Fighting giant bugs with military-grade hardware is a well-worn, yet ever enjoyable, trope. It’s one of those sci-fi staples. You can use the bugs to symbolize whatever you want them to be, you can’t sympathize with them over the humans, and they’re so gooey and wonderful when they pop that it’s always fun to see. You can sort of feel that’s where Keiji Inafune was trying for when he was coming up for the concept of Bugs vs. Tanks!, the new 3DS game from Level-5’s Guild 02 project.
Taking it back to World War II was also interesting, and as I watched the opening cinematic, it set up that the tanks were shrunk and they weren’t actually giant bugs, they were small tanks. I started playing, but then I started thinking… everyone is speaking German… it’s the Panzer squads…they said it was WWII….
Wait a minute. You play as Nazis in the game. As in, they’re the protagonist that you’re supposed to be protecting and working along with. And not just Nazis. Like… High command types. Of course in a tank game you’ll have Erwin Rommel. But there are others like Joachim von Ribbentrop. A couple of Ernsts. They only give first names, but still, it’s not hard to go “I recognize that name from my book of history’s greatest monsters.”
But what’s probably more bizarre about that is the fact that the developers never actually do anything with it. They don’t acknowledge it except in the fact that you mention the Allies as your enemies. So I played the whole thing wondering if they’d come up with anything. Was the ever-present insect scourge supposed to symbolize the Allies coming in and attacking the Germans? Was it supposed to have something to do with war atrocities?
It never really comes to a head or goes anywhere, though. It’s like they just said “We need tanks. Who used tanks? Germans in the war? Sure!” and then didn’t consider anything else about Germans in World War II. It’s a shame, because if they had, there’d be more to talk about with this game than the mediocre tank shooter that it ultimately is.
So the big issue with the game comes down to the fact that tanks kind of suck. They’re slow, they’re heavy, they turn weird, they have only one weapon that takes a long time to reload and it has to actually rotate around (slowly) to hit anything behind it. Sure, they’re good for what they’re used for (busting up other tanks/buildings/being fortified) but if you’re not fighting those, you have to deal with the fact that a lot of other things are faster and can get around you and outmaneuver you.
Things like bugs. There are several species of bugs, but since this is a video game, that means there are three types: regular ones, flying ones, and ones that take too long to kill and are super annoying. These get upgraded over time, just by introducing new species, and that got pretty annoying because your tank is just so weak. Of course, you can upgrade, but no matter what, the ones that take forever to kill still take a long time. And since the game defaults to automatic shooting, your job is mostly to point in a direction and have the game take care of firing for you. Not that switching into manual fire is much better– you still have to wait for it to reload, which feels like it saddles the line between simulation and arcade in a way that winds up, instead, landing on “the least interesting way it could have been done.”
Plus, the bugs are fast and can easily wrap around you, which takes you a longer time to deal with because you’re so slow. I found leaving it automatic worked because because then I could just blindly rotate when something showed up on my radar and it would just automatically shoot. Then I didn’t have to deal with it!
The main missions were either rescue, kill, or fight a boss, and most of these took place in the same maps. Only the bosses were somewhere different, but those were weird because the bosses were too big. They’d scuttle around and seem to forget about me, and I just got in shots until they remembered me or died. The other missions were ok, and even the timed ones were easy to explore and find secrets before time ran out.
There’s just nothing remarkably good or bad about it. I enjoyed certain levels for their gimmicks, as it made you have to consider more than just shooting, e.g. a level on top of a series of tree branches where if you fall off, you die, so you have to consider recoil and pathing on your way. Upgrading provided some of the most fun, but mostly because it meant that more bugs died quicker. I guess that’s the point of war, but for me, it meant less having to deal with annoying enemies. It was fun to get super powerful and just roll through the more basic enemies, but after that, and especially in the extra missions after the game, it’s just not lasting enough.
Though I wish it had addressed in some way the fact that you’re playing as Nazis in the game, it’s a decent enough little thing with a bunch of short levels. The game doesn’t really introduce much new even by the end. You fight bugs until the credits roll, and if that doesn’t hook you at the beginning, then you’re especially not going to love it by the time you’ve played the game for its 4 hour run time.