Games review: Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble is a great Advance Wars alternative
The sequel to last year’s promising turn-based strategy takes on WarGroove in the battle to be the ultimate Advance Wars clone.
The fact that there hasn’t been a new Advance Wars game for over a decade is never far from our thoughts when we come to review a new strategy game, but at the moment it almost seems like we’re being taunted by the fact. Nintendo’s turn-based classic was never a big seller but it used to get an outing every few years, until sister series Fire Emblem went and became a mainstream hit and developer Intelligent Systems’ attention was diverted. That’s led to a host of indie alternatives looking to fill the gap, but until now none have been fully up to the task.
We’re currently playing through Fire Emblem: Three Houses, so can’t comment on that before our review, but even beyond that Advance Wars’ name seems to have come up surprisingly often in recent weeks, after we spoke to the developers of other strategy games such as Julian Gollop with Phoenix Point and Mike Bithell for John Wick Hex, each of whom professed their love for the series.
Those games have little in common with Advance Wars but this year’s WarGroove certainly did. It was a good game, especially after being patched up, but it never had the clockwork intricacy and laser focus of the old Game Boy Advance and DS titles. 2017 game Tiny Metal was an even more obvious clone but it had its own set of flaws… most of which are addressed by this new follow-up.
Although you wouldn’t guess it from the name this is in fact a full sequel to the original Tiny Metal, the lack of a number after its name perhaps an admission that few have ever heard of the first one. Unlike WarGroove’s fantasy theme, Tiny Metal has a modern(-ish) day military theme and in terms of presentation, art design, units, and basic gameplay sticks as close to Advance Wars as it can without attracting the attention of Nintendo’s lawyers.
As such, you start each mission with a small army of infantry and vehicles, and by moving them across the grid-based map you take over enemy bases in order to increase the production of new units and conquer the entire territory. Things starts off relatively small scale, with infantry units and basic vehicles like a jeep and an APC, but quickly scale up to include tanks, radar units, artillery, aircraft, and more.
Every unit has its own quirks and specialities but are still controlled in the same simple point and click fashion. Although they can now run out of both fuel and ammo, which adds considerably to your tactical considerations, as you have to run a supply line with vehicles and friendly outposts.
All of that was true of Advance Wars but Tiny Metal also has its own unique features, such as a manoeuvre called Focus Fire, where multiple units can gang up on an enemy, and a move called Assault where you can push enemies back from their current position on the map – which is vital for proventing building captures – with the downside that you give them a chance to fire back first.
On top of this are hero characters who can be called in via an airdrop and work as super-charged versions of regular units. There are multiple heroes to unlock but Full Metal Rumble also includes CO powers for the first time. Admittedly it’s yet another concept taken from Advance Wars, rather than anything brand new, but unlike some of the Advance Wars sequels the two-tier special abilities aren’t overpowered and give only a relatively modest boost to things like movement distance and capture time.
We really like Focus Fire and Assault as concepts and together with the fuel and ammo logistics this feels like a more rounded strategy experience than last time. Especially thanks to a number of useful tweaks to the interface, that give a much clearer indication of a units’ strengths and weaknesses. The artificial intelligence is also improved and is often sensibly aggressive, even if it is still inconsistent enough to sometimes snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The game also has an online multiplayer option from the start (the first one launched without it) although it’s currently very hard to find anyone playing and it’s a real shame there are no local options. There are over 70 skirmish maps though, for one-off matches, so there’s an impressive amount of content for the meagre asking price.
Unfortunately though, Full Metal Rumble does make some of the same mistakes of WarGroove, in that there’s no kind of checkpoint or save system and it’s entirely possible to spend over an hour on a story mission and lose just at the end – forcing you to start from scratch again. It doesn’t get too silly with the size of the maps though and in that sense at least seems to understand Advance Wars better than its indie rival.
Full Metal Rumble is definitely the best Advance Wars clone we’ve played, but apart from the gameplay issues its other problem is that it lacks the charm of the Nintendo games, with an uninteresting story and characters that are nowhere near as loveable as Andy, Max, Nell, and co. The voiceovers for units are also highly irritating, although at least you can turn them off.
Since Advance Wars is one of the few games we consider to be essentially perfect it’s no surprise that this only comes so close to matching it. But while Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble certainly isn’t flawless it is a great strategy game in its own right and if Advance Wars really is gone forever then this is a very acceptable second best.
Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble
In Short: The best Advance Wars clone so far on the Switch, with tons of content, accessible controls, and deceptively deep gameplay.
Pros: Copies the tenets of Advance Wars very well, allowing anyone to pick up the basics of combat within seconds. Wide range of units and just enough unique ideas of its own. Cute visuals.
Cons: Artificial intelligence is still prone to illogical moves. Boring story and characters. No local multiplayer options.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and PC
Publisher: AREA 34
Developer: AREA 35
Release Date: 11th July 2019
Age Rating: 12
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