Tiny Troopers – Preview
by Mark R
Remember when games were all about the gameplay? I’m talking about when there was no such thing as a respawn, hell you didn’t even have multiple lives, and if you thought for one second that you’d see so much as one single pixel of photo-realism then you were either clearly deluded or already living in the future. The beauty of those simplistic times is that you bought a game based on word of mouth from friends rather than jaw-dropping screenshots in the latest issue of “What Graphic Whore”, and their layman review of the game would be centred entirely around how much fun it was to play. That’s right, fun. Graphics, music, back-story and even which studio was involved were of no consequence whatsoever and it came down to whether you had a blast playing it.
Those days were, sadly, long behind us… but several of the new IPs we got a chance to see at this year’s Gamescom have proven that there are still developers out there who aren’t afraid to take a chance on producing titles where gameplay is primary and everything else is a bonus. Kukouri is one such developer, and their latest release through Iceberg Interactive, Tiny Troopers, is a perfect example of this. With a mindset firmly in the era of the early ’90s Amiga boom, Tiny Troopers is unashamedly taking the Cannon Fodder gameplay and premise and catapulting it into the modern gaming market with more than a bit of spit and polish.
The units may be designed with a very stylised cartoon feel, but the gameplay itself is anything but saccharine and losses can still have drastic consequences. The conversation with Kim Soares, CEO of Kukuori, quickly turned from one of whimsy to that of the seriousness of war and fragility of humankind when we discussed the lack of respawns or multiple lives, with Kim stating, quite rightly, that there are no second chances in war.
Tiny Troopers does more than merely acknowledge this; in fact it almost hand-stitches it into a flag and waves it directly in front of your face – if you get shot, you will actually die. There is no throwback to the previous save point, no icon dropping from the HUD as you flicker in and out briefly while a subroutine calculates that your three lives are now two, and no prompting to press a key to continue. Those little characters on-screen may be whimsical and comedic, at times, but the consequences are real – outright fatality. Similarly, the longer your soldiers survive, the more experience you will carry through to the next round and the stronger they will become. Power-ups and enhancements can be bought using experience points, allowing for a more varied gameplay, with some being ridiculous enough to remind you that, despite soldiers crying in pain as they drop to the ground in pools of blood, this is still “just a game”.
As someone who prefers to play on PC but also opts to use a controller over a keyboard and mouse, the controls in Tiny Troopers are remarkably simple. Clicking with the left mouse tells your units where they should head and, should you be unlucky enough to come across an ambush or guard post (well it wouldn’t be much of a war game if you didn’t), the right mouse controls the attack function where all available units will go into an immediate offensive mode. The combination of collectibles and mines means that there will be times where you want to reach a specific area of the map, even though the enemy has been dropping mines like Gordon Ramsay dropping “the F bomb”, and the only way to do this is to either sacrifice one of your men, which really isn’t an option given that the maximum number of units is four along with the occasional ‘special’ squaddie, or lob a grenade if you happened to have picked any up. Doing so is as simple as holding down the CTRL key while using the same right mouse click, but it’s also a good idea to run like hell or you’ll end up being caught in the explosion and lose your guys anyway.
Being a Steam release, Tiny Troopers comes with a full set of achievements, as well as its own in-game challenges, so the cheev whores will always have something to aim for and the collectibles alone, along with a whopping thirty levels to plough through, set the game at around fifteen hours according to the current QA playthroughs. Launching on iOS originally, Kim and I got to talking about the dodgy controls that so many tablet and touch-screen games have, opting more for the virtual stick controls than a more natural approach where thumbs don’t end up sticking to the corners of the screen. At this point, Kim produced his iPad and encouraged me to give it a shot and, never being one to shy away from a challenge (except for that one time we never discuss), I took control of the guys in a level where the task is to guide a pair of journalists to safety. Irony, or deliberate goading? The latter, I hope!
As much as it pains and delights me to admit it, I actually enjoyed playing Tiny Troopers on the iPad, and the words “I may now consider buying one of these” were heard to pass my lips although, with the benefit of hindsight, four hundred quid for a large iPhone still doesn’t excite me and so I’ll stick to playing on the PC. That said, the controls were certainly very intuitive and were nothing more than tapping to show the destination, double-tapping on enemies to go into offensive mode and the rather ingenious approach of dragging the various icons from the right hand side of the screen (grenade, rocket launcher, air-strike etc) to a position on-screen to call in that particular attack mode. I can see this being a firm favourite with those who want to step away from Words With Angry Birds and fancy a more rewarding challenge.
Overall, my time with Tiny Troopers was everything that I expected it to be, and so much more, with the last fifteen minutes of our time being dedicated to musing over the old-school games and how getting through a game from beginning to end with only one life was the norm, whereas these days it’s viewed as the developer punishing the gamer. The words “Dark Souls” were uttered several times, and I was urged to give it another go. I will, but right now I have thirty levels of cartoon-styled realistic war mayhem to deal with and, with any luck, the nod to Cannon Fodder’s “Lost in Service” area of the end credits will remain forever empty.
Tiny Troopers hits PC and Mac at the end of August through Iceberg Interactive.
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