Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
# of Players: 1 - 4
ESRB Rating: E10+ (Everyone 10+)
Score: B (80%)
As a launch title for the Wii U, Namco Bandai's TANK! TANK! TANK! may not look like a system seller, but look past its colorful arcade visuals and initially simple gameplay and you'll find a fast-paced (and 100% tank focused) party game shooter that owes more than a little credit to Sandlot's always fun Earth Defense Force series of games. In fact, the game manages to play almost exactly like an arcade version of EDF would, streamlining the experience down to timed stages, random weapon pickups that you can use instantly and a mix of assorted enemies from giant robotic spiders and wasps to some pretty wild bosses that need to be taken down as quickly as possible. Granted, blowing monsters into scrap metal over and over is all you do here in the main game whether playing in solo or co-op, so those seeking something deeper should look elsewhere. On the other hand, given that this is a rather enhanced port of an arcade game that offers much more than the original version, you SHOULD expect and respect the repetitive nature of the game to the fullest by diving in and shooting up the scenery as much as possible.
In the new solo or two-player co-op mode, you're tasked with blasting through 36 stages, all tightly timed and all pretty frantic. The first ten maps follow a pattern of standard enemies on one stage and a big boss fight on the next until the game cycles in a few new boss characters as well as differently colored and stronger enemies, some with boss fights in the same level. On the surface (and if you're a jaded and lazy reviewer who wants nothing but innovation), the game is dirt simple, but you'll soon find that all those tanks you've been unlocking are actually quite useful. There are five tank types here: Heavy tanks have more armor and firepower, but are slow, Mini tanks are muck more mobile but have weaker armor, Wheel tanks can drift when turning and have can take more damage than Light tanks. Hover tanks glide smoothly over different surfaces and generally have pretty powerful guns, while Assault tanks are balanced overall in terms of speed and armor.
I've never played this in the arcades (hell, try and find an arcade around here and I'll give you a whole dollar), but in doing a bit of research, I see that both the arcade and Wii U version have players snap photos of their faces and stick them into one of a nice selection of headgear. That's possibly one big (or the ONLY) reason there's no online play here, as one can only imagine what not so family friendly pics would be floating around online. Hey, I'm no prude, but I also trust not the online perverts with enough money to buy a Wii U and too much time for nastiness on their soon to be arrested hands, but I digress... Anyway, snap a picture (the game saves up to 16 before deleting the first image) and dive into the game for some boom time. One caveat here is whether in solo or co-op mode, Player Two can't choose his or her own tank. This is a bit silly, but I can see why it was done. Some of the more powerful tanks would make such short work of most stages that it would be possible to complete them in well under a minute.
You need to work a bit harder to get to a tank that can do that and as you gain better clear times, you're awarded BP that goes toward your selected tank's new levels. Some stages have a BONUS icon next to them where much more BP than usual is gained, so if there's a tank you want to give a big boost to, these maps are a must. Of course, you can play through the entire game with one tank at a time, but with new tanks automatically popping up as you earn enough coins, it's impossible to resist experimenting. Sure, some of those new tanks will have goofy weapons (one has a bugle for a main gun and another flings pizzas at enemies), but every tank is worth trying out because some are superior against certain enemies. Bosses on the other hand are given a huge advantage because standard guns do little damage. You need to rely on the random drops in the game in order to defeat them, which can be both fun and troublesome because it's entirely possible to not get enough good special weapons to take down the boss before time runs out.
Each tank type also has a certain number of lives allowed, so lose all your tanks and it's a mission failure. You can retry as many times as you like, a nice touch that keeps the game flowing (well, long load times between stages aside). It would have been nice to be able to jump back into a stage without the same short intros and loading screens (and in fact, some later stages start you out already on the map with no brief cinema running), but that's something a sequel can tackle if the game sells well enough to get one. As for multiplayer? it's actually quite fun as well with Monster Battle (the original arcade mode), Free for All, Team Versus and My Kong mode, all of which can be played split screen with bots or up to four players. My Kong is the most fun of the multiplayer games for my money as one player gets to be a giant metal gorilla going up against up to three other AI or live players. As Kong, you have to try and survive against the other tanks as they try to blast you into bits. Using the Wii U GamePad, you get a top-down view of the map and get to bash around Godzilla style as the other three players try to take you down in split screen on the TV.
Of course, if you're some nit-picky sourpuss looking to hate the game for its reliance on so much repetition, I'd have to ask you what the hell you're doing playing Angry Birds, Pac-Man, Ridge Racer, Street Fighter IV or any credit-chomping game game throughout history where doing the same thing over and over is a serious part of enjoying the experience. Yes, you need to level up all those tanks you unlock with earned coins, but as a huge fan of the intense grinding necessary to get through an EDF game, I had no problems replaying stages multiple times, especially when I ended up with tanks that could make short work of some previously tougher bosses. While the game runs pretty smoothly for the most part, there is some massive slowdown in a few stages where huge bosses are bashing around and blazing up the scenery with powerful beams and such. Again, EDF fans will get a chuckle here while perfectionists will grumble a bit too much.
Visually, the colors and effects pop off the screen, bosses go out in a hilarious shower of flying parts (save for a few stages where the camera doesn't catch the blast for some reason) and even in split screen the game manages to impress much of the time. You'll hear the same sounds and tunes repeated throughout the game, but you'll be so busy shooting that you probably won't even notice. It would have been nice to have more enemy types, some classic Namco characters as avatars (and/or choices for the missing online mode along with the random faces you'll see as bots) and some other stuff to extend the life of the game even further, but as it is this one will be guaranteed a ton of play if you like what you're getting.
My actual complaints about the game are few, but should probably be addressed if that sequel I'm hoping for gets greenlit. Why can't I use my Mii as an avatar? It would be REALLY nice if tanks had lateral movement, as not being able to strafe in the slower tanks is a bad thing with tougher bosses. Playing the entire game on the GamePad is fantastic as is being able to turn off the tilt sensor (your tanks will tilt to one side if you play lying down or in some other non-optimal position), but you should be able to choose both options BEFORE you start the game. Deleting photos from the Stock should be allowed (I have a photo of a wall I accidentally snapped) and yes indeed, the ability to create custom tanks, levels and perhaps even enemy types would be more than welcome.Again, this is probable sequel stuff, but it would have been great to see the dev team think of this while getting the game together. I've a few other ideas about improving the next game, but I'll keep them to myself for the moment...
So, buy or bust you ask? Well, I say buy IF you're a like-minded gamer who doesn't want only AAA blockbusters in your collection and you appreciate wacky games such as this one. As it stands, what's here is an excellently enhanced version of the arcade game that I think justifies its price point if you're one of those people who understands the true meaning of replay value. Blowing through a game once and trading it in is for suckers who can't grasp that a game isn't completed until everything that can be found is indeed found. By then, you'll appreciate and yes, keep something like this in your library because it's just too much fun to play and makes for something you'll bust out when company swings on by. Just stock on on a few extra Wii Remotes (or have any Wii-owning gamer friends tote theirs over) and you're all set.