Nintendo really made sure that a large chunk of game genres were represented for the launch of the Wii U. Platformers, minigame compilations, sports, mature action games and even an RPG all arrived on day one, giving fans at least one game to take home when they picked up Nintendo's latest console. Despite the hoopla over popular titles and indie digital downloads, one title that hadn't receive any buzz was Tank! Tank! Tank! from Namco Bandai.
The premise for this port of the 2009 arcade game is that alien invaders have sent robotic insects and animals to destroy Earth. As a freshly recruited tank driver, you've been assigned to get rid of these mechanical menaces and save the world. You won't be alone, though, as your mission coordinator plans things while a veteran tank driver accompanies you in every sortie.
The single-player mode gives you everything you need to know. After picking a tank, you're whisked off to an area where you have two minutes to complete the mission. Missions range from killing a certain number of enemies to fighting off a large boss whose attacks increase in ferocity as it loses more energy. Finishing levels gives you experience points to level up your tank's attributes, such as ammo capacity and health points.
The arcade nature of the game doesn't translate well to a home console experience. The small levels feel restrictive as you'll find yourself with little room to maneuver when things get hectic. While the two-minute limit might have worked for arcade machines, it feels more at home with a portable console rather than a home console since players can easily mow through levels without realizing it. The core game is exciting, though. Blasting tons of faceless robotic enemies is fun, and tearing down buildings and objects has a vibe similar to the Earth Defense Force series — minus the chaos. Also, in its own silly way, taking pictures of your face or other people's faces and attaching virtual stickers to them never ceases to be amusing.
The unforgiving aspect of the single-player mode comes from how the game handles level progression. Both the tanks and levels are locked away via a medal system, and medals are earned by completing levels. Things start off fine with the first seven levels locked away by one medal apiece. However, you need 15 medals to access the eighth level. While there is a rating system based on how quickly you finish a level, doing better doesn't afford you any new medals, and medal colors don't affect the cost. The only way to get more medals is to replay levels that you've already unlocked with newly available tanks. Beyond the number of lives and weapons afforded to you by each tank, the old levels don't change, so players start to get a feeling of déjà vu as they replay everything just to unlock one new thing. The barrier for new level entry gets to the point where you're forced to beat every level with every tank before you can see the final mission, and with so many tanks to unlock, you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to go through the same levels again and again when there are so many other satisfying single-player experiences on the system.
With the myriad of issues facing the single-player mode, it'll be difficult to find anyone who would want to slog through it, much less enjoy it. Then again, the game seems tailor-made for multiplayer; multiplayer is actually the default selection when you enter the game menu. There are five available multiplayer modes. The campaign mode can be played with a friend replacing the AI companion. Having human help is nice, though it doesn't make the campaign mode any better since no extra medals are earned for having a friend tag along. Also, the second player isn't given a chance to get XP for his/her tank, so unless that friend loves blasting enemies for the sake of blasting enemies, there isn't much of an incentive for a companion to suffer through the mode with you. The better co-op mode has you and three others blasting through several waves of enemies in three different environments. The rules still follow that of the campaign mode, where you only have two to three minutes to clear an area, and the areas feel constricted, but the availability of all weapon types makes it enjoyable for those who want to fight the CPU instead of each other.
Both traditional deathmatch and team deathmatch also make an appearance and follow the same restrictions as every other mode, where you only have two minutes to get as many kills as possible. The simplistic nature makes it easy for anyone to pick it up, but the real advantage of this mode is the fact that no other Wii U launch title features a four-player deathmatch mode. For those looking for a four-player shooter, this will tide you over until another one arrives.
The best multiplayer mode offered by Tank! Tank! Tank!, though, is My Kong. Here, the game is set up as a one-versus-three match where the first player takes on the role of a giant gorilla, complete with a self-portrait grafted on the face, while the other three players work together to take it down. As expected, the first player only uses the GamePad screen, but the role is fun because it offers something different from tank shooting. The large robotic ape can slam on the floor, perform shockwave attacks, and jump up to do a butt slam to repeatedly take out the tanks. There's even the chance to go into overdrive and fire lasers from your posterior, though all of these moves come with cooldown timers to ensure that you don't have more of an unfair advantage. It will likely be the multiplayer mode of choice for this game.
The only things that mar multiplayer are the lack of online play and the way offline play is handled. While the Wii U is almost positioning itself as a console dedicated to local multiplayer, having some sort of online play would be good in case your friends weren't available. While playing the game with a full set of four people is fun, the setup is a bit perplexing. No matter what, the first player always has a full view of the game with the GamePad's screen. However, the other three players must use the TV with three panes split vertically. The ratio for having three players on one widescreen TV gives the first player a clear advantage almost all of the time. It is bearable since the areas are rather tiny, but it would've made more sense to make mode five players so that a more traditional four-player split on the TV could've been utilized.
The controls are very simple since the only things you can do are move the tank in any direction with the d-pad or left analog stick, and hitting any button fires the tank's gun. You never have to worry about aiming since that's automatically done for you, and while you can stop to turn your turret, you don't do any strafing since your turret automatically turns forward once you move. The dumbing down of the controls makes things accessible for all players, but it also means that gamers who are used to controlling tanks in other games will be frustrated here.
The game supports just about every controller supported by the system — except for the Wii Nunchuks. For those using the Wii U Gamepad, though, don't expect any advantages because you have a second screen. Aside from seeing a graphic of your tank with a special weapon attached, don't expect to use the screen at all since it just displays useless gauges in an interface that seems to be there for show. Without the option to display the solo game on the gamepad, it feels like the developers missed taking advantage of one of the new console's strengths.
From a sound perspective, Tank! Tank! Tank! really dropped the ball in a few areas. The music is good enough, with a score that is typical Japanese arcade fare. Neither epic nor memorable, it tries to get you pumped for going into battle but gets a pass because it reminds you of older arcade games. The voice work is decent, as the delivery doesn't try to go over the top. It has a tendency to repeat during combat, though, and the fact that none of the cut scenes are voiced is disappointing. Also odd is the fact that both the GamePad and the TV speakers repeat the lines, creating a strange reverb effect as you're playing. The sound effects are fine, but the explosions and gunfire only play from the GamePad speakers instead of the normal speakers. As good as the GamePad speakers are, this decision robs the game of the bass normally associated with those elements, making them feel weaker in the process and dropping the excitement level for the game even further since there's not much of an audio payoff for firing or getting in a hit.
Graphically, the game feels right at home on a Nintendo console. Everything is set up with bright colors, and the geometry of just about every element is simple but functional. The designs for the enemies are quite good, and the little touches are nice (e.g., exoskeletons breaking apart after lots of damage, metallic feathers falling off). The gunfire and explosions litter the screen and look good doing so while you'll always see multitudes of enemies during certain situations. It isn't exactly representative of what the Wii U can do, but it handles the three-year old game well. You witness some instances where the game engine struggles to keep up, though, and the frame rate isn't always at 60, making you wonder if any time was spent optimizing the product.
In the end, Tank! Tank! Tank! could have been much better. From a single-player perspective — admittedly not the preferred way to play the game — the game is simply terrible. The artificial padding made to lengthen it is inexcusable from any perspective. Multiplayer is the only way to go for this game, and it is fun if you can deal with things like the odd screen placement for the other three players and lack of online play. With a fairly decent presentation, it makes for a fun party game if you're up for something a bit more violent. However, with the current price point of $50, it is impossible to recommend the title unless you need to have every game for the new system. The best thing to do is to wait for a severe price drop on what should've been a breakout title for the eShop.
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