Tiny Metal is a game with a not-so-tiny weight on its shoulders, according to reports that it was developed using Kickstarter funds pledged to a different game, Project Phoenix. Given that context, it’s easy to assume that Tiny Metal would either be a terrible passion project for a developer with more marketing skills than game design talent, or a knock-off intended to placate those interested in Project Phoenix until its distant release. It’s a surprise, therefore, that Tiny Metal is actually quite a fun game.
Tiny Metal is a turn-based strategy game in which you control an army of various units on a city grid against an enemy army, using modern-day troops and weapons but set in a fantasy world. It’s easily comparable to Advance Wars, although it also has a lot in common with combat in the Civilization Games. It ticks all the boxes a strategy game must - it’s sufficiently difficult, there’s a wide enough variety in troop types, and the environment is important and relevant to gameplay and tactics, and it’s technically competent enough to be fun to play.
The strategy is perfectly balanced so that each troop type is strong against, and weak against, certain other troop types. This means that you’re never obliged to field or use one particular troop as there will always be a few you can use, and therefore you can adapt tactics to how you want to play the game. Playing defensively and slowly pushing forward the front is possible if you choose to field troops like the Striker or Heavy Metal, however it’s just as viable to rush to claim territory with troops like the Scout or Spec Ops. In addition, this means there’s a wealth of options if the battle seems to be going poorly.
Battles can often go poorly, because the opponent AI is hyper-competent at claiming territory and maintaining a constant barrage of enemies, and while at first this feels slightly unfair, it encourages experimenting with different troops and tactics, and it never feels overwhelming. For example, if the opponent is creating troops faster than you are, it could push you to search the corners of the map for extra buildings to claim in order to keep up with the pace.
Tiny Metal’s battles do feel rather slow after a while, however - when victory is assured, it still takes quite a while to continue pushing the enemy front line back to the base, despite the outcome being guaranteed. In addition if both the opponent and the player hold an equal number of buildings (and therefore have equal income), the battle often descends into a tiring war of attrition that can be impossible to escape.
The levels are driven along by a story in the campaign mode - each level opens up more troops, and therefore more possibilities and strategies for victory. However the story itself is garbled nonsense - characters have no personalities and appear in random locations for no reason, the world is barely set up and feels insincere, and the central theme - that of striving for peace - feels hugely at odds with the modern war setting and genre of the game.
A poor story is no reason to dislike Tiny Metal, although the endless cutscenes that begin and end each level become infuriating. However the story isn’t just poor - its incomprehensible moralising and confused world rob the actual gameplay of weight and tension it would otherwise benefit from.
The game also suffers from rather limited audio design - there are very few tracks on the score, and when troops are commanded they speak a line from a pool that’s tiny and filled with annoying cliches. It’s easy to mute the game, but presumably Tiny Metal wasn’t designed to be played on mute.
These limitations don’t tank Tiny Metal though, and compared to recent strategy offerings it’s abundance of troops and options make each level new and interesting. Its limitations keep it from being perfect - but judging by the name Tiny Metal’s content being a small and fun strategy game.