Imagine your favorite real-time strategy game, probably one native to the PC. Now imagine it on a mobile device. What would it look like? Like someone sneezed virtual buttons all over your screen, I bet. The trick to building any RTS is playing to the strengths of its platform. In Tiny Troopers [Free], developer Kukouri and publisher Chillingo created a deep and arresting tactical RTS that keeps the interface simple and interaction even simpler, leaving players free to concentrate on the fun stuff: coming up with strategies and executing them with unwavering precision.

Stripping away concerns like base building, Tiny Troopers keeps the focus on combat. The campaign sprawls 30 missions set over three chapters. At the beginning of each mission, players assume control of a small squad of troopers charged with completing the usual sets of objectives--destroy enemy structures, wipe out all the bad guys, rescue hostages and escort them to safety. Controlling your troopers is a breeze. Tap on a patch of land to go there, tap on an enemy to attack.

The game's instinctive interaction controls leave you free to master the intricacies of slinking through terrain and popping off shots with deadly efficiency. Just a few missions in, I encountered a pack of soldiers surrounded by stone walls on three sides. To get at them, I had to creep through the trees around their makeshift fort and storm in the open side. My raid left me vulnerable on the way in, but unlike most RTSes, moving and shooting aren't mutually exclusive in Tiny Troopers. Tapping an enemy once orders your troopers to shoot to kill; from there, you can tap the ground to strafe and dodge while your squad continues to dish out lead poisoning.

Other tactical considerations revealed themselves over every new mission. Your bullets only fly so far, so you have to get relatively close to deal damage. Understanding that opened my eyes to the option of sneaking up on soldiers and unloading bursts of bullets into their backs. I could also position my squad behind walls and trees, forcing enemies to come to them. Most importantly: tapping an enemy once doesn't translate to "shoot until dead." After firing a few shots, your soldier lowers his weapon and waits for his next order. Kind of a silly thing to do given the do-or-die circumstances, but another subtle element of strategy designed to keep you focused on tense encounters.

Your arsenal of destruction grows steadily as you progress. You lob grenades and fire rockets by tapping the appropriate icon and dragging it to the target of your choice, and completing objectives such as disabling weapons and picking up dog tags earns you Command Points you can use to summon first aid, weapons, and reinforcements via airdrop. You can also cash in CPs to hire specialists like grenadiers and upgrade your squad's armor, damage, and range of fire before each level, but with one caveat. Live or die, upgrades only last as long as the next mission.

Tiny Troopers' careful balance falters just a bit on later stages. As you would guess, CPs are a valuable commodity, doubly so since you can choose to purchase them in bulk through in-app purchases. I tend to avoid such real-money transactions for a purer gameplay experience, but the difficulty of later missions tested my resiliency (though I didn't cave). For as quickly as you earn CPs by completing secondary objectives, the near necessity of outfitting your guys with better armor and weaponry drains your funds quickly, especially since Tiny Troopers doesn't use checkpoints and deducts CPs should your squad die. On the plus side, you can replay finished missions on higher difficulties to earn more points, but there again, you run the risk of spending more than you earn to stay alive.

What few technical missteps occur happen only infrequently, but can lay waste to carefully laid plans. You can't control squad members individually, but there were times when one trooper would break away from the pack and take another route to his destination. That wouldn't be so bad except the camera remains firmly fixed on the majority, so kiss stragglers goodbye if they bumble into hostile territory. Usually a quick tap is all it takes to round up your boys and get them back on track.

Beyond accessible controls that facilitate rich gameplay, Tiny Troopers features one other noteworthy point that sets it apart from most other RTSes. Characters look and sound like they stepped right out of a kid's show. Because of the game's Saturday morning cartoon paint job, the harsh realities of war break through with a poignancy that gave me pause. Not all soldiers die when you finish off their life bars. They chirp an Alvin-and-the-Chipmunks death cry and sprawl in a bloody heap, pleading for you to finish them off. Civilians flood out of buildings when the fighting picks up. Kill them, and you watch your CP counter tick down while they bleed out on the ground. When a trooper dies, their portrait fades away and a "K.I.A." stamp appears next to their stats, which you can browse in one of the game's menus.

I won't go so far as to say I grew attached to any of my squad members, but scrolling through the roster of deceased and noting deeds of valor reminded me that they were not cannon fodder as most units in RTS games are, but personalities painted with expressions of grim determination and, in many instances, fear and uncertainty.

Don't worry: Tiny Troopers never grows too preachy, certainly not enough to distract you from its finely crafted experience. The layers of depth and your ease of access to them will have you playing your phone or iPad like a piano, fingers dancing across the screen to engage enemies and sidle around their attacks, flip grenades and streaking rockets at barracks that pump out endless waves of enemies, calling down air strikes on enemy bases as you race across the jungle to your extraction point with a line of terrified journalists in tow--all thanks to a clutter-free interface.

It's deeply absorbing, and a strategy treat that fans of the genre should not miss.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • http://twitter.com/noreagle T. Benjamin Larsen

    How on earth it is possible to review this game without mentioning Cannon Fodder is beyond me. It looks great but the inspiration seems almost like a bitmap blueprint.

    • toffee

      My thoughts exactly - Neither the word Cannon nor Fodder are included in the review, which means I really struggle to take the review seriously.

      I've been looking at this game due to its obvious similarities with said classic - I now read that it's even copied down to finishing off near dead soldiers and yet no mention of the "inspiration".

      Would love a proper port of the original Cannon Fodder but, until then, is this anywhere near to it?

      • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

        Because maybe not everybody has played Cannon Fodder and they decided to review this game on its own merits?

      • http://twitter.com/izzynobre izzynobre

        I agree with the other commenters. The review would've been enriched by mentioning the game's clear inspiration. 

      • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

        Yeah, enriched maybe. But I don't think it's necessary, especially if the reviewer isn't familiar with Cannon Fodder in the first place. I mean it would be silly to go into a history lesson on Super Mario Bros for every platforming game we reviewed.

      • http://twitter.com/izzynobre izzynobre

        I don't think that's an apt comparison, Jared. For one, Mario is known by virtually every gamer; one wouldn't really need to explain the concept or mention the influence. It would be self-evident.

        Secondly, I think this is much closer to Canon Fodder than a random platformer is to Super mario Brothers.

        To mention Canon Fodder as an inspiration wouldn't really detract from the game; it'd only offer a gameplay precursor, so to speak, that people who like this game might wanna check out :)

      • http://www.facebook.com/dlcraddock David Craddock

        I didn't mention Cannon Fodder because a mention would have added nothing to the review. Simple as that.

      • http://twitter.com/izzynobre izzynobre

        David, I disagree for a reason I've mentioned on my comment above :)

        I can guarantee you that anyone who knows Cannon Fodder and read this review will probably find the lack of a reference to Cannon Fodder, well, oddly lacking. 

        Most reviews of games that are (very clearly) based on a precursor will mention that -- there are countless examples here on TA --, and for a good reason: people who know the older game appreciate that it's being acknowledged -- "hey this guy knew the game too! I wasn't the only one who noticed that! Cool!", and people who don't might want to check it out if they like the game being reviewed. "Oh there's more games out there like this? That's cool, let's see what they were like".

        So in that sense, yes, it would have added to the review to mention the game. It seems like an odd omission and other comments I read here seem to agree with me. Just look at the highest rated comment on the article.

        I find the defensiveness with which you and Jared field this (constructive) criticism of an apparently glaring omission really odd. I know this is a staple of internet interactions and it happens even when we actively try to avoid it, but my fanboyism for TA -- I've been a member of this community from the get go, check my forum username creation date -- makes me expect more from you guys.

        Before you feel tempted to say "who's this jackass trying to teach me how to review a game?", I'm a gaming columnist for a major Brazilian technology blog, and I have maintained a gaming blog for, as of July 28th, ten straight years. My twitter account is a testament of my influence (30k followers).

        Now I beg that you don't misread that last paragraph. This isn't meant to be a "pfff what do you mean, who am I? I'm famous on the internet, don't you know?" jab. This is more of a "I'm a fellow writer with years of experience and recognition trying to give constructive criticism regarding what I feel to be an omission in your review. Because I feel that you're simply brushing away my point, I felt that perhaps identifying myself as a fellow game reviewer AND backing it up with a curriculum vitae, you'll be more inclined to consider where I'm coming from".

        Cheers and keep up the good work!

      • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

        Wasn't trying to be dismissive of your opinion at all. The defensiveness comes from someone "struggling to take the review seriously" just because Cannon Fodder isn't mentioned, and I think that's BS.

        Your opinion is fine and criticism is welcome. But I disagree that it's a "glaring omission".

      • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

        Any top down squad based army shooter will get compared to Cannon Fodder, since that was basically the first popular one. That's exactly why it doesn't seem necessary to me to mention it.

        Besides, it's been mentioned the 2 previous times we posted about this game.I guess if there's people who don't know Cannon Fodder though, now they can just look in the comments and google it, so mission accomplished anyway :)

        This is a good, thorough look at what you get when you buy THIS iOS game, and that's what I care about. Not whether it will live up to expectations of a previous game.

      • http://kukouri.com/ kukouri

        Cannon Fodder and other classic Amiga games like Commando were a very large inspiration for us when we made this game. But we also tried to bring modern twist to it with it's own merits while still maintaining that classic level of fun we felt when playing those games. I think we did an awesome job at that, the game tends to be considered "too hard" at times due to that.

    • Howard Newmark

      Hate to be pedantic but Cannon Fodder was by Sensible Software, not the Bitmap Bros

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JYT4VWMI6AN57TOKHW5AR64ROA bloop

    You know it's a Chillingo game when the enemies are brown or black.....yes some of us did notice.

    • toffee

      Yeah, like those black and brown pigs in Angry Birds.

      Oh, wait.....

    • http://kukouri.com/ kukouri

      I honestly have no idea what you are talking about. The enemies are green or red. Chillingo published this, we, Kukouri Mobile Entertainment developed this entirely independent of Chillingo from the ground up.

  • iHateU

    I enjoyed this game fir a few stages, but when you die your guys die and you start with new- lvl 1 people. Witch really sucks. Needless to say i deleted it.

  • http://twitter.com/back2this Sean Yuan

    Grabbed this after reading the review. Didn't even realize it was a RTS. Should be awesome.

  • Rich Cacace

    I bought this game the day it came out and have enjoyed it, but there are some things I think need to be addressed. David mentioned the pathing problem in the review, but there's also an issue with enemies shooting at you from off the screen. I think it's the 3rd mission where you have to escort some reporters. You round a corner and all of a sudden shots are coming at you and you don't have time to move nor can you fire back because you can't see the enemy. I also do not like the fact that if you level up something and fail the mission you lose the money you spent. I suppose you can go back and redo a previous mission to get more money, but personally I think you should either maintain the upgrades or start with the same amount of money. Hopefully these issues will be addressed in a future update.

    Overall it's still a very fun game.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dlcraddock David Craddock

      Thanks for your feedback, Rich. I did mention there are some glitches and somewhat unfair points, and enemies' ability to fire shots before you can see them is a valid point under that label.

      I didn't feel the punishment of losing upgrades if you fail a mention qualified as a valid complaint, though. Plenty of games contain similar risk/reward elements, and that's what Tiny Troopers was going for with the temporary upgrades. Some upgrades, namely the ones you purchase with Medals, are permanent.

  • http://twitter.com/JyriKilpelainen Jyri Kilpeläinen

    This is made by our fellow devs at Kukouri (their office is 500 metres from ours) so I may be a bit biased but they really nailed it with this one. Cannon Fodder was one of those classics I played as a teenager and had tons of fun. It was super easy to control so I'm really glad that Kukouri managed to take to those controls and make them work on touch screen. In my opinion, this game is also a prime example how to add in app purchases to a mobile game.

    Well done guys!

    • http://kukouri.com/ kukouri

      Thanks Jyri!

      You guys should really check out the game Jyri's company made as well, especially since it is free. http://www.cheezia.com/

      It's a cute little game that I esspecially enjoyed playing on tablets. Just something about climbing up walls in a little gear powered by a mouse that feels good.

  • makageorge

    I agree Cannon Fodder should have been mentioned as the inspiration is totally obvious, and they've even used little details from the game like your guys gaining rank and you having to start with new soldiers to replace the ones that die...

    Anyway, they seem to have made a great game and I think a touch screen should be much better for this type of game so I will probably pick this up...

    BTW, going into a history lesson about Mario Bros is unnecessary, of course... Everyone knows Mario. But there were other amazing games back then that aren't as well known and they deserve the recognition, especially if they serve to inspire current games. And if companies forget to do it, it's up to reviewers and ultimately gamers to do it.

    Ah, and one last thing... I smiled when I read the RTS label on this game... I may be wrong but I don't think that term even existed when Cannon Fodder was released :)

    • http://kukouri.com/ kukouri

      Very good points. And yes, the RTS label was around even then, Cannon Fodder was among the first to make it popular if memory serves :)

  • Howard Newmark

    I think you should give the reviewer a break - he probably wasn't even born when the mighty Cannon Fodder came out! 
    It is pretty clear that you guys are paying homage to CF and adding your own inspiration to it at the same time - great job!

Tiny Troopers Reviewed by David Craddock on . Rating: 4.5
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