Normal Tanks is one of those games that takes a little effort to initially get the hang of but is well worth it in the end because it’s such an absorbing game, if not perhaps as good as it could have been if some of its slight kinks had been ironed out.
Beatshapers’ first mini, BreakQuest, is one of my favorite minis, so I had high hopes for Normal Tanks, and although it couldn’t be more different in every respect than BreakQuest, it’s still got that same playability factor and the same Beatshapers attention to detail, with a slightly maverick edginess, that gives their games a unique feel.
The game is basically a top-down shooter in which you get to control a tank across eight different environments, facing off against other tanks, annoyingly persistent spider-bots, helicopters, and even creatures such as bats and skeleton dragons! At the end of each stage, you have to take on a big boss in a fantastically old-school-style boss battle.
Normal Tanks doesn’t have any pretensions to any sort of plot, you simply get cracking straight away from the basic main menu screen and start shooting up a storm around the maze-like levels. Who you are, or why you’re there in your big ass tank, no one knows, but it doesn’t really matter because the action is such a blast, literally!
The control system is the main bone of contention for some people with this game, as it can feel a little clunky to begin with – you press R to shoot, use the directional buttons to move, and press Triangle, Square, X and O to rotate the turret and aim the turret gun in a specific direction. The turret has eight shooting positions in all, enabling you to fire on the diagonal. The analog stick is used to autoaim at targets, and L switches between your machine gun and your cannon.
The handling certainly seems very strange at first and you’ll feel vulnerable and exposed trying to manoeuvre your big bad tank around and shoot at the same time, while the enemies keep coming at you thick and fast and it doesn’t even seem fair. It feels very unnatural, and you’ll certainly meet your fiery doom many times when you first start playing, but don’t be discouraged as the controls will eventually begin to feel more intuitive.
I actually found myself using the analog stick’s autoaim much more than the turret buttons to fire, as it’s much quicker, and speed is truly of the essence in Normal Tanks, especially in the boss battles. The only drawback to this method is that it’s quite difficult to use the directional buttons and the analog stick at the same time, so you tend to stand still when autoaiming, which can make you a bit of a target. It would have been nice to have had the option to customize the control system as you can with other top-down shooter minis such as Dracula: Undead Awakening.
Generally speaking though, the gameplay is pretty fragtastic! The levels and enemies look great, and there’s plenty of variety in terms of locations and battling baddies. The enemy AI is really impressive – the other tanks and assorted creatures, both mechanical and fleshy, hunt you down and stalk you and play tag with you, and you really do feel like you’re battling against some wily and ruthless opponents.
There’s also a fair bit of variety to the gameplay. While the majority of the action involves driving around the levels and blasting anything that moves, occasionally you’ll get to do something a little different, such as taking control of a spider mine-bot and guiding it along before detonating it remotely in order to clear a path ahead of you.
Elsewhere, there are plenty of pick-ups, such as Red Star bonuses that upgrade your tank’s cannon, machine gun, armour and speed of movement, as well as extra lives which come in very handy! Other nice touches include a rip-roaring soundtrack, and some great sound effects such as satisfyingly crumbling brick sounds when you shoot through brick walls.
As far as pointing out the game’s less-than-stellar aspects, I thought that it seemed a little too dark at times, even on the brightest screen setting, and especially in the gloomier areas such as the caves. It’s not enough to spoil your enjoyment, but it’s certainly noticeable.
Another downer is the fact that you can’t pause or save the game mid-level, which is annoying because the stages are quite long and challenging so if you want to take a break you have to sacrifice all your progress so far on a stage.
Overall, though, another great game from Beatshapers with lots of action and challenge. Old-school top-down shooter fans should definitely give it a go, and don’t be put off by the controls.