By Josh Speer / July 31st, 2019
|Title||TINY METAL: Full Metal Rumble|
|Release Date||July 11th, 2019|
|Platform||PC, Nintendo Switch|
|Age Rating||T for Teen – Fantasy Violence, Language|
I should start this by mentioning how utterly excited I was by the prospect of the first TINY METAL. When I first saw it at PAX, and realized this was a true spiritual successor to a series I had long loved, Advance Wars, I was stoked. Even though I didn’t review the first game, I did play through it, and while not perfect, I felt it was a great start. So the sequel held a good amount of interest for me. Would this be a step up from the original, cementing itself as the successor to Advance Wars? The quick answer is no, but the long answer is it’s complicated. So join me as I address what TINY METAL: Full Metal Rumble did right, and what it did wrong.
Full Metal Rumble seemingly takes place not long after the events of the first TINY METAL. I hedge with “seemingly” since I honestly barely remember the plot from the first game, other than something about lost technology and an evil mind-controlling clown. Events start with Nathan hunting the remnants of the Dinoldan army, which are apparently AI controlled puppets, despite looking mostly human. The sci fi nerd in me wished they had some distinctive robot trait if they were a drone army, but alas the only thing that identifies them as different are their glowing eyes, which made me think more mutant than robot. Putting that tangent aside, the story is rarely the most important part of a strategy game like this, but I prefer if there’s a solid effort made. Sure, Advance Wars wasn’t known for a brilliant plot, but it did have very eclectic characters with distinct personalities. The same goes for WarGroove, which had some really colorful personalities and a solid, albeit formulaic, plot. Sadly, none of those traits are in TINY METAL: Full Metal Rumble. There’s some subplot about Wolfram hunting for her supposedly dead brother Ragnar, some nonsense about nanomachines and mutterings about a greater intelligence at work, but if so, it was never revealed in the game. So if you were hoping for some grand plot for this sequel, put that hope aside. It’s not utterly horrible, there’s some cool ideas, they just never coalesce in a meaningful way.
Sadly, the same can be said for the writing in this TINY METAL sequel. They make an effort at relevant banter and dialogue, but at best it came across like a poorly written anime. Cause and effect are completely divorced and random things happen that only the characters understand. No character gets any significant development, and some barely show up, like Tsukumo. There were at least two separate instances where I thought I knew exactly what was happening, and then the plot pulls a complete 360, or worse, seems to totally disregard important developments. A good example is one seemingly heinous betrayal that turns out to be a nothing burger. I know I said most people don’t play this genre for the story, and while that’s largely true, I can’t help but expecting a better written adventure than this. But now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let’s move onto the meat of the game, which is how TINY METAL: Full Metal Rumble actually plays.
The best thing the original TINY METAL had going for it was how it emulated the mechanics from Advance Wars. This one does a good job, and actually adds some new stuff to the mix. There are new units, such as the Archelon, which is essentially an APC with a machine gun, or the Viper, a mobile anti-artillery that can move and attack in the same turn. Some of my favorite new units were from the Mecha class, which were all essentially humanoid robots of mass destruction. Think a walking tank, and you have the right idea. They’re great since they can traverse environmental hazards Metals cannot, such as mountains, even though they aren’t quite as powerful. Besides the new units, there are also some new mechanics. One good example are the Commander units. Not to be mistaken with Hero units, which are slightly upgraded versions of normal units you can deploy, Commander units take a page directly from WarGroove. These are massively powerful units with one downside – if they die, you lose the mission and have to start over. Had I not seen it done first in another game, I probably would have been more impressed, but that doesn’t mean these units aren’t useful. One cool distinction is that Commander units can be various types, depending on where you are in the story. An example is how Wolfram pilots a Blitz Mecha in one mission and a Gallant Mecha in others. They are easily the best units in the entire game, and I felt they lent a bit of extra spice to the mix. Commanders even have special abilities you can use after you’ve filled up your meter by dealing or taking enough damage, such as increasing the move distance or attack power for your units for a turn. Unfortunately, I still can’t shake the similarity to recent games in the genre.
One improvement to the combat is now whenever you build a new unit, you can easily see what they’re most and least effective against. That dispels one of my biggest complaints from the first game, that it’s not super clear which units work best to counter certain threats. They even have a little window that appears when you are selecting a unit to clarify what they can attack. My primary complaint is the game never tells you this, and I literally found out when I was more than two thirds done with the game. That said, there are many other tutorials in the first few missions, and while informative, they tend to drag on a bit long, especially for fans returning to the series. But if you ever get too lost, there’s a handy Metalpedia that gives a brief rundown for what various units do. I just wish I could select a unit on the map and bring up that same description. You can’t even pause the game to see the map, which was a big letdown. I know there’s Fog of War everywhere in TINY METAL, but I should be able to see units once I’ve dispersed them.
Another change is that you actually have to keep track of your ammo and fuel reserves for all mechanical units. I thought I wouldn’t like this feature, but I actually really grew to appreciate it. It made my moves more important, and added a new layer of strategy. The AI for enemy units in Full Metal Rumble also seems a bit better. It uses Focus Fire MUCH more often, surrounding you to deal more damage, but it also does stupid shit like having Infantry attack Gunships, which almost always results in Infantry being massacred. I also noticed that my AI opponents rarely used their own abilities and seemed to shy away from attacking my Commander units. For reference, I did play the game on Normal, so maybe it’s not as incompetent on harder difficulties. Just don’t make the mistake of taking it entirely for granted, cause the Dinoldan army is more than capable of kicking your ass if you’re not treating it like a real threat.
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