Sacrificing Story For Mechanics

HIGH Art design and voice acting.

LOW The story is forgettable.

WTF Why do those men look possessed?

Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble is a turn-based strategy title developed by Area 35, heavily inspired by Nintendo’s seminal Advance Wars. The player rotates between three different armies and controls three heroes — Nathan Grimes of Artemisia searching for artifacts to turn the tide of war, the enigmatic Lord Tsukumo investigating a new enemy that threatens his country, and the mercenary leader Wolfram as she searches for her brother. 

It seems like a good premise, but the story never had any impact. Full Metal Rumble is the second in the Tiny Metal series, and there’s little introduction to what came before. For example, the player will struggle against hordes of constantly advancing purple-eyed soldiers, but the troops are treated almost as an afterthought. Nathan searches for artifacts if these soldiers aren’t even there, and Wolfram hunts for her brother in similar fashion. However, what FMR lacks in narrative is made up for with play mechanics and deep tactics.

Players control a set of units including infantry and vehicles, tanks (called Metals) and aircraft. Each turn, players will move to attack enemy units or set up for a more opportune strike on grid-based maps, organizing strategically to get the best shot on each enemy.  

Each type of unit is specialized in a paper-rock-scissors way to defeat specific units, and to be defeated by others. For example, Scout machinegun jeeps can easily mow down infantry units, but the jeeps are weak to infantry with rockets. Gunships can take out most vehicles with ease, but have to watch out for anti-aircraft vehicles, and so on. Players will also want to take the map into account, as each terrain type has different effects. Forests and cliffs can slow or even stop movement, but give units a defensive bonus. Open terrain and fields don’t provide cover, but allow easier movement. 

As players cover territory, they’ll be able to capture buildings that increase the money players earn each turn, which can then be used to buy new units, or armories and airports which spawn units in more areas. Buildings also serve as refueling and re-arming stations for units that have run dry.

The final tool in the player’s pocket is their commander. Each one has a set of special abilities that can be used with stars gained by defeating enemies and capturing buildings. Wolfram, for example, can use her ability to increase the capture rate of buildings and the damage of infantry for a turn. If the player saves up enough stars, they can use a commander’s Ultra power, which is normally an even greater effect of their normal power. Combining these powers, unit types, and a strategy will win the day, and each commander’s unique qualities kept me on my toes between different missions. 

In addition to those basic mechanics, Tiny Metal also includes mechanics called “Lock On/Focused Fire” and “Assault”.

Players can Lock On to an enemy and have a unit aim at it, then bring another unit in to activate a Focus Fire which causes both units to attack simultaneously. The key to using this is that only the initiating unit takes damage, allowing units who would normally be vulnerable to that enemy to get in some damage while remaining safe. 

The Assault mechanic allows an enemy to strike first. If the unit survives, it counterattacks and pushes the enemy back one space, giving more positioning options and potentially setting another unit up to deliver a stronger attack. I often used fast-moving scouts to take a sacrificial hit, but then pushed the enemy into my rocket infantry and metals. Occasionally I’ve also used it to move a unit and block an armory so I can stop the enemy from spawning other units. 

While everything in Tiny Metal feels mechanically great, I found myself having a hard time coming back after each play session. My biggest issue is that the story just isn’t a factor, and the colorful-looking characters feel flat and uninspired. Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble is an exercise in tactics and I can appreciate the mechanics, but those things just weren’t enough to get me hooked on this conflict.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Area 34.  It is currently available on PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. No time was spent in Multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Mild Language and Mild Cartoon Violence. The script has such language as “damn” and “bastard”, but nothing more heinous than that. However, it’s a war game, so there’s a lot of combat. No gore at all, though — defeated enemies blow up in a cloud of smoke and fade to black when they’re defeated.

Colorblind Modes: There is a colorblind mode.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All information is text-based. While not resizable, the text is on dark backgrounds. No audio is necessary for gameplay. This is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: The controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. Players can use WASD, arrow keys, or the mouse to move around. Left click to select, and right click to cancel.  

Eugene Sax
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