Having already reported for duty on mobile platforms and other consoles, you’d think that Tiny Troopers: Joint Ops XL had seen enough tours to earn itself a little extended leave. But the top-down, ‘roguelight’ shooter has donned its camo paint one last time as it guns its way onto Nintendo Switch.
This being a port of a series that first entered the theatre of war in 2012, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to learn this little package feels quite dated. From the slow firing speed of its weapons to the budget South Park look of its titular characters, this XL collection does very little to hide the cracks of time. But what it lacks in visual allure it certainly tries to address in sheer content.
Much like the Joint Ops versions that hit other current platforms in 2014, you could consider this a definitive edition of the entire Tiny Troopers series, packing in the campaigns of the first two games (that’s over 60 missions in total) and a series of zombie modes in both Horde form and one more akin to the objective-based setup of its regular military fare.
On the surface its twin-stick, ‘squad of soldiers dropped into the heat of battle’ shtick smacks of the likes of Cannon Fodder, but it doesn’t take long for the repetitive nature of its core mechanics to reveal itself. Having lots of bite-sized levels in one place suits Switch down to the ground (most last between three-to-five minutes a pop), but the cycle of kill all enemies/destroy all buildings/protect the hostages grates when presented ad infinitum.
It’s an issue not helped by some consistently slow and stupid AI, as well as level designs that are often too large in size and too low in enemies to kill or objectives to destroy. The sheer number of collectibles does try to balance this issue out (honestly, how many dog tags and medals can you lose in the battlefield before someone gets a court marshal?), but it’s an issue that never stops reminding you of its existence the longer you play.
Some modes fare better than others - the general level design of the Spec Ops mode is a little more varied than the campaign from the first game, and the Zombie Campaign can be a hoot when you’re trying to dodge foes that rise out of the ground (which makes them far more interesting to take on than the soldiers who amble into view in the game’s main missions). Character levelling and upgrades are also persistent across all modes, a welcome choice that enables you to consistently improve (and consistently risk) your characters in battle.
Then there’s all those features from other genres that have been lightly sprinkled into Tiny Troopers for taste. There’s the ballistics of a twin-stick shooter, the permadeath of a roguelike and the high-score chasing setup of an arcade title all squeezing themselves into its diminutive fatigues. The only problem is none of these elements feel substantial enough to justify their presence.
The twin-stick shooting always feels slow and cumbersome, making every gunfight an exercise in perpetual bullet time, while the permadeath aspect (which sees your chosen soldiers potentially dying forever, their levelled up skills perishing with them) never embraces the true potency of its danger since you can revive lost squaddies after every mission. The fact that the currency required to resurrect your war-torn pals is so scarce simply makes the system feel redundant, while simultaneously attenuating the very system it’s meant to complement.
So yes, it is a little dated - and yes, it isn't going to change the landscape of gaming any more than it did on countless other platforms it's appeared on - but there's still plenty of enjoyment to be found in its simple remit. Ideally suited for use in handheld mode, and perfect for five minute bursts of play, Tiny Troopers: Joint Ops XL's ported collection will help scratch that twin-stick itch while you wait for something a little more memorable to enlist.
There’s no denying Tiny Troopers Joint Ops: XL offers a lot of bang for its buck - over 60 main missions and a ton of undead-slaying quests see to that - and its bite-sized nature fits Nintendo Switch down to the ground, but ultimately it’s an exercise in quantity over quality. There’s fun to be had in its caricature take on war, but its light sprinkling of other genres and low-rent presentation is retro for all the wrong reasons.