Back in 2001, the western world was first introduced to a brand-new style of strategy game through the Gameboy Advance title Advance Wars. At the time, it was a unique take on turn-based strategy systems built to accommodate a portable console rather than a PC. Advance Wars would go on to release a handful of sequels before disappearing after the 2008 release of Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, yet the legacy of Advance Wars continues to this day with the release of Area 35’s Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble.
The sequel to the original Tiny Metal, Full Metal Rumble wears its inspirations on its sleeve. Initially billed as the spiritual successor to Advance Wars, Full Metal Rumble picks up where the original title left off. The Kingdom of Dinolda has fallen, but the remnants continue to pursue its initial goals, causing chaos across the world. As the leaders of various nations and mercenary groups band together to fight back, pieces of lost technology slowly find their way back into the constant war. In terms of world-building, the story is serviceable, justifying the continuous battles that drive the gameplay. As motivation for the player, it falls short. The enemy does grow in strength over time, but the story itself drags horrendously throughout the hefty campaign. With missions taking upwards of an hour or two, getting a small push in the plot can feel a bit cheap in a game that has so much material to utilize.
As a game heavily inspired by Advance Wars, Full Metal Rumble has certainly improved upon the original gameplay. Players take turns moving units on a grid-based map, attacking enemies and capturing structures to build more units. There are a few ranged and utility units, but most must be adjacent to their target to attack. Different terrain may offer benefits to defence or reduce the movement of specific units. Fog of war is also a major mechanic in Tiny Metal, with the map being mostly hidden from the player until a unit is close enough to have sight.
Units can also level up to gain bonuses as they attack the enemy, so micromanaging each unit has significant benefits. Rather than a simple attack, you’re given the option to assault an enemy, allowing them to attack first so that you can push the unit off the tile they currently occupy. In addition, you might want to team up a few units to execute a Focus Fire command, attacking at once to diminish the counterattack of the target. These commands were in place for the first Tiny Metal, but they’re still relevant options in a tactics-heavy strategy game.
Each force in a battle selects a Commander that plays a major role in strategy and unit ability. These Commanders define the different playstyles of Full Metal Rumble, as their passive abilities fundamentally change how armies handle. For instance, Wolfram gives every infantry unit one extra movement space and one extra vision distance, which amounts to a heavy focus on the early game. In contrast, Nathan lowers the cost of Metal units by 20% in exchange for infantry units being 20% weaker. On top of that, Commanders build up a super meter, allowing them to unleash either a super or ultra power once filled to the necessary level. These are similar to the CO powers from Advance Wars, giving a massive single-turn boost that could swing the tide of battle.
In the single-player campaign, the gameplay mostly falters due to the Fog of War mechanic. For both Normal and Hard difficulty, Fog of War is always a factor in the missions. This means that units within forests are hidden until someone halts adjacent to them, or a unit stands upon a nearby mountain to scout the area. That wouldn’t be much of an issue if the computer actually played by the same rules, yet they’ll regularly find and attack your hidden units in the same turn. There’s a reason why the Advance Wars series used Fog of War so sparingly, but Tiny Metal hasn’t yet learned that lesson. It feels mostly like a cheap trick to boost the power of an otherwise lacklustre computer player, where challenge should instead come from unit matchups and placement. In more than a few missions, I found myself playing through quickly to figure out what the enemy had just so that I could restart with an actual strategy. Playing on Easy is a more rewarding, less stressful experience, but some content is locked behind the difficulty levels.
Fog of War has its merits when used on occasion, but when every map must be played so cautiously, gameplay slows down to a crawl. Even then, the computer may take full advantage of a secret position to attack a unit it couldn’t possibly see if it were human. All in all, the campaign is a painful experience fighting against a broken computer to learn about the different units and strategies you might use against human opponents. There’s also a bland story involved, but the characters offer little motivation to care about much of it, with voice acting that feels tacked on, at best.
Multiplayer may be where the game shines, though matchmaking was pretty dead during my time with the game. At least the other human would also have to obey the rules for Fog of War.
Overall, Full Metal Rumble is a competent strategy game to play among people, even with such a broken and dull single-player experience. With a wide variety of units and Commanders, every game feels like a fresh start to an elaborate puzzle. However, Full Metal Rumble relies on finding a substantial audience in a market increasingly populated by better and more engaging strategy titles.