If you, like many of us, have been itching to scratch that Advance Wars itch, you have no choice but to look elsewhere; for whatever reason, Nintendo and series creators Intelligent Systems just don’t seem particularly interested in revisiting the 18-year-old franchise.
Fortunately, the concept of a strategy role-playing game (SRPG) with tanks and soldiers is not something big-N have a lock on, and several developers are willing to step into the breach. The latest game looking to fill the gap left by Advance Wars is Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble, a sequel to 2017’s Tiny Metal.
On the surface, there’s not much about Full Metal Rumble that even looks different to Advance Wars; it’s turn-based, you have a mix of units to deploy, and a combination of both aggression and tactical map control is required if you want to win a given map. There are buildings to capture, a variety of units to choose from, and an unrelenting enemy that will punish you given the chance.
Fans of similar games will also be pleased to know that odd, slightly camp characters - similar to those that populate the bizarre narratives they’re already fond of - are present here, too, rounding out the “gosh, this all feels so familiar” package.
Fortunately, Full Metal Rumble is more than just a clone of Advance Wars; there are differences and those differences are enough to make it an interesting premise for even seasoned aficionados of Intelligent System’s earlier work. Most significantly, new strategic options allow you to link up multiple units in a single attack, and you can place vehicles on buildings - a positioning option that was previously restricted to infantry.
Otherwise, the usual rock / paper / scissors model that sees certain kinds of units excelling in some tasks while being particularly weak at others, as you’d expect from this type of game, is very much intended - although, in practice, I found the differences to be relatively slight; infantry vs. tanks didn’t seem anywhere near as one-sided, for example, as I remember from Advance Wars. Hero units, unlocked a few levels in, were more valuable than general units, but again the difference between each seemed relatively insignificant.
Unfortunately, I discovered a rather effective “default strategy” very quickly; occupying territory and spamming units at the enemy seems to work on just about every map, making each a relatively dull experience. Maps also take a long time to play, even when you have a clear upper hand, meaning you spend a lot of time going through the motions rather than exploring strategic or tactical options.
It’s a decent looking game, on the surface, but in practice, the relatively attractive graphics are less effective at providing valuable information than their somewhat dated competition; the outlines of various units are hard to tell apart and critical information - such as unit health - is often obscured by their backgrounds. Further, battles conclude, and the camera quickly whips away - without the game taking time to reveal the outcome, such as unit health changes or terrain revealed as a result of your move. I often found myself panning back to where the previous move took place after the camera had automatically moved away, to try and figure out what had happened.
It’s not a bad game by any stretch, but, surprisingly, the relatively obvious tactical, strategic, and presentation flaws didn’t show up in some form of pre-release testing. With more time in the oven, Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble could have been something special. As it stands, it’s hard to recommend to any but those that are in dire need of an Advance Wars-style experience.