This dual-stick shooter is fun for a while, but it gets old and overcomplicated fast.
- Multiplayer modes are fun for a time
- Some of the early Campaign levels are good.
- AI enemies and teammates are pretty stupid
- Later Campaign levels are too dependent on luck
- Some power-ups are overpowered, others are useless in most situations.
Tank Battles is a game that's every bit as straightforward as its title suggests--at least initially. This dual-stick shooter starts out simple, with tanks taking shots at one another on battlefields that feature very few obstacles, hazards, or power-ups. The early going in the Campaign mode isn't challenging in the slightest, but it's fun, which is why it's unfortunate that as later levels introduce new features, they become overly complicated and the fun gives way to frustration. Multiplayer battles don't suffer from that problem, but they place so much importance on power-ups that luck--rather than skill--often plays too big a part in determining the victor.
Controlling your tank could hardly be simpler: You use the left analog stick to move and the right analog stick to aim and, if you opt to play without a fire button, shoot. You can drop mines behind your tank with a quick press of the circle or L2 button as well, which can be useful in multiplayer games but serve little purpose in Campaign levels where many of your enemies are stationary turrets. Friendly fire is an ever-present cause for concern because you can not only get blown up by your own mines, but your projectile attacks also rebound off certain surfaces and have a habit of coming back to haunt you if you're not careful. A limit on the number of projectiles that you can have flying around at any time prevents the action from getting too crazy, but they move a lot faster than your tank does, so even ninjalike reflexes often aren't enough to get you out of a tight spot. Your best bet is often to shoot down projectiles with more projectiles, which is easier than you might think.
Being able to shoot down projectiles is all well and good when doing so is a last resort, but all too often, this ability results in a stalemate of sorts as tanks fire at each other while their shells cancel each other out. Temporary power-ups alleviate this problem, and some are so overpowered that even acquiring them for a short time can make a massive difference. Others are only useful in very specific circumstances. For example, the "rate of fire" power-up is arguably the best there is because it not only increases the speed at which you can fire multiple shells, but it also increases the number of shells that you can have flying simultaneously. Invisibility, on the other hand, is great for getting up close to unsuspecting AI tanks, but it's worthless in multiplayer games because your opponents can see the same translucent version of your tank as you. This is unavoidable if you're playing on the same console but unnecessary online. Other temporary power-ups include flamethrowers, homing missiles, speed boosts, and invincibility.
In Campaign mode, particularly in the later levels, getting the right random power-up at the right time is often the difference between success and failure. Toward the end of the game, levels feel more like puzzles than open battlefields, and not finding the right power-up for the job might make you feel like you're trying to finish a jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing. If you're riding a conveyor belt surrounded by mines past a dozen or so enemy turrets, then picking up a speed boost and a rocket launcher won't do you much good. But if you grab some homing missiles and increase your rate of fire, you're set. Even the toughest levels that Tank Battles has to offer wouldn't be frustrating if you could take a patient approach to beating them, but many throw you into the fray from the get-go, and all 50 are played against a time limit of just two minutes. The timer is a necessary evil given how common stalemate situations are, but it's incredibly frustrating to fail a level that you've been struggling with only to have the time run out before you could get to the last enemy.
Time limits also figure in multiplayer games, though only if you opt to let random airstrikes drop across the battlefield after a few minutes to help hasten the resolution of the match. Multiplayer battles support up to four players, and--projectile prevalence aside--they feel a lot like competitive Bomberman play. You choose how many lives each player gets at the start of a match, set the time limit if you want one, and then drive around shooting at each other until only one remains. It's not quite that simple, though, because while you can only drop three mines during each of your numerous lives, they don't disappear from the battlefield when you die. The result is that by the end of longer matches, most of the screen may be mined, making it nigh impossible to navigate. There's plenty of fun to be had in multiplayer Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag modes, though the frame rate struggles to keep up with the action when things get especially crazy.
Multiplayer modes can also be played against the AI on one of three difficulty settings, but AI enemies are at best predictable and at worst completely clueless. AI teammates will occasionally shoot at each other if there are no enemies nearby, and if an AI tank manages to pick up the flag in a Capture the Flag game, getting it back to base to score a point appears to be the last thing on its mind.
Like its colorful visual style, Tank Battles is initially appealing, but is unlikely to hold your interest for more than a few hours. If you're a big fan of Bomberman-style multiplayer and have some friends to play with, there are plenty of worse games that you could spend your $6.99 on. Then again, there are plenty of better games as well.