You cannot accuse Level 5’s Guild series of being uninteresting. Oddball shooters, creepy abandoned spacecraft, and now: Honey, I Shrunk The Nazis! And no, you didn’t read that wrong, that’s really what this game is about. Keiji Inafune’s 3DS debut places the gamer in the distinctly awkward position of having to take control of a World War II Panzer battalion. But don’t panic – you aren’t expected to carry out any atrocities, thanks to the science-fictiony plot that sees the German lads miniaturised and placed in vehicular combat with all manner of creepy crawlies that tower over the humans. It wouldn’t be the first time a Japanese developer has taken the slightly tasteless path of toying with Nazi themes – ace helicopter shmup Under Defeat was also guilty. But let’s face it, the outlandish plot and miniaturisation concept is something Hitler would have been bang into, given his notorious love of the occult.
Bugs vs. Tanks! would probably dearly love to be a scaled-down, isometric stab at Earth Defence Force-esque bug-blasting fun, but it fails to match the gung-ho, balls-out fun of a Sandlot shooter. You control a tank using the circle pad, with the face buttons used to rotate the turret and R trigger used to fire your main weapon. You can also engage automatic fire, but this strips away part of a game that is already simplistic and lacking in content.
Rather than focusing on pure blasting, the game offers a number of different missions types, such as fetch sorties to pick up food and water for your crew, “last stand” missions where you have to defend your base, rescuing missing comrades, and encounters with huge “boss” invertebrates. Along the way you encounter other obstacles which normal-sized folk wouldn’t think twice about, yet present potentially fatal outcomes for the micro-Nazis – such as raindrops which you have to hide under foliage in order to avoid. Wherever this lark is taking place must be in the proximity of a heavy smoker from the future, as the landscape is littered with modern-style filter-tipped cigarette butts. The little tanks and bugs themselves look quite nice and are adequately animated, but don’t expect dazzling visuals; at times with the muddy looking jungle and crude art design you could be forgiven for thinking you were playing a PS1 game.
You are eased into the action with some simple tasks to carry out, but things soon become extremely unforgiving – bugs swarm your vehicle and it is very awkward aiming at them once they are in close proximity to the tank. Your vision is limited, and the tank sprite takes up a big chunk of the top screen, so most of the time you cannot see enemies before they attack unless you check out the blips on the radar. Admittedly, if you were in a real tank then you wouldn’t expect perfect 20/20 vision and a clean view of everything around you, but in a game where you get ganged up on by an anthill of six-legged soldiers whilst being dive bombed by bees, it makes for a frustrating experience.
Insects attack mercilessly, to the point that when you are surrounded, even the “SOS” smart bomb you can use once per stage becomes pretty useless. The AI of the critters is a huge problem that makes some passages of Bugs vs Tanks! a real chore. You will encounter missions where your orders will recommend that you do not engage the enemy, suggesting that some stealth is required; however, it is actually impossible to avoid combat, as you will be immediately attacked the instant you move within range of any foe. You will lose count of how many times the insultingly bad in-game speech will offer up a high pitched Germanic English cry of “Ve’re SURROOOUNDED!” during even the most gentle water-carrying mission. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if your firepower was up to the task, but the equipment you begin with is underpowered and slow to reload. Some of the ants you encounter early doors take three or more direct hits to put down, meaning that if you are surrounded or backed into a corner (which happens often as basic obstacles are not shown on the radar/map on the bottom screen) then you have no chance.
Along the way you can find broken down tanks which can be plundered for parts and weapon upgrades, and completing missions also unlocks tank components and different colour schemes for your vehicles. There is a surprising amount of depth involved here, with true-to-life WWII tanks featured and a lot of different chassis and turrets to play with. As the missions are graded according to performance and time taken, re-doing the earlier missions once you have switched up to a badass new set of wheels (well, tracks) is actually quite rewarding. There are some other nice little touches – local multiplayer looks like it could be fun, and there is a StreetPass feature that allows you to call in artillery strikes from nearby players.
It all remains too difficult, however – and about half way through the 25+ stages you hit a spike where the overwhelming insectoid assault becomes almost too much to bear. In short bursts, it sometimes works – fighting through a particularly hostile wave of enemies to emerge victorious in one of the latter stages can feel satisfying. But there are too many problems. It looks pretty dreadful, for a start. The view doesn’t make anything approaching the best use of the top half of the 3DS clamshell. And say what you like, but the choice of protagonists also sits uncomfortably – even if they do sound like they were stolen from ‘Allo ‘Allo, with their emotive, borderline offensive chirruping.
VERDICT: Bugs vs. Tanks! is a frustrating, often ugly game that fails to impress on almost every front. And say what you like, but the choice of protagonists also sits uncomfortably – even if they do sound like they were stolen from ‘Allo ‘Allo, with their emotive, borderline offensive chirruping. Given his pedigree, which includes the thousands of Megaman/Rockman games, as well as brave, modern standouts like Asura’s Wrath and the recent Soul Sacrifice, you would have expected more from Inafune-san.
POOR. Games tagged 4/10 will be playable, perhaps even enjoyable, but will be let down by a slew of negative elements that undermine their quality and value. Best avoided by any but hardcore genre fans.