I whiled away many hours in my youth playing Cannon Fodder on the Amiga, mostly replaying failed missions. It could be a brutal game, and its anti-war message was completely lost on my young mind, but I delighted in my victories and mourned the losses of my fallen soldiers all the same. Tiny Troopers, an iOS title recently ported to PC, is undoubtedly inspired by that classic -- it's an unapologetic homage.
So it was that I nervously prepared to lose countless soldiers fighting an unrelenting enemy. And losses there were, some of them soldiers, but also my patience and interest. Comparing Tiny Troopers to Cannon Fodder does it no favors, unfortunately, though it still provides some short bursts of entertainment that make it well suited to mobile gaming. As a PC title, however, it's a somewhat lackluster affair.
Tiny Troopers (iPad, iPhone, PC [reviewed])
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Release: August 24, 2012
American soldiers fighting vaguely Middle Eastern troops in a vaguely Middle Eastern setting. That sentence essentially sums up the story and context of Tiny Troopers. It doesn't mess about, gets straight to the point, and is horrendously uninspired. Not to worry, though, as the context isn't nearly as important as slaying hordes of incredibly stupid enemies, and the game has this in spades.
Dynamite-wielding suicide bombers, snipers, artillery spotters, tanks, chaps made of shields -- there's a decent variety of determined foes to blow up and riddle with bullets. There's not a speck of intelligence between them, however, but they can still pose a significant challenge. For one, they outnumber you vastly. This isn't about two armies colliding, although there is one army, and it's trying to kill your tiny squad.
Normally, around two to four men will be under player control, but no matter their number, they always act as one unit, firing at the same targets and moving to the same spots. When the squad gets surrounded, it doesn't tend to end very well, and with enemies sniping from cliffs, hiding around trees, and occasionally patrolling, this can happen quite frequently.
It simply felt wrong that I could have a four-man squad and yet only shoot in one direction. It's not possible to effectively protect vulnerable units under player control, either. A precious medic or a wounded soldier can't be repositioned within the squad, and the squad can't be split up at all. Beyond pulling enemies away from bigger groups, or retreating, there were few tactics available to me.
Instead, I had command points. Gained for completing missions, disabling nuclear weapons, collecting dog tags, and a few other side objectives, these points could be spent before each mission on specialists like medics or a Delta Squad member and upgrades -- all for one mission only -- as well as during missions on weapon drops or health packs. Gold stars are also scattered around the mission maps, and can be spent on permanent upgrades. The benefits of collecting these items and performing secondary objectives makes exploring the admittedly bland maps worthwhile.
Even with airstrikes, grenades, and an experienced squad, death is inevitable. Any soldier killed in action is removed from the game, and replaced with a less experienced rookie with a random name. There are a few different looks, but they all sort of blend into one. The difference between a rookie and an experienced vet seemed negligible on the normal and easy difficulties, and besides the small loss of command points for losing a man, there are no other repercussions. Underneath the colorful environment and high-pitched banter of the troops, there is some acknowledgement of the grim reality of modern warfare. Deaths are drawn out and loud, corpses leave a puddle of blood juxtaposed to the otherwise cartoon-like violence, and innocent civilians are often caught in the crossfire.
Maps increase in complexity as the game goes on, offering multiple routes for engagement and opportunities for sneakier attacks, but generally they all amount to wandering around the fairly small areas shooting the hell out of everything from barracks to jeeps. Sometimes your squad will be traversing valleys or slowly making their way up a slope to an enemy base, sometimes they'll just be sauntering about a wide, open desert dotted by small towns filled with civilians -- who can become casualties of war -- but none really stand out. A few missions take place amid snow-covered hills, but that's about as varied as it gets.
There are occasional obstacles which put both enemies and your own team at risk. Mines are fairly obvious, and you'd really have to stop paying attention to walk into them, but sometimes due to the poor pathfinding ability of your squad, they will set them off. Thankfully, enemies are equally stupid. It's only too easy to aggro a group of hostiles across a minefield -- I call it payback. Rivers can be crossed, but slow down movement considerably, though I only once encountered an enemy patrol that was in a position to take advantage of this.
The campaign is made up of 30 missions, all rather short; it won't take up more than a few hours in total. Single missions can be replayed, and points earned in those can go towards supplies in the campaign. On the hardest difficulty, this is pretty damn helpful, as too many failed missions can leave a commander flat broke. Completing the campaign unlocks a New Game+ which ramps up the difficulty even more. There's a decent amount of content here, though none of it compelling.
At worst, Tiny Troopers is a forgettable distraction. It works as intended (most of the time), it's easy to get into, and there are some tough missions for those looking for a challenge. It isn't really bad, it's just rather boring. Even with the addition of supply drops, it feels like a step backwards from Cannon Fodder, a game that's almost twenty years old.