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It surpasses its muse

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Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble
PC via Steam

IT’S A testament to the depth and breadth of the Advance Wars series that it continues to be viewed as the gold standard insofar as turn-based defeat-all-enemies-type games that require no small measure of strategy are concerned. The first title (released way back in 2001 for the 32-bit Game Boy Advance), direct sequels Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising and Advance Wars: Dual Strike, and the stand-alone Advance Wars: Days of Ruin all compel gamers to either vanquish rival forces or capture opposition headquarters. Several interface options are on offer, but the Campaign Mode, where an intricate storyline unfolds in the midst of deliberate, if engrossing, action, takes the cake.

Considering the success Advance Wars has engendered, other titles aiming to break through in the same genre have invariably used it as a model. Needless to say, the aim of their developers is to build on and improve upon it. Because the bar has been set high, however, few manage to come close. Fortunately, Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble proves able to get the best aspects of its inspiration en route to surpassing it on the whole. Indeed, it delivers on its promise of bringing an immersive experience, and, at $14.99, boasting of a price point a full quarter lower than closest competitor Wargroove, to boot.

Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble picks up from where its predecessor left off. Commander Wolfram, head of the mercenary group White Fangs, finds cause in doing battle against artificial-intelligence-controlled soldiers from the kingdom of Dinolda even as she embarks on a search for her long-lost brother. In aiming to hold down forces out to claim world domination via the excavation of ancient technology seen to shift the balance of power, she gains allies in Artemisia and Zipang, starring Captain Nathan Gries and Lord General Tsukumo, respectively.

For all the scope and grandeur of the narrative, however, Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble shines most in its gameplay. In this regard, credit goes to developer Area35’s willingness to listen to community feedback and incorporate suggestions from those who thoroughly enjoyed its 2017 release but who likewise saw the need to introduce improvements in the next one. For instance, supply line management has become a critical component in strategy building, particularly when it comes to the use of any of the three new mech units, which can drive through obstacles others would need to go around or pulverize enemies with superior firepower, but with attendant fuel and ammunition costs.

Parenthetically, Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble not just enables the deployment of commander units (11 all told) on the battlefield, but underscores the importance of gamer choice by imbibing characters with unique skills that can turn the tide of combat one way or the other. The obvious nod to Advance Wars enjoins those who worked on it to trumpet it as a spiritual successor. At the same time, they make sure to underscore the differences. Among the most prominent: assault, which dislodges an enemy from a certain position; focus fire, which enables various units to lock on a target and attack simultaneously; and flanking, which allows for greater damage vis-à-vis frontal skirmishes.




As a tactical role-playing game, Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble earns its keep with its progressive knowledge engineering. Even as victory can be accomplished in a variety of ways, gamers are kept on their toes by the remarkable capacity of the AI to predict even seemingly well-laid plans. Often, the chief complaint with similar offerings is the predilection of the programming to play checkers on the chess board. Not so with Area35’s pride. It doesn’t merely react and keep up; it analyzes, and then attempts to move a step ahead.

Aesthetically, Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble retains the flavor of its predecessor. It casts proceedings in a colorful and decidedly military-themed anime art style and audio track. On the flipside, English voiceovers seem to have been recorded in various volumes, not to mention spouting lines of dialogue that can be borderline meretricious. Meanwhile, toggling to Japanese audio will yield better acting, but the accompanying subtitles could be better and can occasionally show errors. That said, the negatives are irritants at worst and, in the face of stutter-free on-screen activity, do not at all serve to dampen the interest of gamers.

Certainly, Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble is worth its salt, and more. It openly associates with Advance Wars for all-too-apparent reasons. At the same time, it distinguishes itself via enhancements that ultimately allow it to surpass its muse. It’s a can’t-miss affair even for gamers who didn’t pick up Tiny Metal, or for those who haven’t yet dabbled with SRPGs. Featuring an extensive and newbie-friendly tutorial, an intricate story-driven campaign with extra missions completists will appreciate, and other gameplay options that further raise its value, it comes off as an intellectual property no library can do without.

THE GOOD:

• A true spiritual successor to Advance Wars and direct sequel to Tiny Metal

• Immersive campaign mode

• Enhanced gameplay mechanics

• Outstanding AI

THE BAD:

• Uneven English voice track

• Quality of subtitles could be better

• Commander units don’t seem to have weaknesses

• Multiplayer mode shows promise, but brought down by low player base

• No map editor

RATING: 9/10

PostScript: Dark Quest 2 is based on 30-year-old HeroQuest, a board game co-developed by Milton Bradley and Games Workshop, and the fantasy RPG influence shows. It begins with a deadly sorcerer setting in motion a chain of events that takes the lives of just about every man, woman, and child in the kingdom, the monarch included. Only citizens from a village survive the killing spree, and, from within, a party of champions must be formed in an effort to combat evil and restore peace to the land. A barbarian leads the way, with gamers then completing the group from a roster that increases with time and ultimately includes such notables as an archer, a wizard, a knight, and a dwarf.

Presented from an isometric vantage point, Dark Quest 2 is a typical turn-based dungeon crawler, albeit with a twist. Owing to its tabletop roots, it finds its outcomes determined by invisible dice rolls. Members of the party offer unique characteristics; an aggregate eight passive or active skills can be unlocked to help overcome the sorcerer’s minions en route. Progress is fairly linear, with slight forks on the path giving the impression of variety. For the most part, though, advancement comes by way of exploration, resource gathering, and then upgrades — with gamers rinsing and repeating the process until they encounter the final boss himself.

That said, Dark Quest 2 does present a stepladder difficulty measure. The levels become more and more intricate as the party goes deeper and deeper into the castle. Unpredictability becomes the norm, and gamers are kept guessing as to what comes next. Will the next dungeon yield more treasure or more traps? Will the number of heroes be limited or will enemies multiply? Fortunately, the village — which acts as the game’s hub — is populated by support characters. A visit to the blacksmith nets equipment upgrades. The magician hands out spells for use. The aid of a gravedigger is crucial for resurrecting an important member of the group.

All told, Dark Quest 2 manages to stand out from among the dregs with a good mix of gameplay options, including multiplayer and level-editor modes. At $10.99, it’s a decided bargain and well worth the time Nintendo Switch gamers spend on it. (8/10)

Currently offered at a 20% discount on the Nintendo Switch eShop, Rally Rock ‘N Racing is a release in the rally genre that doesn’t quite live up to its promise of “realistic driving physics.” Not that it leans more to the arcade side. Rather, it features hard-to-grasp controls and occasionally incomprehensible collision mechanics that reflect its relative lack of polish. The technical bumps notwithstanding, it manages to deliver adrenaline-pumping action, particularly for gamers partial to over-the-top audio-visual fare. Creditably, it offers a bevy of track choices in both single-player and multiplayer modes, although it must be noted that their surfaces don’t seem to make any difference in the handling of vehicles.

Rally Rock ‘N Racing does try to earn its keep. Gamers can choose to engage in the self-explanatory Time Trial or compete for the Championship, which grants points based on finishes in three races against three computer-controlled cars. A first-place finish on aggregate is rewarded with a vehicle unlock and an opportunity to compete in the next difficulty level. And so on and so forth. Meanwhile, the World Rally Cup is, in truth, anything but; to the contrary, it’s simply one long course divvied up into segments that need to be completed within a certain time frame.

All told, Rally Rock ‘N Racing winds up being long on potential but a bit short on delivery. And without any customization components, it prevents gamers from tinkering with vehicle setups and offsetting its maneuvering quirks. It’s not bad at $7.99, but it could have been much, much better. (6/10)

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