Tank Beat (Nintendo DS) Review

Click here to view the Tank Beat (Nintendo DS) description page for guides, saves, and more information.

Review by tankMage (December 2017)

Score: C

   As the name suggests Tank Beat is a tank combat game for the Nintendo DS. After doing some research on this title, a single phrase popped into my mind: Relegated to the dust bin of history. This title was not only forgotten about, but was almost entirely ignored if the complete lack of guides and scarcity of reviews concerning it are a reliable gauge of it’s popularity. At any rate, the obscurity of this title begs the question, “Why has Tank Beat been forgotten?” Is it a horrid game or did it simply not catch on for some reason? After playing through story mode, I arrived at the conclusion that it was more likely the latter than the former. Tank Beat may be mediocre, but this stems more from its incoherent plot, annoying sound effects, and a few strange stylistic choices than issues with gameplay, which was enjoyable for the most part.

Story

   Everything about Tank Beat’s a story is onerous, from the cliche plot all the way down to the shoddy, half-assed translation. What’s worse, is the cast, which covers nearly every war game troup one can think of and not in a funny, satirical way. There’s Vill, the hero of the game, who happens to be a foolhardy, brash young soldier who frequently does and says stupid things. Then there’s Lynn, the sassy female tank commander with a predictably tragic past, and Errol, the tough, clever commander. We can’t forget the enigmatic villain, who not only sports a curly bad guy mustache, but also likes to do evil things, because he’s a bad guy. So all of the bases are pretty much covered aside from the funny guy who gets killed early on, though it seems that they attempted to embody that in a character named Correl, whose idea of a joke was whining about having to drive a tank all day. By the end of the game you’ll wish the entire cast had been nuked instead of fighting a conventional war, because the lead characters makes both sides look awful.

   For those who are curious about the story, the game starts out with Royal Guardsmen Vill and Correl training in their tanks. Shortly after learning how to move around and shoot things, the rookie soldiers are called into as action as their country (whose name escapes me) is invaded by an overly aggressive neighbor. Bad things happen and Vill finds himself fleeing the enemy onslaught and somehow hiding out in a six ton tank. Eventually he meets up with some resistance fighters and sets out to free his homeland. Everything that happens is fairly melodramatic and predictable. No one really expects high calibre fiction from a war game, so the actual premise, trite as it may be, is not the crux of the problem in my opinion.

    Ultimately, it was the dialogue that made me dislike the plot and just about everyone in the game. Every word that came out of every character’s mouth was so formulaic and soulless that I sometimes wondered if the writers were satirizing anime. Unfortunately, the writers were probably serious. Censorship or sheer incompetence on the part of the translators or original authors turned the story into garbled mess. While I understood the gist of primary events, the back stories and minor arcs made little sense. At one point a character dies and I thought that individual was alive for the better part of the game until someone mentioned the battle in which they perished. Though, I suspect a lot of dialogue may have been cut to make the game more kid friendly, I’m uncertain if this was the case, because another character invites his female comrades to go skinny dipping with him, so I don’t know what the hell happened with the story. All that really matters is that it sucks and isn’t worth the time it takes to read the text.

Whaaaat?! So much for censorship…

Graphics

   For a later DS game, Tank Beat’s graphics fail to impress. The tanks themselves look pretty good and the 3D battlegrounds look ok, but they are mostly just fields, trees, and the occasional urban setting with little variation. However, the explosion effects are dreadful and look like something from an early mobile game, but that can be attributed to the limitations of the DS so I’ll cut the devs some slack.

   While many of the graphical issues can be excused, the devs made a major faux pas that could have been prevented: they colored some of the tanks red or blue, making them look like children’s toys or cheesey board game pieces. First of all, only your tank is blue and red tanks only appear occasionally. The idea seemed to be to indicate which tank belonged to the player and which tank belonged to an important enemy character. This was totally unnecessary, because the bottom screen is a radar display that represents everyone as a blue, red, or yellow dot. There’s no way you can become confused about which tank is yours, because of the color coded dot system and they could have easily chosen a special colour on to represent bosses on the radar display. Needless to say there was no reason to make the player tank bright blue and it really ruined the atmosphere of a game that at least looked half decent otherwise.

The enemy never saw the bright blue drill tank coming.

   Finally, there are the character portraits, which probably contributed to my disliking the cast. If you were to plug the term “Generic mid 2000s anime character” into a search engine, it would probably spit out Tank Beat characters. There was no effort to give the cast any visual sense of personality, let alone make them original. There were also some pretty blatant instances of recycling. In one such case, the artist changed the uniform color of the main character and put a helmet on him to produce a few extra allied soldiers. There were also a few other characters that looked eerily similar to each other, though in some cases there was justification for such decisions, which I won’t explain in order to avoid spoiling the nonsensical plot.

User Interface

    Tank Beat’s User Interface suffers from two minor issues, otherwise it’s a good example of a game that utilizes the DS’s touch screen competently. I’ll explain how the system works before critiquing it. Players move their tank by tapping the blue dot on the bottom screen (which represents their tank) then drawing a line that will become the path the tank follows. Just about any shape imaginable can be drawn on the screen, which leaves room for some creative manoeuvring. Weapons can be fired by holding the left shoulder button and tapping a point on the screen to shoot at (preferably the enemy). The touch screen is used to input commands for your teammate, change weapons, and even focus the map on a particular target. All of this is laid out conveniently on a single screen, so there’s no cycling through menus or that sort of thing. Hell, the game even let’s you skip the lame cutscenes. Not bad, not bad at all.

   The system isn’t perfect though. You’ll have to cycle through an ever growing list of tanks to get the one you want for each mission, which wouldn’t be so bad if they laid it out so the player could tap what he or she wanted instead of hitting left or right ten million times. Also, the map screen does not automatically scroll as your tank moves around, which means you will either have move it around with the D-pad or tap a tank on the side bar to refocus it. The game also requires players to be precise with their shots and it takes some time to get good at picking enemies off. Aside from that, the game handles beautifully, even if the concept is a little gimmicky.

Music and Sound

    Don’t play this game for the music. There’s maybe a grand total of four songs and they’re as generic as just about everything else in this title. Fortunately, the game allows you to turn the BGM off while keeping the sound effects audible, which is good, because the voice overs serve a minor purpose in battle. As for sound effects, the various explosions, pops, and engine revs are what you would expect and want in a tank game, so they don’t disappoint. In fact, they even add much needed atmosphere to the game. Oh, and there’s one thing I almost forgot: The game sometimes emits a horrible beeping sound, which was enough to make me shave half a letter grade off its final score, so turn down the sound effects if you like your ears.

Gameplay

   Tank Beat may suffer from graphical issues, crappy dialogue, and a soundtrack that kills brain cells, but it’s gameplay is another matter. Ultimately players just roll around the map blowing things up, but it’s good old fashioned fun with a new twist thanks to the admittedly gimmicky touchscreen mechanics. Mission goals will vary from blasting everything in sight to protecting retreating allies and the game even has a few surprises up its sleeve. Players also get a slew of tanks to choose from, many of which have to be earned by performing well in battle. There are light tanks, battle tanks, long range tanks, missile tanks, and many more to choose from….oh man I must have channeled Forest Gump for a moment. At any rate, the options available to the player keep things from getting stale and there’s actually real variation between tanks. Some tanks fire fast moving projectiles that travel in a nearly straight line, others lob powerful shells in an arc, one tank even has a drill mounted to it’s nose. So, there’s plenty of experimentation to be done and fun to be had.

   A fair bit of challenge is also sprinkled into Tank Beat for good measure. Sitting around, blindly shooting at enemies is a good way to get blown up, even in a heavily armored tank. Players have to learn how to move in a strategic manner, command their AI controlled ally when necessary, and get used to the eccentricities of each tank. Stages also have time limits, which seem arbitrary at times, but they add a sense of tension to the game. There are also several game modes, but two of them share a lot of missions. Story Mode is a series of missions punctuated by cutscenes, while Skirmish Mode allows players to choose missions freely. The third mode is something is I was unable to explore, because the Nintendo DS is no longer capable of online multiplayer, so I cannot comment on it. Finally, the missions are perfect in length for a handheld game, usually ending in about five minutes, so if you’re the busy type and want a game that you can play in small doses, this one isn’t a bad choice.

Final Thoughts

   Tank Beat is really rough around the edges, but at it’s core is a decent game. It is easy to see how this game was left behind, however, because it simply was not presented well. The forced tutorial did such a poor job explaining the game that I had to look the controls up and it’s easy to imagine some of the people that bought this game getting frustrated on the very first stage. Tank Beat also seemed poorly marketed, as the name has an almost musical connotation and someone looking for an Elite Beat Agents style game would be sorely disappointed after looking at the back of the box. On an interesting side note, this title apparently managed to spawn a sequel, which I plan on looking into one day. As for Tank Beat, well I don’t regret playing it, but there’s better stuff out there.

Recommendations

Tank Beat for the Nintendo DS is a good choice for those who enjoy tank games thanks to its decent gameplay, but it’s probably skippable for everyone else.

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