Ahead of its release on November 21st, I had a chance to sit down and play through some of the Tiny Metal preview build, developed by Area 35. Inspired by Intelligent Systems' fantastic Advance Wars series, Tiny Metal hopes to capture the same turn-based military strategy magic that Advance Wars did. The preview build contained four campaign missions and three skirmish battles, plus some of its codex entries. While that may not sound like much, the four campaign missions took me over two hours to complete, and two of them were tutorials. Nine years removed from Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, Area 35 clearly thought it was time for something similar to return. In this preview, we'll take a quick dive into what's on offer in Tiny Metal so far.
The first few campaign missions introduce us to the world of Tiny Metal and the nations of Artemisia and Zipang. Nathan Gries is a second lieutenant in the Artemisian Army and guards the coastal border. Zipang, conversely, is an honor-bound and proud nation, hurting after their last war. After Nathan's commander and the king of Artemisia go missing in an accident over their capital, Nathan is thrust into combat with skirmishes with Zipang. Though there's not much of the campaign here to preview, the preview build did show off quite a bit of voice acting and introduce us to a few central characters. Area 35 is promising 20 hours of storyline gameplay, similarly to the other Advance Wars games. We'll have to see how this promise fares on release.
Gameplay is a tight, tactical affair. There's a good mix of infantry, armor, and airborne units at your disposal, and while the preview build didn't showcase some of the more unique units, Tiny Metal feels familiar, while still bringing something new. I'm personally a little disappointed there's no transport units or naval units, but I'm sure not everyone feels the same way. Infantry still captures factories, cities, and laboratories based on their health pool, and armored units still struggle in forested areas. Tiny Metal's heavy reliance on fog of war means you have to slowly creep your frontline forward, or use infantry in the mountains to increase your vision. As you can't attack units that you can't see, you can very quickly find yourself surrounded by the aggressive AI.
Tiny Metal has also prioritized accessibility over complexity. You no longer have to worry about commander's abilities that made Dual Strike a nightmare to play, for one. Tiny Metal eschews fuel and ammunition management, a welcome change to aggressive players like myself. In its place are different attack options, such as coordinating your fire or pushing for a powerful, but dangerous attack. Both Artemisia and Zipang have the same pool of units they can build from. Tiny Metal is hampered by its sluggish camera, and generally doesn't feel great to maneuver, but hopefully, Area 35 can fix this before release.
The fourth and final mission shown off in the preview build is by far the best if only because it shows off all the mechanics taught so far while still challenging the player. Typically, your objective is to kill all enemy units or capture their HQ. Here, you must defend for 11 turns, and it's a mighty undertaking. The AI throws endless armor and infantry at you and counters your builds almost impeccably. Right when you think you're about done for, the cavalry arrives, and the mission's over. It was challenging, and required a couple of restarts to really get the hang of the battle, but made for a rewarding finish.
Despite some early complaints, I'm certainly enjoying what I've seen so far in Tiny Metal. Its focus on tactical gameplay captures the feel of what made Advance Wars so great, while still updating the gameplay for a more modern audience. With a hefty campaign promised, there's a lot to be excited about in Tiny Metal, no matter your tastes in strategy games.
This preview of Tiny Metal was written based off of the TGS build, which was provided by the developer. Look forward to our review of the full release soon after the game's November 21st debut.