Tanktics is a strategy game about the construction and tactical deployment of tanks, only wackier. The graphics favor primary colors, the combat vehicles are cute, and bug-eyed sheep are the game's most precious resource. It's unfortunate that developer DMA Design, creator of Lemmings, chose to extend the wackiness into Tanktics' eccentric control scheme.
In the tradition of real-time strategy games, Tanktics requires you to gather resources, raise an army, and assign your units to the basic tasks of defending your base and attacking the enemy. Family-friendly cuteness aside, the game makes an interesting deviation from the formula. Instead of progressing through a technology tree with various construction and upgrade sites, you have just one manufacturing unit, the immobile Part-o-Matic, which also acts as your base.
The Part-o-Matic is a Dr. Seussian contraption composed of a funnel mounted on a large rotating disc sitting beside a tall horn. You drop raw materials into the funnel, and an unseen mechanism converts them into tank parts, which then come shooting out of the horn onto a growing pile of junk. The speed at which the disc turns is what controls the frequency of parts creation - faster disc rotation results in faster parts production. You can increase the spin rate by picking up the sheep grazing peacefully around the map and placing them on the disc, at which point they'll begin to run on it like an exercise wheel. You have no control over what the Part-o-Matic produces. It has its own agenda and spits out components sequentially from a predetermined queue, sort of like the puzzle pieces in Tetris.
Your task is to decide what to build with the tank ingredients that drop out of the Part-o-Matic. There are four basic categories of parts: treads, engines, guns, and radar dishes. Except for radar dishes, the parts come in various flavors. Certain treads are better suited to particular terrain types; engines are ranked by the number of guns they can power; and the guns themselves include cannons, flamethrowers, homing missile launchers, and about 20 more. You design a tank by stacking engines and weapons on a set of treads, then bring the pile to life by placing a radar dish on top of it. With over 60 parts across four time periods to choose from, a huge number of different tanks can be constructed. In theory, it's an exciting idea that promises unusual strategic depth. In practice, there isn't a lot of deep thinking involved. Since the Part-o-Matic controls what parts are available at any given time, you don't have the freedom to construct whatever you want. You'll almost always end up building the biggest possible tank with the available parts.And while there are a lot of design options, your finished tanks can only be issued two basic orders: move and shoot. Commands common to almost every other modern real-time strategy game, such as guard and patrol, are not included in Tanktics. Their omission might be an attempt to simplify the interface for the casual gamer but comes at the discouraging expense of having to micromanage your army.
Tanktics' single-player game is a series of 24 consecutive levels and a training course. Five out of every six levels have the same goal: Destroy several "receivers," which are pieces of equipment your enemy uses to beam in its tanks, and then decimate the enemy's entire division. The sixth level of every series requires you to capture the enemy's transmitter, at which point you advance to the next "era." Each era represents a time period - prehistoric, medieval, modern, and future - and has a unique set of enemy vehicles and tank parts. However, aside from those differences, your goals and strategy remain virtually identical from mission to mission. Tanktics wears its zaniness like a badge of gonzo honor, but every level after the first is distressingly unsurprising. What little manic energy the game manages to build is quickly replaced by tedium. There's no skirmish mode or any multiplayer options, so once you finish the single-player campaign, you're done. But since saving your progress is only permitted between levels, and since most levels take about 30 minutes to complete, there's a good chance you'll grow bored with restarting Tanktics' missions from scratch long before you ever see its ending.
On a more positive note, Tanktics looks and sounds good. The sprite-based graphics are purposely simple but are well animated. Your tall, skinny tanks roll over the game's isometric landscape with appropriately noisy rumbling clacks, and the scenery vibrates with color and life. However, getting those attractive tanks to actually move from point A to point B can be quite a chore thanks to Tanktics' unorthodox command interface. Instead of making you an omnipotent overseer, able to instantaneously move to any point on the map, you are instead represented by an actual in-game vehicle called the crane. To view a portion of the world to set a unit's destination, or simply to see what's going on someplace else, you must physically move your crane to that point. It's a useless rethinking of a strategy game convention and, combined with the demands of babysitting your forces, only adds frustration.
There's a decent game somewhere deep inside Tanktics. The tank-building idea is a good one and could have been put to better use in a more traditional strategy game. Yet by choosing to focus on puzzle-solving elements, and then apparently forgetting to create any ingenious puzzles, DMA Design has created a game that is simply not involving. Tanktics tries to be crazy and fun but only manages to be the former.