Way back in March we previewed a game from Kukouri Mobile that featured cute miniature soldiers. Now backed by Chillingo, the Tiny Troopers (Out Now, $2.99 Release Sale) have stormed into the App Store. It isn’t quite everything I had hoped, but it’s a solid squad-based action title perfectly suited to the touchscreen.
In case you missed our rundown of Tiny Troopers’ combat, a few minutes in boot camp bring you up to speed on the tap and drag-and-drop mechanics for movement, targeting and special weapons. From widely varying missions to clever nuances like having to clear mine fields with grenades or saving your limited explosives for enemy tanks and pillboxes, Tiny Troopers impresses all around. Its most interesting quirk has to be its persistent campaign. Your score – measured in “Command Points” – reflects your ability to call in resources like med packs and extra ammo, so you can live off the fat of the land as it were and save up, or continuously call in supplies to keep your troops alive. The latter strategy has its advantages because your hardened veterans – plus any rank bonuses they have – are replaced by novices when you retry a mission. Carefully scouring the game’s wide-open environments for upgrade medals lets you apply permanent rank upgrades to your task force, however.
Unfortunately the gameplay formula remains static despite the upgrade system and rank bonuses. Various specialists can be recruited from your store of Command Points but only on a per-mission basis, and your regulars don’t appear to gain any specialist abilities with rank. Please excuse me for reaching across genres and turning to TBSs like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, but I keep thinking about how awesome it would have been to train your three-man crew and have them specialize as medics, machine gunners or snipers over the course of the campaign. Mission variety and a gradually sloping difficulty curve kept my interest, but that special something goes missing in action once you’re on your second or third mission to destroy hardened targets or escort unarmed NPCs. Mission variety can’t carry the game’s entire weight all on its own — there are a lot of stages to conquer here.
That said, Tiny Troopers is a dream in every technical respect. Tap-to-move and tap-to-target keep you involved in the fray since you have to make sure your soldiers are always on the move lest they get pummeled by a hail of return fire. Together with the earlier Vermes on Mars, Tiny Troopers suggests that squad-based games lend themselves much better to the touchscreen than single-actor games; when the player is controlling multiple actors, developers have proven ready to dismiss joysticks and D-pads in favor of methods friendlier to the platform. Vermes did capture something Tiny Troopers would do well to emulate: formation control through line drawing. Explosives – grenades, bazookas and air strikes – pretty much annihilate anything they hit directly, so it can be a pain to have your whole squad wiped out by one tank shell simply because they’re clumped so close together.
Aesthetically, Tiny Troopers is in a class all its own. Aside from the opening flourish – quite a memorable track, I might add – the entire game plays to a backdrop of ambient noise and battle sounds. Normally this would hinder a game’s ability to leave a lasting impression, but here it emphasizes the dying whimpers of player and enemy characters — and not to mention, you often have the option to cut those death throes short by giving a felled troop one last mercy shot. Something tells me that isn’t in the Geneva Conventions. Together with the high-pitched voices and childlike stature of Tiny Troopers’ soldiers, it all adds up to one of the most artfully disturbing representations of war I’ve seen in my years as a gamer.
iFanzine Verdict: Tiny Troopers could have gained more depth with a true class system, but it’s still a standout action game for its rock solid interface, meaty persistent campaign and a quirky treatment of modern warfare.