Thursday, February 27, 2014

Review: Battletanx

"When all else fails... get in a big tank and blow everything up!"

The second game that I will be reviewing will be a game that initially received a good amount of buzz when it came to promoting but over the years faded into obscurity. This game was released when the Nintendo 64 was still going strong and was still making quality games that could satisfy the appetites of gamers everywhere. This game did not present a novel concept by any means as the general concept of tanks blasting away at each other wasn't anything new. You go back in time before the Nintendo 64 existed and you will see games that featured a tank shooting something at obstacles or at another tank. Space Invaders is definitely one game that comes to mind as you controlled a laser cannon (but at first glace you would think it looks like a tank) and went left and right shooting missiles up at invaders from space. Space Invaders is very basic compared to the game I am going to talk about, though.

When I first played through Battletnax as a kid, I was amazed by how intense the game ended up being because I was just a laid back kind of gamer in the late 1990's. I was always in the mood for the more mellow kind of games such as Mario games and other cartoony games. However, I was always open to playing at least a couple games that were somewhat realistic in tone. You didn't have cartoony stuff here, although you are given animated cutscenes in this game. When I first got Battletanx as a kid I was excited and I couldn't wait to start playing the game. I was in the mood to play a game where I could blow up as much obstacles as I possibly could. Back then and even today I get a big kick out of blowing things up because I find great entertainment value out of such a concept. As I mentioned in an earlier article I saw a Battletanx commercial on TV and I found that commercial to be hilarious. It was a spoof on the Snuggles commercials and I couldn't help but laugh a little bit.

Now I am aware of the fact that in this day and age violence in video games is constantly a hot topic, but I need to remind people who are strongly against violence in video games of this one thing. Video games need to be (and should be) viewed as educational resources for gamers and for those who are close to the gamers. There are plenty of things in life that parents teach their kids that involve what kids should do, but look at the other end of the telescope for a moment. There are also plenty of things in life that parents teach their kids that involve what kids should not do. I believe video games can be either subtle or harsh reminders of what not to do in real life. Video games equal fantasy and that's all it is. That's an easy equation to figure out.

Anyway, let's review one of the hidden quality games made by 3DO, a company that is sadly no longer with us. I would love to have any ex-3DO employees contact me about 3DO products, and especially about the Battletanx series. I would like to have a discussion with someone who was close to the development of Battletanx in some way.

Controls - 18 out of 20 Points

From what I remember, Battletanx had basic and proper controls that a gamer could get used to. Operating a tank doesn't take rocket science for a gamer to figure out. The Nintendo 64 control stick was used for this game and you had the freedom of moving your tank around in whichever direction you wanted. Now the one thing that gamers will find different with tank controls in this game will be the Z button. In order to have your tank shoot at obstacles you will press the Z button, but that isn't the only button you press to fire weapons. Pressing the A button will allow you to fire special weapons that your tank would collect in a level. Pressing the A and B buttons together will fire a super weapon. These features alone are interesting and while it took me some time to get used to them, I eventually got comfortable with these controls. In some ways you can view these controls as intuitive and creative. It was basically something different.

The L button is pressed to change the view of the gameplay action. In the arcade setting only, the R button is pressed to locks turrets into position. The C buttons on the Nintendo 64 controller would be used to rail left, rail right or to rail off. When I played Battletanx I didn't find the controls of this game to be out of the ordinary, and especially not in a bad way. I got the feeling that the controls were different compared to other Nintendo 64 games but I found the controls to be fun to use. I never noticed any sort of hesitation from the controls to respond to an action that I wanted to perform. I don't believe the responses of the controls were always smooth but they were definitely good enough.  

The only real problem that I experienced when playing Battletanx involved the territories of the levels. Whenever I moved my tank into a specific area that could potentially isolate it, I would notice some sort of a lock up in movement. I noticed that when I boxed my own tank in, and let's just say for example a tight corner, it was somewhat difficult for me to get out of that trap. I don't consider this to be a big knock because it didn't hinder the fun I had in playing, but it is something that I have to mention.

Graphics - 16 out of 20 Points

For a Nintendo 64 game, the graphics in Battletanx were fairly solid. We have to take into consideration that Nintendo 64 graphics are obviously not the most advanced graphics out there, and let's think back to the time of the Nintendo 64. When we saw graphics like the set of graphics in Battletanx, we would think that they would be pretty impressive. Now there would be some glitches along the way during a playthrough of Battletanx. Whenever anything got destroyed we would see a lump of graphics stuck together to make up the remains of a tank, a broken down bunker or even  a collapsing building. A defeated tank was obviously nothing special to look at. In fact, I would recently look at a defeated tank and say to myself "Well, there's a pile of digital scrap metal!"

In all seriousness, though, one can make out what the graphics are in this game. For Nintendo 64 graphics they are well made and they come across as smooth enough to be pleasing for any gamer. Are the graphics a work of art? Not necessarily because there area  few animations within levels that were indeed slapped on like they were pieces of cardboard. The trees are the biggest example of this. Whenever your tank went right through a tree, the tree would fall down like a domino as if it were a Hollywood prop. I wouldn't consider this to be a bad thing, though, because I got a humorous kick out of it. If you are looking for a "real" tree, though, you won't get one in this game. Sorry, but no dice.

When it comes to rescuing the Queenlord in the fortresses, you can tell that this game was meant to have the arcade game feel. The symbol graphic representing the Queenlord would fit in perfectly with an NES or SNES game, and it feels somewhat out of place in an N64 game. This is more of a nitpick, if anything.

Story - 7 out of 20 Points


What I am going to say about the story may not be flattering, but honestly I am going to be kind to the story of the original Battletanx game in comparison to Battletanx: Global Assault, which the latter was absolutely atrocious. Every time I played Battletanx and specifically Campaign Mode, I never did play it for the story that was connected to Campaign Mode. Let's dive right in. The story of the game begins with your typical romance soap opera-like setting as Griffin Spade experiences an intimate moment with the love of his life Madison, his fiancee. There was nothing wrong with how this was first presented. You are shown the soft side of a guy who is otherwise an army leader with reckless abandon, which establishes some balance with the character.

The setting of the story is a post-apocalyptic world. In the year 2001, a virus has killed 99.99% of the females on Earth. Many countries go to battle for each other's quarantine zones, one thing leads to another, chaos spreads and nuclear war emerges. A huge chunk of civilization is lost because of nuclear war and as a result numerous gangs form to stay alive in their own designated communities. The few remaining females are held by gangs who have taken over small pieces of the world. Madison was taken away from Griffin Spade, captured by the U.S. Government in Queens, New York and taken far away. Now Griffin must cross the entire United States and find Madison before it's too late.

Where do I start pointing out the fundamental flaws of this kind of story? Number one, the story doesn't put women in the right kind of light at all, portraying women to be weak in general, which is not the case in real life. Thankfully, though, with the help of a cheat code, you could be able to play as the Storm Ravens, an all female gang, so that serves as a small remedy. Number two, handling illness epidemics in a video game story can get pretty complicated if you fail to go into enough depth about them. If you just go out and say "Look at this! An epidemic broke out! What will we do now?" then be prepared to have not as big of a bite in your story as you were expecting. Battletanx suffers from this because we only get animated pictures to serve as cutscenes. The game didn't have a lot of places to go with this, sadly.

When I dissected this story the last time I played the game, the believability wasn't there for me. It wasn't there as much as it should have been. I felt like the story had more of a feeling that related to "Things are spiraling out of control, but not everything has been destroyed yet", and I felt that general story development was a bit on the lazy side. The gangs were zany and off the wall, as it would be expected, and I did take an interest in some of the gangs, especially with gangs like the Nuclear Knights and Charlie Company, but I wasn't thrilled by others.

I give the story of Battletanx a low score not because of the idea behind the story since I believe that the idea itself is solid. I give the story a low score because of the overall execution. It just felt a little too out there for me to fully grasp the entire scope of the story. For me to think that the whole world got infected by epidemics and nuclear war is a stretch if the entire world itself can't be featured in the first game. I'm thinking about Battletanx: Global Assault's story again. I better quit while I am ahead.

Music - 17 out of 20 Points

Although the game may be lacking punch when it comes to the story, Battletanx carries immense power in the music. The soundtracks for Battletanx are very much memorable and they are definitely appropriate for the atmosphere of nuclear war. Anyone who has played the original Battletanx enough would pretty much memorize the soundtracks from one part to the next. The introduction theme of the game immediately lures players in and it's very catchy if you were to sit back and listen to it in full length. The soundtracks of Battletanx stand out on their own and separate themselves from other war-themed game soundtracks.

I get the feeling that these soundtracks were made to have some sort of cinematic presence to them, which is a good idea. The soundtracks did fit in with the cutscenes that featured the comic book-like animations. The soundtracks had the appeal of fun and upbeat music, and that is sometimes hard to pull off for a war-themed video game because serious tones are usually implemented in such games, including serious music. The soundtracks were laid back and welcoming and that is what a development should push for. Don't go over the top and don't aim for something so serious in a soundtrack. Catchy and upbeat will do the job just fine.

Another thing that makes these soundtracks pretty special is the fact that these themes don't have any lyrics to them. No lyrics at all. It somewhat makes me sad that some video games of this generation have to have soundtracks that are packed with lyrics. I feel that lyrics shouldn't be of mandatory use in video game soundtracks. I don't think there's anything wrong with just letting the sounds sing for themselves, so to speak.

Specifically pinpointing on sounds, the trumpet-like sounds in these soundtracks fit in so well like a glove. The sounds that you hear relate to military predicaments, armies marching out to the field of battle and engaging in a struggle. The music kept me interested in Battletanx, to be sure.

Replayability - 20 out of 20 Points

I find this score to be appropriate because I did thoroughly enjoy the experience of operating a tank and blowing stuff up with various kinds of weapons. However, the placement of the enemies in some levels perplexed me. The deeper I got into the Campaign Mode of the game, the more challenging the levels became, and this would normally be a great thing. Unfortunately, the later levels of this game sometimes threw me off, as in just when I thought I had defeated enough enemies to progress into opposing fortresses there would be more enemies popping up abruptly.

I loved the variety of the weapons that I could collect in this game. The many different weapons allowed me to develop a strategy for how to go about attacking my enemies. I knew what I had in my inventory and I had to base my strategy around what I had. You have to work with what you got, as some people say. I believe everyone would agree with me when I say that simply hearing the in-game female commentator say "Nuke Deployed" got gamers fired up into a frenzy. When the Nuke went off all sorts of stuff went flying, and the opposing tanks would go down almost instantly.

This game is mainly built for the multiplayer experience. Battletanx is a game that can be enjoyed in more ways if there are more than just one player involved. Battletanx has a Multiplayer Mode where up to 4 players can engage in combat. 4 players could choose which gangs they wanted to be and they could choose which setting they wanted to do battle in. Battletanx makes itself a very flexible option for replayability because of the fact that one player could choose to run the gauntlet of Campaign Mode or that one player could gather around 3 of his friends and have a blast in Multiplayer Mode. Some people would prefer to still play games like Battletanx only for the Multiplayer Mode anyway because that is where the fun is.

Battletanx left a lasting impression on the "blow 'em up games" genre because when you look at the more recent games you would notice some elements that are some sort of tip of the cap to Battletanx, even if it's accidental. Battletanx had an impact that grabbed gamers for a short period of time because of the upbeat pace of play. Once you began a level for any mode, you were in and you had to get those tank treads moving on the double. You would start firing all over the place in under thirty seconds. That is the kind of spark that makes gamers want to replay your game. Boom! Boom! Boom! There you were in the middle of a level defending your turf and protecting your army and there was no waiting period.

When you beat Campaign Mode in Battletanx would you want to play through Campaign Mode again? Well, there is enough motivation to play Campaign Mode again if you just want to sharpen your skills as a tank. Considering that you are an avid war game player, you would probably like to see if you could go through the Battletanx gauntlet again just for kicks. Really, though, the creme de la creme of this game is the Multiplayer Mode and that is the main thing that would lure any kind of gamer in to play.

Overall Score - 78 out of 100 Points

There are no bonus points to give away here this time, but even so, 78 shouldn't be looked at as a bad score. I generally enjoyed playing Battletanx and I liked both the gameplay sessions of Campaign Mode and Multiplayer Mode. I was presented with a challenge that I could get into and take on without feeling too overwhelmed and I dealt with enemy AI that stayed on me and put me in check. When I faced opposing tanks head on I had to make a choice. I had to make a decision right there what I wanted to do, whether it was to blow the opposing tanks up to smitherines, collect power-ups to strengthen my tank or to go right after the enemy fortress and rescue the Queenlord. I wasn't allowed to just sit there and that was good for me to see.

If you have friends who would like to play some sort of chaotic competition, then Battletanx may just be the game for all of you. The Multiplayer Mode is the backbone of this game and 4 players can get themselves to play for hours if they wanted to. Ultimately, though, I am saddened by the fact that the Battletanx series took a turn for the worse in the second installment, Battletanx: Global Assault, and to no surprise, it was the story that anchored down the second Battletanx game. 3DO just dropped the ball with Global Assault and it didn't do the main character of the series any favors. Griffin Spade is a main character who had potential to be developed into a mainstay hero for the Video Game Industry if only 3DO stayed true to the formula of the original Battletanx game, but radical changes couldn't be resisted apparently.

Oh well. Maybe in the future Battletanx can be officially revived by a game publishing company out there and then expanded on? Wishful thinking, I suppose.

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