Keiji Inafune has had a lot to say about the state of the Japanese video game industry in recent years, and little of it is positive. His biggest complaint is that Japanese developers are afraid to evolve, instead trying to live off of their past glories, and he feels that fresh new concepts with a global appeal are what Japan needs. This viewpoint led to Inafune’s departure from Capcom and the creation of comcept, a brand new development house dedicated to pursuing his vision. Bugs vs. Tanks! is one of comcept’s first games, and to be quite honest, it is not exactly what I envisioned when I first heard Inafune’s strong words. But is it any good?
Ants don’t seem to cuddly anymore, do they?!.
Bugs vs. Tanks! is the second game to release in the second set of publisher Level 5’s Guild series (The Starship Damrey being the first in set two), and it involves a World War II German panzer tank battalion who has been mysteriously shrunken against their will. They blame a secret weapon of the Allied forces, of course, and seek to enact revenge. But before any vengeance schemes can be seriously considered, they must first deal with the immediate threat, which is, naturally, the now deadly bugs. You play as a Sergeant in the battalion, and with the help of two crewmen named Ernst and Joachim, you will guide your tank through various missions, all of which involve either avoiding or killing giant bugs. Haven’t you always wanted to control a bunch of tiny Nazis fighting against bugs? (Yeah yeah I know, not everyone in the German army was technically part of the Nazi party. In fact, Bugs vs. Tanks! never even mentions the Nazis.)
On a presentation level, Bugs vs. Tanks! leaves a bit to be desired. The graphics, especially the muddy textures, are very reminiscent of early 3D era games, and in 2013 that can be tough to stomach. If Bugs vs. Tanks! at least had a unique art style, I don’t think the low tech graphics would matter as much, but it plays things very stylistically straight for such an otherwise bizarre concept. I’m not saying that this gets in the way of the gameplay, but if you’re looking to be graphically impressed, this is not the game to look to. At least the music isn’t bad, if a bit predictable with its military flair.
I understand that tanks are not supposed to be the easiest vehicles to control, but the tank controls in Bugs vs. Tanks! can be downright frustrating at times. They’re not what I would call bad, per se, but they’re not particularly good either, and when bugs are coming at you from all sides, you start to wish that you had a bit more maneuverability at your disposal. You move your tank with the analog stick, move the barrel left, right, and center with the face buttons, and shoot shells with the shoulder buttons (you can also give up control of shooting shells to the AI, more on this later.) It can be difficult to actually hit a bug unless you get into the right spot, and certain bugs are constantly moving at a pretty fast pace, so having tighter controls would definitely have been appreciated. Still, they’re not broken, and with a bit of work they can get the job done.
Joachim: King of the obvious.
The main campaign of Bugs vs. Tanks! takes place over the course of 31 missions, with an additional 9 bonus missions that are accessible after you defeat the final boss. There are a variety of mission types, and they generally come down to killing X amount of a certain bug, collecting Y amount of a certain item, defending your base from attack, search and rescue missions, traveling from point A to point B, or fighting a boss. Certain missions, like the search and rescue missions, have a time limit attached to them, forcing you to act quickly and efficiently.
There are only a handful of environments in the game, which is a bit of a shame, and things can definitely start to feel repetitive at times. Especially strange is that the first 16 missions all take place in the same grassland environment; that is more than half of the main campaign, and I went through it wondering if the entire game took place in this environment before more environments were finally introduced. In addition to the grassland, the environments include the treetops, a desert, a marsh, and a base. For the most part the environments themselves are not very exciting, with the exception of the treetops; riding a tiny tank around in a tree is a pretty novel idea, though challenging.
Generally the core gameplay comes down to kill bugs or avoid bugs (mostly kill bugs), although a few other neat ideas slip in, such as missions that require you to take cover periodically to avoid being hit by giant raindrops. There are large variety of bugs that are slowly introduced throughout the course of the game, and many of them come in various colors and sizes: ants, bees, mosquitoes, moths, caterpillars, termites, snails (is a snail really a bug?), and more. You will definitely have your work cut out for you handling them all.
Chinese chassis, German turret, American skin. F yeah!
Bugs vs. Tanks! also has a fair amount of customization, allowing you to unlock new tank parts (by discovering abandoned tanks), as well as change the skin of your tank. The tank parts will affect things like power, defense, and speed, and I found myself switching parts constantly based on the type of mission that I was taking on. The skins are merely cosmetic but can be fun to mess around with, and there are some pretty odd skin choices (for a tank), such as polka dots, hearts, and a “psychedelic” skin, offering a bit of zaniness in a game that otherwise presents itself as more serious than I initially expected. You can also unlock a gold tank if you have a save file from any of the Guild01 games. Finally, you can choose between two shell types (exploding and piercing), as well as choose whether to control your own shell shots or let the AI shoot for you. The former is a lot more fun in my eyes (and the way that I primarily played), but the latter becomes almost a necessity for certain missions, including an end boss whom I think may be borderline impossible without the AI controlling the shooting.
Although the first few missions aren’t too bad, Bugs vs. Tanks! can be an incredibly tough game at times, and this is even after I felt compelled to switch the difficulty level down to “easy” (something that I almost never do in games.) One of my major issues with the game is that if you get cornered or, even worse, surrounded (both of which happen a lot considering how unwieldy your tank is and how quick and populous the bugs can be), there really isn’t that much that you can do other than sit there unable to move and get slaughtered, and this can be very frustrating. This is doubly true for a lot of the boss fights, where the boss bug will be about 10x bigger and faster than you, and it was often unclear to me what the developers expected me to do to not just get constantly mauled. In the end, I ended up beating most of the bosses through AI exploits, and I’m honestly not sure if some of them would been possible to defeat otherwise. There is an SOS option that will call in backup support to help clear things up, but it has limited range and power and you can only use it once per mission (there is a way to get more through StreetPass, but what are the chances of that happening?), so you can’t really rely on it too much. I died way too many times in this game feeling like I had little to no control over what had just happened.
Once this happens you may as well just give up, you’re not getting out.
Another issue that I found in Bugs vs. Tanks! was that the game doesn’t always give you clear feedback. There was an early lumber collecting mission that I wasted a lot of time on because I didn’t realize that I had to blow up certain small chunks of wood that I had shot a few times before with little noticeable effect. Certain objects can be used for decent cover (cigarette butts work surprisingly well), while the bugs walk right through other objects that you would expect would provide cover. Probably the place where I wanted more feedback the most was during the various base defense missions. Many of these are already incredibly difficult and frustrating enough without making it next to impossible to tell when you’re about to lose the mission.
In addition to the main campaign, there is a co-op mode that has 15 missions which can be played with 1 to 4 players. This mode plays out about how you would expect, with the one strategic element being that you can pass your “leader flag” between tanks to determine who the bugs will focus their aggro on. Unfortunately, this is local co-op only, and requires each player to have their own copy of the game. You can try to play the co-op missions single player, but they are hard as nails without some help.
I’m actually a bit torn on how I feel about Bugs vs. Tanks! With 40 single player missions, 15 co-op missions, a host of customization options and StreetPass functionality, this is definitely one of the meatiest Guild experiences yet. I love the concept, and for the most part the core gameplay was enjoyable. On the flipside, the presentation is kind of so so, there are a limited amount of environments, the gameplay can be very repetitive (especially early on), the controls are a bit iffy and the game can be incredibly frustrating at times, even on the easiest difficulty level. If the concept sounds neat and you’re willing to put up with losing some missions in ways that will make you want to bang your head against the wall at times, there is enjoyment to be had here. Just be prepared to slog through some slow, repetitive stages early on before the game opens itself up a bit. I’m not totally convinced that Bugs vs. Tanks! represents an industry-changing vision that Keiji Inafune keeps talking about, but it is still worth taking a peek at.
How does it feel now that the tables have turned, bug?
@Layth Mission length really depends on the mission, some of the timed / point A to point B missions you can finish in a couple of minutes, but a lot of the kill X / collect Y missions are much longer... especially if you get lost, as I did sometimes (there is a map, but it kind of all blurs together at times.)
It also depends heavily on the difficulty level and whether you choose automatic or manual firing.
I finished all 31 main missions and about 3 or 4 of the bonus missions playing most of them on easy with manual firing, and my play time is over 9 hours, so I'd say that by the time I complete all of the single player missions it will easily be over 10 hours for me, and if you can find someone to do the co-op with you (good luck!) I imagine that will add a few more hours. Definitely the meatiest of the Guild titles that I have played (the other two being Liberation Maiden and The Starship Damrey, and honestly this game is bigger than both of those combined.)
As for replay, you get a letter grade for each mission but I'm honestly not sure if there is any real advantage to going back and getting better grades. Maybe more skins for the tanks?
@chrisbg99 They're not really in alliance, there are a bunch of trapped bugs in the spider web...
Hm, interesting, I was really interested in this game until I saw the screen shots, I'm not sure I can deal with those N64 textures, and it seems totally needless to me since we know the 3DS could easily display something much higher fidelity. Maybe this was originally planned as a DS game and that is why it looks that way.