With the democratization of game-developer tools, we continue to see indie studios reviving ideas that have fallen out of favor with bigger publishers. Tiny Metal is an example of that. This is developer Area35’s attempt to capture the gameplay of Nintendo’s Advance Wars games, andit succeeds because it doesn’t skimp on the underlying math that makes those turn-based tactics games work in the first place.
Tiny Metal is a 3D, turn-based tactics adventure. It has you controlling a small army in skirmishes against a computer-controlled opponent across a variety of missions. Through most of these levels, you will direct rifleman, scouts, light tanks, and more through urban environments. By capturing towns, you raise funds to manufacture new units at factories. Your goal is almost always to eliminate your opponents forces, and that requires you to strategically position your forces in fortified tiles — like on hills or in cities — to give them the best chance to survive fights.
Almost all of that is directly from Advance Wars, and I’m all for that. Advance Wars is an important entry in my personal gaming canon. While the 2001 Game Boy Advance release introduced me to turn-based tactical combat and resource management, I think it was also the first time I really thought about games as a series of mathematical systems and choices. But that Nintendo series is now dormant as that publisher has doubled down on the far more lucrative Fire Emblem, which is a fantasy- and character-focused spin on Advance Wars. And that has given Area35 an opportunity, and the studio has delivered a solid update on those mechanics.
But this isn’t the first Advance Wars homage I’ve played. Developer Larva Labs released something nearly identical for feature phones and then smartphone with its Battle for Mars. You can also still get Great Big War Game from Rubicon Development on Android and iOS. These are turn-based tactics battlers, but they failed for me by too closely mimicking Advance Wars without using the same algorithms for their battle systems.
Fights in Advance Wars are always predictable. Intelligent Systems kept the dice rolls to a minimum. Instead, it used a paper-rock-scissors mechanic where each unit type has strengths and weaknesses, but even in those cases, you almost never get a one-shot kill. For example, if a group of rocket-wielding mech soldiers took on a recon unit in its Jeep, the mech should nearly destroy the recon. This would play out with the mech destroying nine out of 10 of the recon’s health points and offensive capabilities. But that is if the recon is on the road without cover. If it’s in the woods, on a hill, or in a town, it would have a much higher percentage of cover. That would make the mech’s attack less effective.
Advance Wars is all about using the predictable nature of attacking and defending in combination with multiple units and differing defensive stats of the environmental tiles to maximize your chances to win. It’s almost like a puzzle game, and Tiny Metal has captured that for me so far.