- Format: PS4, PS3, Vita
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Wired Productions
- Developer: Kukouri Mobile Entertainment
- Players: 1
- Site: www.wiredproductions.com/index.php/product/tiny-troopers-joint-ops
For a game with mobile origins, Tiny Troopers: Joint Ops plays it well. The more cynical may dismiss it outright as an easy-win mobile port combining the first two smartphone titles of the series, but the transition to consoles has made it a lot more playable. Whereas before the fate of your tiny troopers was completely left at the whim of touch controls, Joint Ops turns it into an intense twin stick shooter. If you feel like punishing yourself, you can still play solely via touch on the Vita; but doing so will make you hate your fingers and, more so, the game they’re desperately trying to spasm through.
Sticking to the new and improved thumb nub inputs, the left stick controls a squad of up to four soldiers whereas the right directs their fire. Each level is a mix of open areas with the occasional confined space, giving you a bit of room to think tactically, but the biggest weapon in your arsenal is definitely move and shoot.
Towing more than one soldier around with just a single set of joysticks reveals a few flaws with the game. For example, there are certain pathfinder issues that mean your comrades get stuck on the occasional bit of scenery, meaning they can get left behind for a rather unpleasant and bullet-riddled demise. Similarly, up to four infantry dancing to the same commands makes an awfully big target for trigger happy baddies, which can make it hard to keep your men out of harm’s way. On the whole though, it generally feels quite competent, just a little unwieldy at times.
Tilt the right stick in the direction of an enemy and your squad will let loose a hail of bullets in their direction, locking onto the target with a handy aim assist that’s not too overpowering, but helps keep things on target. Whilst auto aim can make it hard to pick off specific targets within a crowd, it does mean you won’t feel the frustration of missing fast approaching baddies due to fiddly controls.
As your little heroes chew through waves of foot fodder and complete missions they’ll start to rank up, increasing their attributes with subtle buffs across the board. This means keeping the same soldiers alive between missions can be quite handy. Of course, accidents happen, and Cpl. Genius might occasionally walk into a speeding tank shell. There’s the rather pricey option of using up medals (a rather scarce collectible) to revive fallen comrades, or you can just leave them dead. Choosing the latter option replaces them with a base level grunt with a new name and appearance. Losing squaddies isn’t quite as devastating as it is in games like Xcom, but it’s surprising how attached you can get to your tiny troopers.
Regardless of casualties, finishing a level nets you a healthy amount of points to spend on upgrades. This allows you to buy special weapons such as rockets and grenades in the field, or invest them in natural abilities to improve the likes of rate of fire, accuracy, range, and armour. With five levels of upgrade for each stat, it might not be the deepest skill tree in the world, but each buff grants enough of a difference to make it feel like a decent improvement.
Driving the action forward and keeping things fairly fast paced is a simple score multiplier meter. As you accomplish objectives and take down tiny terrorists the meter fills, granting you a double point bonus at the first threshold and a quadruple bonus if you turn up the heat. As such, you’ll want to keep the multiplier as high as possible to get the most upgrade points by the mission’s end. This discourages dawdling and encourages you to charge in, piling on the action thick and fast. It cranks the excitement right up and is a neat little risk versus reward mechanic.
Rolling the two mobile titles into one game is done in a fairly seamless way, giving you a choice of two different campaigns on the main menu, Soldier and Special Ops. They both play largely the same, with a comic-like story loosely linking the ten stage or so mission clumps together. Your upgraded soldiers can play through either campaign, so you get a sense of continuation throughout that further links the games together and makes them feel like one big brilliant package, rather than two separate entities masquerading as one. The slight downside this brings is if you start one after finishing the other. The opening levels of each campaign are aimed at lower level soldiers, so if you already have 20 or so missions under your belt and an uber squad, things are going to feel like a cakewalk traversed by unstoppable man tanks.
Being a cross-play title, you can choose to play Joint Ops on PS3, PS4 or the Vita, although we feel its strengths definitely sit well on the handheld. Each level takes five minutes to complete, possibly ten if you want to comb every corner for score-boosting collectibles. This lends itself perfectly to the pick up and play nature of the Vita. We found ourselves filling in little gaps of the day with a mission or two, something that doesn’t quite feel the same if you have to power on a home console and set up the TV. And, whilst touch controls definitely make the game fiddly if that’s all you use, they definitely feel appropriate at times, making the handheld version our runaway favourite.
Tiny Troopers: Joint Ops offers loads of gameplay for a relatively small £5.49. The 58 levels, whilst largely similar, do offer a variety in objectives to keep things fresh. Don’t make the mistake of tarring Joint Ops as a lazy smartphone refugee, it genuinely feels like a twin stick shooter that was made for the Vita. As pick up and play titles go, Tiny Troopers ticks all the boxes and is a great arcade shooter for your collection.