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BUGS vs. TANKS! - 3DS Download Review

Game Info

3DS Download | LEVEL-5 / Comcept | 1-4 Players (co-operative play) | Out Now | $7.99 / £7.19 | StreetPass Support
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21st June 2013; By KnucklesSonic8

If Honey, I Shrunk the Kids were to get a videogame adaptation, I'm sure it would turn out something like BUGS vs. TANKS! -- once you take away the warfare references, that is. Keiji Inafune, the man who created Mega Man and helped usher in other well-known franchises, serves as the talented mastermind behind BUGS vs. TANKS!, a unique twist on tank warfare with a quirky, historical backdrop (see: World War II events gone wrong). It's a nonsensical concept, made all the more improbable by its dedicated time frame. But that is precisely what helps the game excel to begin with, using this as a springboard to service its terror-inspiring "reality." All this potential, though, is wasted on a game so wrapped up in its own one-sided joke that it not only fails to grasp the bigger picture, its abrasive disposition seriously hampers the entire cause.

    A microscopic game world has been constructed to cement the exaggerated size ratio, environments where cigarette butts, cans, logs, and a continued mix of litter and aesthetics could function as monuments for a civilization. With this comes the fright of seeing ants, mosquitoes, queen bees, and tarantulas all enlarged and on full display from the view of, as far as the player is concerned, an insect. If you have even mild phobia to bugs, this isn't a game you'll feel even remotely comfortable playing -- shivers ran down my back much of the time. As you can imagine, the constant danger and need for awareness posed by such a unsettling environment is only helped by 3D, with it extending already-enormous spider legs so that they protrude from the 3D Screen, and also having physically domineering moths and hornets take up space ahead of what's on-screen. Decapitations of insects aren't gruesome, but you will see thin limbs flutter out and the occasional fluid spew forth after an insect's body is punctured. At the very least, most of the depictions of the enemy models do have some real-life likeness to them.

Navigating around this terrestrial jungle is made less intimidating by the fact that paths are carved into the ground for you to travel along, often with dirt walls, grass or other organic barriers to confine your movement. Relying on the Touch Screen radar will become more crucial as you go along, as you only have the presence of enemies to go by when searching for something specific. Even then, this isn't entirely reliable, as blockades are not accounted for, and there is a delay between when the enemy is vanquished to the time its marker disappears from the radar. This in fact presents problems in certain missions, as you'll later find out.

    With regard to touring and determining the scope of your surroundings, the L Button will provide a broader view of the map. However, the direct camera you must work with is fixed to a set viewpoint -- one that is very limiting, to be perfectly honest. What is more, your perspective is limited even further when attempting to attack from behind. Something tells me this was done with intent so as to produce feelings of tension, but all it goes is frustrate -- for reasons I'll soon get into.

    Your chosen tank comes equipped with a rotating turret, controlled using Y, A and X -- for counter-clockwise, center, and clockwise movement, respectively. Touch controls can be used in place of buttons, but seeing as movement is tied to the Circle Pad and the R Button is used to shoot, you're better off not going this route for comfort sake. If ever you're in dire straits, you can hit the SOS Button on the Touch Screen to call a brigade in to deal heavy damage to all enemies in the area, but its usage is limited to once per mission.

The game pushes its customization element with each new mission you undertake, opening up the option of switching out your chassis, turret, and shell type for one that offers a better advantage for what your objective is. Defense is needed the most with unit recovery missions, while speed should be your priority for ones where you must defend your force's camp. New parts are acquired by discovering abandoned tanks, often found in isolated pits and bunkers within specified missions. As well, if you have save data from one game belonging to LEVEL-5's original trio of Guild titles, you can get a head start with some complimentary parts.

    Regardless of the combination you choose, the controls are tolerable at best. Stiff motions are somewhat understandable, but in a game world where action comes miles before thought in importance, it tends to create problems, furthered by the fact that the process of controlling your tank is rather clunky for how it's been realized. Also, mobility is awfully irregular, with traction being horrible in places and physics being really off when attempting hill climbs or trying to escape shallow craters. This, however, is not where the game errs the most.

    Mission directives aren't exactly robust, but there's a decent variation of tasks, from scavenging for commodities, to recovering stranded scouts, and responding to distress signals. No mission ever exceeds ten minutes in length, and it's common for them to be completed in half that time. But while their duration may not try your patience, the circumstances do.

    Rescuing comrades on a giant spider web sounds like a pretty entertaining prospect...until you realize that the tarantula shows very little restraint, making it a case where you're on edge much of the time, if not anxiously trying to break away from its vicious attacks. Another demands that you hide underneath foliage in set locations so as not to suffer harm from the intermittent stormy weather, but the rain puts on a front where drops begin anew just when you see a break in the pattern. As well, players will find themselves constantly on the verge of disaster when asked to defend their base from waves of enemies large and small. Even considering that the waves predictably follow a set pattern each time you attempt the mission, these join boss battles in being among the most unbalanced missions the game has to offer. The fault, though, is not with the organization itself, but rather the conditions players are exposed to under these contexts -- here is where the major problems lie.

Enemy AI is very erratic in nature, but the bugs are also extremely territorial, to the point that they will waste no time in ravaging your tanks. Regardless of the mission, confrontation is unavoidable. Avoidance will only worsen the situation, as insects will continue pursuing you from behind, moving at robotic yet swift speeds so that you're forced to acknowledge their presence when you stop accelerating. I can understand this with some of the flying enemies, but still, even these merciless pursuers are aggravating. And it's not even that this is individual or exclusive to enemies that are more irritable than the rest. It's also not because you took a wrong turn or otherwise provoked such a reaction. No, in every single mission, enemies bombard and overwhelm you to a torturous extent. It becomes absolutely unbearable and completely erodes whatever thrill you might have had in the early part of the experience getting accustomed to the unusual environment. And there's really very little easing up on the game's part.

What only exacerbates the issue is the fact that, for starters, these are tight quarters you're having to weave through. While there are open areas to speak of, it's a dominant feature that the paths you travel down are narrow and without many openings. Adding to this is the fact that few opportunities exist for cover purposes. There's little-to-no strategy to be employed as you traverse these fields, with combat always being close and in-your-face. Even when trying to use things like a small trunk for a breather, enemies can still hurt you just by being near or atop it.

    When the setting changes and you have to drive across tree branches, it becomes that much more maddening, with ground-bound (ants, termites) and airborne foes (bees, moths) coming at you from every angle. I mean, it's just ridiculous -- incomprehensibly so. With insects being in hot pursuit, you can just imagine what might unfold upon reaching a dead-end. By the same token, players are left feeling helpless when boss battles roll around, often being unable to escape the offensive grip of these fearsome bullies. These are conditions that invariably crowd out any room for fun, and because of this, the game is a serious pain to play; a real relief when missions conclude with success after multiple failed attempts.

    Throughout BUGS vs. TANKS!, you'll find that a greater number of missions follow the same template -- begin your mission from the exact same starting position and explore the same surroundings, perhaps from a different view or with a new path. By nature of this fact, it's hard to not feel the bug of repetition creep up on you -- and rather early, too. As well, the music largely remains the same, and both the sound effects and some of the repeating voice clips can be irksome at times. That already doesn't help matters, but then there's the fact that the music fails to relay any sort of tension or fear, or convince players of any real feeling to enhance the environment. Its contentment with being little more than filler in comparison to the continuous stream of sound effects is a problem on its own.

Just to elaborate more on the variation of the environment, it should be noted that the terrain does change on a few occasions, with a level sometimes being set in a desert or swamp, or above-ground in a tree of sorts. In most cases, though, the colour scheme is washed-out and not well-lit, the textures are often rugged and worn-down, and the finer details aren't visually appealing, with dewdrops looking more like pebbles. The framerate also shows weakness in a few places, but its hiccups can be forgiven for not being a frequent issue.

    In terms of how its content will be evaluated, BUGS vs. TANKS! is comprised of 40 missions in all, nine of which are supplementary to the main campaign. Within that same progression will you also discover a variety of paint jobs to apply to your tank and have the option of aiming for S Ranks on all the missions you previously cleared, in addition to progress-marking medals. On the side, multiplayer has you and up to three friends teaming up in co-op missions, each participant requiring their own copy of the game. And too, StreetPass makes it possible for those who share data to have an upgrade to the SOS lifeline on-hand, offering a one-time boost. So if the single-player doesn't completely sour your experience, there may be some fleeting amounts of fun outside the central component.

    Those of LEVEL-5's efforts extracted from the Japan-only Guild compilations have landed on all areas of the spectrum as they've been received by Western markets. And by all means, you can strike this as a miss, where the pedigree its creators brought to the table has proved insufficient to enliven a fresh new concept. Whatever the criteria, you'll struggle to find much good in BUGS vs. TANKS!. It's horribly unbalanced; the design is problematic to its very core; and the fun factor is incredibly staggered, if not hanging by a thread. All of these have a detrimental effect on the whole affair, and besides players just being ill-equipped for the lunacy of the game's unreasonable demands, there's little here beyond unending frustration and disappointment that warrants any kind of investment.

13/30 - Very Poor

Gameplay 4/10 - Clunky controls and other inconsistencies, viewpoint and setting limitations, bad design stemming from AI, problematic conditions
Presentation 5/10 - Some good accomplished with enemy models, helped by 3D, detail not very appealing, audio doesn't satisfy, framerate hiccups
Enjoyment 1/5 - Design presents recurring problems that frustrate, merciless pursuers chase fun away, decent mission selection with some variation
Extra Content 3/5 - An assortment of missions to last several hours, off-putting to return given what you must put up with, co-operative multiplayer

Equivalent to a score of 43% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

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