Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Cared?
When I was but a wee little gamer, one of the most exciting Christmases of my young life was the year that my brother and I got our first ever game console: An Atari 2600. This astounding piece of technology featured 8-bit graphics, a full 128 bytes of RAM, midi sound, and came with a free game cartridge: Combat. My very first video game – I remember it well. I can’t tell you how many hours we wasted, er, spent maneuvering behind barricades and decimating each other with little ricocheting missiles. It was, quite literally, a blast.
[image1]Fast forward to 2007. Called upon to review Tank Beat, I slipped the mini cartridge into my DS and booted up the game. Almost immediately, I was flooded with memories of the happy hours I spent shooting my friends while playing Combat.
Unfortunately, the comparison does not reflect well on Tank Beat. Let’s compare:
Let’s start with the controls. In Tank Beat, you use the touch pad to give orders to your tank (or tanks, if you’re lucky enough to have an ally). You draw a line indicating where you want the tank to move, switch to attack mode, and then poke at the enemy tanks to fire at them. It’s simple, and works well. Too well, in fact. The enemy AI apparently missed the part of training where they learned how to shoot at moving targets, so winning any battle is a breeze – simply draw a circle around the tank you want to destroy and keep tapping on it until it explodes. You win, and take zero damage. Isn’t that fun?
You can also play Tank Beat over your WiFi with friends or strangers online. This is assuming, of course, that you can find someone willing to play this game with you, which is a challenge. If facing charges of kidnapping and armed assault doesn’t faze you, and you do captur… find a human opponent, the game does get a bit more difficult as you strategize your military maneuvers. It doesn’t, however, get more fun.
In Combat, you push the joystick to move and push the button to shoot. I mostly played against my four-year-old brother, who had marginally better strategy than the stand-in-one-place-and-fire-at-where-the-target-isn’t approach of the Tank Beat A.I.. But, to be fair, Tank Beat offers a lot more options, so it gets the point. Tank Beat: 1; Combat: 0.
[image2]Then there’s the story line. In Tank Beat, you play Vill Vitt, a young recruit just learning how to drive the mighty tank. During your training, a neighboring country invades your fledgling nation, and you are called upon to use your nascent tank skills to save townspeople, defeat bad guys, and generally blow things up. In true low-budget Japanese action import fashion, the story line is largely unintelligible, featuring a bunch of unmoving, indistinguishable characters communicating their “dialogue” in phrases that only vaguely resemble English sentences.
In Combat, you play a tank. Your goal: kill other tank. Gotta give Combat the edge on this one. Tank Beat: 1; Combat: 1.
Tie score, huh? Well, surely the graphics will set these two games apart. In Tank Beat, the top screen of the DS shows your position from a first-person perspective. The graphics here almost passable, but it doesn’t really matter since you won’t spend much time looking at them. Why not? Because that would get you killed. As it turns out, all of the action in Tank Beat is controlled on the lower screen, which looks more like a boring radar map, with flat, single-colored backgrounds, geometric shapes representing obstacles, and dots you poke marking the tanks.
In Combat, you get flat, single-colored backgrounds, geometric shapes representing obstacles, and dots marking the tanks. Uh, I guess we’ll have to call that one a tie. Tank Beat: 2; Combat: 2.
Well, how about sound, then? In Tank Beat, frankly the sound is a bit underwhelming. Utterly forgettable music, tepid explosions, and limp voice acting place this title clearly in the ‘mediocre’ category.
[image3]Combat: “Booooop, boooop, boop, boop, bip, bip, bip, BLAAAAM!” It’s as simple as it gets. I’ll have to call this another tie. Tank Beat: 3; Combat: 3.
What’s left to judge on, then? Ummmm… I know! The title! Combat is a clear, descriptive title. You know just what you’re going to get in this game. Combat! Fighting things!
With Tank Beat, however, I spent a lot of time pondering why the developers chose this name. “Tank” makes sense, of course, but “Beat”? Part of me was secretly hoping that there would be a Dance Dance Revolution level to the game where I would have to move my tank around to the “beat” of some uplifting military march, but no such luck. Is it because it’s so very, very easy to “beat” the slack-jawed computer opponents? Does it refer to the journalistic tone of the narrator, who may very well be covering the tank “beat”? Or perhaps it reflects the irresistible urge players have to “beat” themselves over the head with their DS within five minutes of inserting the game cartridge. I guess we’ll never know. But Combat clearly gets the point here.
Final score: Tank Beat: 3; Combat: 4.
So there you have it folks. When compared to a game released in 1977 that was really only one step more complex than Pong, Tank Beat got… beat.