Based on the original game which was released in 2017, Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble is developer Area 35’s next answer to Nintendo’s lack of interest in carrying one of their most beloved franchises forward. Due to the immense success of Fire Emblem, they’ve been solely focusing on putting games out for that series, which admittedly, plays pretty similarly to Advance Wars. Still, the few games that did come out under that banner were fantastic, and it’s been well over a decade since its last entry, the uniquely gloomy Advance Wars: Days of Ruin came out. While it’s a shame to see that brand languish, it’s great having other developers pick up the reins and come up with their own, and to most regards, Full Metal Rumble does Advance Wars justice through tight gameplay under a cartoony coat of paint.
I didn’t spend any time playing the first game, so you’ll have to excuse my lack of knowledge when it comes in whether or not this is a superior sequel, but as a title standing on its own two metaphorical feet, it’s quite a great one. Outside of Wargroove, which I liked but still had some issues with, Tiny Metal manages to feel closer to Advance Wars thanks to the thematic choice for its presentation, and its execution, which frankly makes me image where Advance Wars would’ve gone if the franchise had continued to get new games. Would Nintendo and Intelligent Systems shift to 3D visuals like this game does? I could definitely see things going that way in a potential Advance Wars 4. I could keep drawing up a currently less than likely new game in a dormant franchise, but let’s move on to what Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble does right.
Starting out in a world map that emulates the feel of a tabletop war game with borders and everything — really neat! — you fly or pilot a craft around from mission to mission — also neat, you can switch from land to air vehicles just by pressing a button! — or, if you’re in a hurry, just select them off of a list. The benefit for checking the map out is that you can find bonus content like new music tracks, or even funds for your army by collecting shining items scattered throughout the globe, paying you for your thoroughness in between missions. The missions themselves present you with a central objective, and they also give you extra tasks that you can attempt to get on either your first run or on subsequent tries. So far, I haven’t quite managed to complete a mission with 100% of these done during my first run through the game, but given enough time and hindsight on what happens during these, I’ll be sure to try again.
The game takes place on a grid, and similarly to Advance Wars, unit movement is tied to a range and how many blocks in that it can extend during a single turn. Upon moving, depending on what title they land, they can either attack an enemy unit nearby, capture a neutral or enemy building in case you land in one, regain health points in case you’re in a friendly structure, or even combine your own forces in case both are damaged. Gameplay is pretty straightforward when it comes to the amount of things you can do at any one time, and thanks to the pacing of how the game delivers information, you never really run the risk of feeling overwhelmed, even if the text-heavy cutscenes manage to slow things down a bit.
It’s no secret that Area 35 went with an anime-inspired approach to how the story moves along in this game. Characters dress garishly and behave even more so as things carry on throughout Tiny Metal, and thanks to the voice acted dialog and the tons of lines that they deliver, the game tends to suffer from a turtle’s speed when moving along, be it before, during or after missions. The first few are the worst offenders, since it’s during them that Full Metal Rumble throws tutorials your way. Thankfully, if you go back and replay missions, or if this isn’t your first rodeo and you feel comfortable missing those and just want to get head first into the action, you can skip them. The game also gives the option to auto click from box to box, but that only happens after the voice file plays, so it’s still a slow way of playing the game.
The enemy A.I in the game doesn’t pull any punches, even when playing the early portions, which can prove to be a double-edged knife depending on your tolerance. I enjoyed having the enemy breathing down my neck right from the get-go, even during the very first mission, because it taught me right away not to waste moves and have units get destroyed needlessly. I got bonked on the head often for simply trying to rush through, and it worked to my benefit, because it forced me to grow a conscience when playing, but I can certainly see it getting on someone’s nerve who’s less inclined to tackle a challenge. It’s not simply because the enemy guns for your units outright, it’s due to how smartly it decides on doing, be it taking over unprotected buildings you might have overlooked, or preying on your inability to use your forces correctly.
More than once, though, I got caught in a trap that comes with how the game is built, more directly, its presentation. The fog of war in this game — read, the obscuring of undiscovered areas in the map that dissipates the further you move ahead — follows the blocky visual cue of its graphics, and if you’re not careful, the enemy can (and usually does) use it to their benefit by plowing units under it in some weird spots you’d otherwise not thought they could move. It’s to the game’s detriment that this happens fairly often, especially during your first run through a level, when you’re not sure what the game is going to throw at you right away, so it pays to play conservatively, unless the mission stipulates a turn limit or you’re gunning for all objectives.
Otherwise, I feel like Tiny Metal does an excellent job in how it provides a generous amount of challenge. I’ve yet to conquer it at this point, but given the portable nature of the Switch, which is the version I’m getting to review — it’s also out on PC via Steam — you can be sure that I’ll be taking it on the go for some mobile war-monging. in that regard, Full Metal Rumble performs pretty darn well, and thanks to its colorful art style, it’s easy to keep a track on what’s going on, even on the Switch’s relatively small screen. Text is thankfully large enough to be readable that way too, and since most of it is read aloud thanks to the voice acting, you’re unlikely to miss any information along the way, unless you decide to skip it, of course. It also helps that progress is automatically saved during missions, so if you only have a moment to spare and can only play a turn at a time, you won’t miss a beat. So far, I’ve mostly played the game in docked mode, and the visuals really pop on my HD display.
There’s some options to play outside of the campaign. You can take things online and throw down against randoms in a lobby, which at the time of writing this review seems barren, only giving me the option to open up my own so others can join up, so hopefully there’ll be a community built up around the game in case you decide to go at it via the web. Skirmish mode. Skirmish is your traditional ‘pick you options and go make your own fun’ for anyone looking to fight without having to worry with long story diatribes and babbling villains and protagonists, and works well, bringing all of the map options and generals you’re run into during the campaign, allowing you to pick from a host of them before deploying. Each leader has a set of special skills and attributes, so there’s a bunch of different pros and cons that help keep things varied during this mode, it’s up to you.
Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble is a great pickup for anyone looking to get an Advance Wars fix on the go. The Nintendo Switch lacks in the tactical turn-based strategy department, but thanks to games like it and Wargroove, along with another sequel to Fire Emblem coming from Nintendo pretty soon which to all accounts is shaping up to be a fine entry in that franchise, there’s hope for the genre yet, even without one of its prime series like Advance Wars.