Tiny Token Empires Review: world domination meets 3-match puzzler

The ancient European world is at defcon 1 as the Romans, Greeks, Persians and others fight for supremacy in this unique take on the strategy genre. Using a puzzle system to determine attacks, and a tongue-in-cheek script to keep things light, BiP media tries to reinvent a genre that did not get a lot of love this console generation.

Tiny Token Empires is separated into two modes: campaign and free play. Campaign tasks you with performing certain objectives over a pre-determined scenario to progress from level to level. Starting out as the Romans as a tutorial, players are required to beat every mission to unlock the next empire to use. There is a tongue-in-cheek story to keep the game light so those looking to just relax and laugh will enjoy it. However, gamers who want a detailed narrative that will keep them on the edge of the seats need to look elsewhere. Free play allows you to choose any empire and a scenario that keeps the game fresh. From conquering all the territories to just burning down every opposing capital, there are enough differing objectives to keep people coming back for more.

Like most turn-based strategy games, resources are produced every turn from the territories controlled and captured. Building bigger cities allows a higher revenue stream as well as unlocking other buildings and units, while every other building available simply unlocks units. In order to build the first level of a city requires a `general` character to be located on specifically marked territories. This adds an extra layer of strategy. However, this is about all there is to the game`s micro-management. Items will give your generals special abilities, and there are various unit types of differing powers, but this is not a Romance of the Three Kingdoms game that allows for uber-management. Even a Dynasty Warriors: Empires game has more strategic resource management than this. It’s good for the casual strategy fan but hardcore fans must quickly enjoy the simplicity or else it`ll be boring.

Combat is very innovative as it tries to incorporate a match-3 puzzle system for generating attacks. When in battle players take turns moving a block on the board until it matches three in a row vertically or horizontally. The matching colours charge up your troops of the same colour; for example, red blocks will charge up red troops, purple for purple, and so on. Manage to match four or more and you get an extra turn. What makes this system random and fun is when something is matched it disappears and the blocks fall down, allowing for a chain reaction that can lead to massive combos. The detriment to this system is that it’s really slow as you`re trying to find the best match, with some battles taking 20-30 minutes. The game allows you to auto-battle at any time, which is good, but also defeats the purpose of this innovative system at least for the single-player experience. It all depends on how much you love match-3 puzzles compared to your time invested in other things in life.

For those lucky enough to play against friends of a similar skill level then the game can play out like RISK, going back and forth over the same territory in one direction while trying to expand into another. But a lot of the strategy, initially in its early genesis, comes down to getting the most city territories and your Hermit, which allows you to hire generals and buy items. As each empire has its own Hermit, and not getting yours or losing it can be devastating, especially if it is too far away.

Graphically the game looks reminiscent of a PSone title. The shading is up to par with the current generation but there is so little of anything that is animated. Everything is done in picture stills and except for the opening movie the game is a giant board of ancient Europe half the time, and the other half being the match-3 board during battle. Having Mass Effect-level graphics is not always needed for some kind of strategy games, but when there is more happening on the SNES Rampart battle map then there is a problem. It takes away from the virtual experience and so you might as well play RISK in real life.

The biggest problem that hampers Tiny Token Empires is its controls, which is a shame because of how little there is to do in the game. Everything is controlled by the left stick which makes trying to move your units from space to space difficult at the best of times. Sometimes the game will lock you out of changing direction when you put your units on the wrong territory, forcing you to cancel the move at best, or at worse end up wasting a turn. For a game that requires moving units from essentially square to square it would have been a lot better to use the D-Pad than the left stick. Hopefully there is a patch in the future that fixes this.

Tiny Token Empires tries to get innovative in a genre that has not been getting a lot of love the past few years. While it is praiseworthy to take a chance at making something unique, sadly that uniqueness can be very boring without friends. Puzzle fans and some strategy gamers can sink their teeth into the multiplayer but those wanting a great single-player experience will end up falling asleep.



The Final Word

A new take on an old genre, Tiny Token Empires tries to be creative and innovate by splicing two genres together. Unfortunately, the dodgy controls and lack of depth means any time you do put into it isn't ultimately all that rewarding.