oddly enough my Nintendo Switch isn’t giving me any details on that, despite the fact I know I have spent dozens of hours with the title.
Whatever the case may be, there are a few caveats for this review in general. For starters, I won’t be talking much about the story. Not because I am wary of spoilers, but because this game really annoyed me with japanese voice acting that cannot be turned off, and with dialogue segments that sometimes take 15 minutes to get to the next battle. The game DOES include a fast forward feature, but I would have appreciated an outright skip button. I know many of you may actually enjoy the japense voice acting and the lack of a english dub, but personally I am no more into hearing people speak in languages I don’t understand in games than I am in my anime. Yes, I’m one of THOSE people. This is important to note because I spent a vast majority of my playtime in the campaign, beating it. The game offers two other gameplay modes – Skirmish and Multiplayer, though at the time of this review (now over a month out from release), Multiplayer in the game is still TBA.
The Skirmishes work out much the same way as the campaign, which is why I am going to focus on the campaign. They drop you into different battle scenarios and you strategize your way to victory, but they are all preset and don’t offer a sense of progression like the campaign does.
When you first boot up tiny metal you are treated to a completely unskippable cutscene. This wasn’t really bothersome the first time around, but for some reason the game wouldn’t let me skip it the next 6 times I loaded it up. Then magically on my final day of playing the game, it skipped automatically. I don’t really understand why this is the case but it’s possible there is a small bug. The only real “bug” I encountered.
Booting up the campaign I was delighted to see the main character you play as is named Nathan. It’s like this game was built to specifically speak to me. That’s about all you’re going to get out of the story. There is some background noise about people from your country getting attacked and crashing, classic betrayels and an overarching enemy that plays everyone for a fool, snarky merchnary characters and everything else. It’s all pre-scripted and just sort of blah. As I said, the inability to turn off the voice acting really made me stop paying attention at one point.
What really matters however is the gameplay. I wanted that Advance Wars feel and it does deliver that in spades. Now, it is unfair to judge this game based on Advance Wars as it’s not that game. It lacks a lot of the charm and the ability to play with different characters that give you different abilities. In many ways, this feels like a watered down version of Advance Wars, but that’s unfair for a title that costs $24.99.
What is fair to say is that the game offers a wide range of tactics and solider types. You have fighter jets, attack helicopters, foot soldiers, special ops, tanks, super tanks, and everything in between. The most interest aspect was actually the 3 different radar units, which offered their own usefullness to the cause. At the start of every level of the campaign you typically stareted with a set amount of various units and a few buildings under your control. The goal of each level and match is straight forward – either destroy all of the enemie’s units, or take out their home base.
I’m going to be honest, I spent a lot of time overthinking and making matches harder on myself. Most of the levels I beat by destroying all their units, when I could have ended everything 15 turns earlier just capturing the base. The game slowly introduces you to units one at a time as you progress from level to level, teaching you how to use them and how to best effectively take advantage of different abilities, such as lock on. Lock on was probably my most underused ability, but you can grab multiple of your units and instead of attacking the enemy, you can have them lock on. Then when it’s your next turn, when you attack that unit they all attack at once. The usefullness here isn’t that it increases damage done, but that instead of having all units attack it simultaneously to take it out and also taking return fire, chances are only one unit will get attacked on the oppoents turn since you only have a finite amount of space you can move and you can only attack once per turn with each unit.
That may sound simple or complex depending on who you are, but this is a strategy game and the lock on ability became essential in the final battle. In fact, the final battle of the game offered a difficulty jump I did not see coming, mostly because I underutilized that tool in my aresenal.
Still, I really enjoyed deploying strategies and each level took about 30 minutes to conquer assuming you didn’t lose the battle and need to restart the mission. The AI is fairly comprable and not a complete push over, but I am saddened that the multiplayer is still not working.; With the addition of online multiplayer, this game could have some real legs and make the $24.99 price feel like a steal. I actually could talk for hours and hours about this game because of how much I really enjoyed it and how much it scratched that itch.
This is normally where I go into some pros and cons and give you a nice score, which would have been 4/5, but unfortunately the story of this game doesn’t stop with the game itself. I can’t review this game and ignore the underlying drama surrounding it’s creation, to a point I somewhat regret making the purchase.
Here, let me read a statement by former Area 35 dev Tariq Lacy:
Here’s how it happened: after they received the Kickstarter money for Project Phoenix, they subsequently shut down their original company (Creative Intelligence Arts, or “CIA”), then used that same money to establish AREA 35 and pay for staff, equipment, and an office to make TINY METAL.
The company’s CEO, Hiroaki Yura, asked me to deflect any accusations that this money was from anyone other than private investors; in actuality, Hiroaki only dipped into his own funds and asked for money from private investors after the funding that he had secured for TINY METAL was running low. I refused this request to fabricate and minimize the truth for the purpose of misleading others, then told Hiroaki to remove me from all matters regarding Project Phoenix so that I would not be implicated in this affair.
You will notice progress reports on the Project Phoenix Kickstarter blog, as well as their official Project Phoenix blog. These were written periodically by Hiroaki Yura himself in order to squander doubts that the project was dead. The nature of these blog entries, through their infrequency and intentional ambiguity, reveals to us that the project never was meant to be released. To Hiroaki, this ruse under the guise of a campaign and blog was merely an effective means to receive funding while removing any obligations to investors.
Of course, Hirokai Yura has denied all these accustations saying Project Pheonix was only ever meant as a side project and that Tiny Metal was their intended day job (even though Tiny Metal wasn’t in development when fund raising finished for Project Pheonix). A lot of the star studded team that were supposed to make that original game hve left and it draws some serious questions about how Tiny Metal was created. I’m not going to sit here and say the accusations by a former developer are 100% accurate, but I won’t also just blindly believe a rebuttal either. No one wants negative press surrounding a recently released game that has been averageing reivew scores in the 7+ range.
So do I recommend you buy this game? That’s a choice you’ll need to make for yourself. It is a really damn good copy cat of advance wars that i feel is worth the price, even if it’s still missing some core features. Unfortunately, this shadow looming over it from another project is reminding me too much of a former gearbox accusation about funneling money out of an Alien game… So at this point I am going to give this game a score of “cannot be determined”. Both because the game is unfinished with it’s missing mode and because the game’s existence may be from money that was never meant to be used to make this game in the first place.
Tiny Metal is a solid game. It’s not better than any of the Advance War games, but it’s also not a bad copycat. It stands fine on it’s own as the first entry in what could become a new franchise. Unfortunately, there is a shadow being cast. I’ll just end by saying this: I definitely had a good time playing this game.