Tinywar has some warts, but this tense 8-bit RTS captured my heart.
TinyWar high-speed is a top down real time strategy game by Masakazu Yanai stripped down to the barest essentials for the genre. The art style harkens back to the 8-bit NES/Famicom era, with the troops giving the game a charming feel of children playing with army men. Yanai himself has a prolific background in game development for mobile phones. Looking through his site with the aid of google translate one can infer strong influence from Advanced Wars and Shining Force.
In TinyWar, you play as a galactic commander tasked with clearing out different planets of opposing forces under bareboned pretense. For instance, the commander of the purple army - helpfully named Purple - was described as a mysterious person and that I needed to take him out. While it skimped on narrative, the game focuses on the feeling of a general conducting their troops from on high.
The gameplay is divided into rounds with randomly generated maps on a rotating list of planets where much doesn’t change beyond the color palette and local fauna. Each round gives you four maps to choose from, though you can regenerate four new options if you don’t like what’s presented to you. You’re given a reserve of cash that increases on at a steady rate based on the number of zones you control. Zones vary in size and shape and every zone outside your starting two is controlled by AI.
The player must place unit generating buildings such as barracks and factories that will automatically spawn and send out your forces to the attack the nearest enemy base. Your forces will only attack enemy buildings, not enemy forces. Therefore, you must also build up defense towers to protect your zone and the buildings within. Zones are captured once troops have whittled down the health of commander icon for that zone.
Since the player does not have direct control of the troops, it falls on them to focus on the critical issue of building placement. Place your barracks to close to your border and it’s likely to get destroyed by incoming troops. Place it too far away and it will take a long time for your troops to advance, or they may not attack the base you had intended. Enemy AI follow the same rules. Once you get a hang for the game’s pathfinding, you can figure out how to funnel your strongest rival into a wall of defense towers while you send troops off to deal with the small fry.
TinyWar’s simplicity is a great asset to the game - it makes it very easy to pick up and play without a tutorial. Indeed, Yanai’s mobile background shows as he able to build in a surprisingly minimal interface for a relatively complex game.
Bewilderingly, there is no progress track and I am left to assume that I could play infinitely. The planets rotate across the stages, but the music does not and there’s minimal changes in troop behavior. I would have loved to hear more variety in the music, but it is a testament to the songs quality that I haven’t turned them off after nearly 10 hours of play.
The difficulty swings from almost unfair starting around stage 5 to where I am now steamrolling enemies at stage 40. At the peak of the difficulty curve, starting in the middle of the map almost always results in a loss as your base quickly becomes overwhelmed without the abilities you unlock later. Speaking of abilities, it appears as though the player continues to grow in strength across stages, while the AI do not - meaning that while I can play infinitely, I likely will not.
TinyWar’s focus on the essential elements of an RTS game and the tense tug of war between different AI factions really drew me in. Targeting a short round length - roughly 5 - 10 minutes - makes sure the game doesn’t overstay its welcome. The uneven challenge and other missteps prevent TinyWay’s consideration as one of the RTS greats. However, I enjoyed my time with the game and would heartily recommend it - warts and all - to any retro or RTS fans.