Opinion: Tiny Combat Arena Is Better Than Ever
Updated: Oct 3
Much like bomb damage assessments, hindsight is 2020. And, to be blunt, looking back at the hot takes about Tiny Combat Arena (TCA) from the 2020s makes me wonder why so many of its early supporters had such a harsh reaction. The early access version of the full game doesn't seem like the absolutely massive, semi-open world they had dreamed of, but the core of what they fell in love with is more stable and ready for expansion than ever.
If my many articles about this game haven't given it away by now, I am openly a long-time, passionate supporter of this flight sim lite. To the point that I requested a different writer of Skyward Flight Media play our pre-release press copy of TCA and write our first impression piece about it without my potential bias.
It has been roughly two months since the early access release of Tiny Combat Arena in February 2022, but just as notable is that it has been about two years since its developer announced a significant change. In April 2020, Why485, the solo developer of TCA, posted an announcement that energized and disappointed sections of his fanbase. In the future, the development would focus on producing a complete game with a more narrow scope than its years of tech demonstrators and the most popular iteration of its demos. Many took critical points like de-emphasis on the Arena mode and reduced pilotable aircraft roster as a declaration that the final product would do away with what the pre-release player base wanted.
From 2020 through 2021, worries and unwarranted negative comments about how the upcoming game would essentially be gutted of its core content were prolific. Videos showing the outdated demos were also presented as though they were new content without mentioning the announced change in development. All of this was just as prominent as the new core game development that the developer was pouring himself into. Even after its 2022 early access release, that underlying feeling of disappointment and confusion semi-frequently arises, with some of the more colorful comments stating that the pinned FAQ felt more like a list of removed features.
The somewhat cold responses from the developer and the blunt FAQ are frequently stated to be a way to "manage expectations." Now more than ever, it is easy to see why that is necessary. Especially with some so apparently disheartened, they went back to playing the 2019 and 2020 demos, now known as Tiny Combat Legacy. As though they are somehow paying respects to the spirit of "true" TCA or something...
Just about every element of what gave TCA its core identity is alive and well. Better than ever in most cases. The game mechanics, extended options and framework for a stable future release are either in place or on their way to be completed.
In the frequently revered TCA demo from mid-2019, the model viewer and settings menus were inoperable. The current early access aircraft loadout screen offers pre-set loadouts, with the loadout system being actively developed to create an even more advanced version. More weapon options are available now than before for both the player and non-player-controlled units. Ground forces are a more significant part of TCA than just a few wandering vehicles. Support for head tracking, adjustments for realism settings, and full customization of keybinds and movement axis for gamepads, keyboard mouse, and flight sticks.
The Quick Mission Builder further expands TCA's overall content by adding a second game mode that generates dogfights, ground strikes, or combined arms missions within minutes.
The mourning over the loss of a handful of aircraft with arcade-y flight models for a single well-modeled AV-8B and the groundwork for adding other aircraft seems a bit much. I miss flying the SEPECAT Jaguar and VJ 101 from the demos too, but the assumption that Tiny Combat Arena essentially became low poly Combat Air Patrol 2 is quite the stretch. There are certain weapons and aircraft models already in-game with notable player-related information in the model viewer, coupled with some statements in the FAQ that hint at a future expanded aircraft roster. But again, expectations are being actively managed by the developer during early access.
Finally, the beloved Arena Mode, the headline feature of the game, is in its best iteration. Capturing bases is more in-depth with massive ground battles, the ability to render locations unusable through airstrikes, and supporting ground forces throughout the process of capturing bases. Landing, repairing, and rearming while the battle rages on is more time pressing and exciting. The demo's version of shooting down a few defender aircraft and landing at an undefended airfield to capture it with the player's aircraft pales in comparison. It only seems smaller because the Arena demo has a map restricted to one island, for now. But with the development of a much larger map and refinement of the existing archipelago map, it's clear that the next major update for TCA is going to meet and exceed the landmass expectations that people's assumptions require.
In my opinion, this is all a classic case of user-generated hype meeting game development reality, compounded by a lack of following updates as they are posted in real-time and equating the size of a play space as an indicator of the quality of a game that is still in development. All while curiously clinging onto outdated, more technically limited demos and dismissing two years worth of concentrated game development to create a full-fledged game. When compared to the demos that experienced many gameplay changes, one would assume that a stable release with refinement over time would be a more reliable product to support.
About the Author
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.