Keiji Inafune’s contribution to LEVEL-5’s Guild02 series sees us whisked back to World War II, although in a fantastical setting of an alternate reality.
The year is 194x, and regional newspapers report of a tank battalion that mysteriously disappears. Whilst the military go on record to explicitly file them as being killed in action, we soon discover that they have actually been shrunk to the size of insects and are desperately fending for their own survival in the undergrowth.
Whilst such an outrightly absurd concept sounds like a military spin-off to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, the narrative forms a strong backbone to the experience – the German panzer platoon’s plight frightfully seeing them steal crackers from patrolling ants, whilst drinking dew droplets for nourishment.
Believing that the Allies were responsible they set out in their search for clues as to how to escape the situation, gathering supplies, seeking improved shelter, lumber to build defensive walls, and rescuing tanks trapped within monstrous spiderwebs. The bugs are ferociously overbearing, smaller ants being backed up by larger monstrosities that threaten to destroy your tank. Queen Ants, Honey Bees, and Mosquitoes are just examples of the varying foes that you will face.
Along the way, you’ll scout through mixed terrain across separate missions, either being key to the game’s plot or diversionary sub-missions. Each sees you traversing your environment in your chosen tank, of which the game boasts thirty customisable chassis and turrets, that can each receive be stylised with eighty paint jobs. These are unlocked either through natural progression or through their discovery having been scattered among the levels you face.
Steering your tank is a breeze, moving by using the Circle Pad whilst seeing you turn the turret through the A, X and Y buttons – players choosing whether to fire manually, or automatically whenever bugs get close. Once per mission, you can also slam the SOS button on the touchscreen, calling on your allies to bombard your location to help eradicate nearby bugs.
Mission completion sees you awarded a ranking dependent on the number of kills and the time taken for your efforts, with additional medals unlocked for the completion of objectives across the game – such as exterminating 1000 bugs, collecting all tanks, or clearing all missions.
Players with friends nearby can enjoy a co-operative four-player mode, whereas StreetPass support sees you calling for friendly cover fire from those that you meet.
Though BUGS vs. TANKS! suffers from repetition. Missions are largely similar, environments lack imagination, and there’s just not enough differentiation throughout the gameplay experience. It’s a shame as there’s plenty of potential around Inafune’s idea here, even if at concept level it isn’t entirely original.