Tank Beat (Nintendo DS) - Review by andyr
This is a game that taps into a genre that is close to my heart. Years ago I was transfixed by two games with a similar view of the world; Virus and Conqueror. They enabled you for the first time to experience a three dimensional environment in real time. The later title compared pretty closely to the game in hand. It let you both directly drive as well as command a platoon of tanks. Conqueror had that uncanny and much missed ability to give you goose bumps by the simple experience you had whilst forming a pincer attack, or fleeing for cover as night fell. All this was achieved on the old 16-bit machines, so graphics and sound wise it also had a lot in common with this DS game.
The main game is structured into an unfolding story which is delivered to the player via a series of missions. The earlier outings are pretty much opportunities for a bit of tutoring in the art of controlling the tanks and options, but this is no bad thing as you can play and learn at the same time.
Once you are passed the earlier missions, things start to get a little more interesting. Not only are there a variety of different tanks to deploy, but you can also start to issue orders to your armoured colleagues. This makes things a lot more tactical, as you often have borders to defend and only a limited number of tanks in play.
The controls are pretty good, and certainly trump my old one buttoned Competition Pro joystick with which I played Conqueror. You control the movement of your tank by drawing a direction on the map with the stylus, then you control the direction of view and shooting my tapping or holding the stylus on the map. Although this does take a little getting used to, it works remarkably well.
This enables you to set your tank going along a pretty intricate path and then leaves you to concentrate on the gunning part of the action. This shooting is surprisingly accurate as well. At first I thought the targeting was a little off, but I realised a little more precision on my part and I could hit the opposing tanks much more frequently.
The visuals are pretty good in Tank Beat, although they often feel like there has been a lack of a clear art style. The look and feel of the main action is obviously dictated by their in-game rendering engine. But the cut scenes and talking head explanation sections often feel like the cartoony graphics could have been cleaned up a little. There are still a few jagged edges that would have benefited from some anti-aliasing. It is probably a testament to the quality of the rest of the game that you notice these minor points. It is also unfortunate that the much more involved Brothers in Arms has come out at the same time, as this provides a pretty tough touch stone for graphical representation of the theatre of war on the DS.
The sound in Tank Beat is actually very impressive. Something I don't usually get to rate DS games on very highly. It was so good in fact that I even went to the length of playing the game with headphones. Not only does this improve the audio quality but you can also use the stereo sounds to identify where the enemy tanks are located. They have managed to get just the right sound effects for the in game action. Additionally the simply plings and pops that are triggered by your button presses are also spot on and give the interface a really solid feel. Great work!
Use of the second screen for a map has often been berated by the games press. However, I predict that 2007 is the year when games showed just how good this use of the lower screen can be. As we will be seeing in Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, having a touchable, drawable and tapable map offers up endless control options. Tank Beat pulls just the same trick, providing a subtlety of control and understanding that could not be achieved with one screen.
As the action heats up through the levels, it does become apparent that a zoom out feature would have made this good play mechanic absolutely killer. As it is, it provides an excellent overview of the action and provides all the details you might require about your own and your enemy tanks.
Overall this is an excellent re-imagining of an old style battle action game. They have managed to bring a sophisticated implementation to the DS without loosing the simple charms of pitting one team against another in a restricted arena with particular weapons at their disposal. Because of this it increasingly becomes a thinking man's war game, that complements rather than competes with Brothers in Arms more mindless battles.
If you are a fan of these games from days gone by, or are looking to expand you DS repertoire in new directions you could do a lot worse than pick this up.
Pro: Excellent Execution of a Simple Idea.
Con: Not as Involved as Brothers in Arms DS.
Final score: 8.4