Review: BUGS vs. TANKS! (3DS eShop)

Repellant

The Guild01 series brought 3DS owners three completely different, off-the-wall, and well-received games. The second iteration of this series, appropriately named Guild02, is already off to another fantastic start with the recent release of The Starship Damrey, a story-heavy science fiction adventure. Now, we’re lucky enough to experience the work of Keiji Inafune, legendary designer and producer of the Mega Man series. But does this game live up to what one might expect from such an experienced member of the video game industry, or should it be squashed from existence?

BUGS vs. TANKS! provides exactly what the title promises. Playing as World War II era German soldiers who have been mysteriously shrunk down to insect size, your goal is to survive the rough terrain and exterminate killer bugs before they do the same to you. The plot may seem tongue-in-cheek at a glance, but it actually deals with such heavy themes as the importance of camaraderie and survival at all costs. It’s unfortunate that this title doesn’t boast the gameplay to back up the plot and create a well-rounded experience.

What the gameplay comes down to is top-down shooting, and it never manages to evolve from there. While it could be praised for its simplicity, the fact is that everything quickly becomes repetitive and even boring. Before long the missions begin to feel like chores that you must work through in order to further unfold the plot's mystery. There are 40 story missions to play through, but none of them last longer than about 5 minutes, meaning that most players will be able to easily run through the campaign in just under 4 hours. There are also co-op missions that exist outside of the campaign that accommodate up to four players, but each player will need to own a copy of BUGS vs. TANKS!, as it does not support download play.

No matter what difficulty you choose to play on, the missions gradually and steadily become more challenging. To counter this, completing missions or finding abandoned tanks throughout certain stages reward you with new parts that you can use to customize your artillery. Though customizations are limited to simply your tank's body, turret, and paint job, there are enough parts available to create and save different types of tanks for any situation that you may face.

The biggest hindrance holding this game back is a complete lack of direction once you’ve entered a mission. A brief dialogue scene prefaces each stage explaining that your job is to collect stray soldiers or destroy a certain amount of anthills, but you’re essentially left to your own devices as soon as the level begins. In one mission in particular, you are tasked with rescuing four tanks in under three minutes, but there is no in-game collection counter, and the missing tanks are not marked on the touchscreen’s mini-map, causing the entire mission to be a mad scramble to find as many tanks as possible without knowing how many you have left to collect, or if you’re just treading the same ground over and over again. While some stages do have a rendezvous point marked on your map, these are usually the more linear missions that wouldn’t require map assistance anyway. Instead of making missions more difficult or giving players the feeling of freedom, this strange imbalanced lack of features instead makes missions seem aimless, causing unnecessary wandering.

The controls have a tendency to be a bit frustrating, but they work quite well for how you might imagine a tank would maneuver. The body of your tank is controlled using either the Circle Pad or the D-Pad while Y and A are used to rotate your turret from left to right. You also have the option of controlling the direction of your turret using the 3DS’s touchscreen, a system that works much quicker than holding down the hard buttons. Pressing R will shoot a missile, or holding the trigger button down will instead prevent missiles from firing if you have it set to automatically shoot. Overall, this control scheme works well and does its part to reflect the feeling of being in control of such a lumbering machine.

Working in correspondence with the controls to create a certain atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re part of the action, the graphics are just as immersive. All of the tank and bug models are detailed enough to easily distinguish one type of creature from another, and the 3D effect makes the environments come alive. The soundtrack also does its part to lend to this overall aesthetic, and the sound of insect legs scampering through the grass around you is sure to make your skin crawl.

Conclusion

While the basic concept and gameplay may be enticing for many players, the fact is that BUGS vs. TANKS! is a repetitive and overly simplistic experience. The campaign is short and involves a plot that delves much deeper than simple survival, but the gameplay quickly becomes boring and loses its charm. That's not to say that this is a bad or broken game, but it falls flat in its attempts to create an experience that is both engaging and fun.

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