Tank! Tank! Tank! is an accessible, if not overly simplified and repetitive experience, that all but requires local multiplayer to remain sustainable.
As one of the few new IPs for the Wii U launch (i.e., this is not a port of a game on another platform), I had my hopes up for Tank! Tank! Tank! (T!), but it didn't take very long for concern to creep in. T! features two modes, single player and four player local multiplayer with four modes including co-op and competitive play. The premise is brutally simple, and I can't think of another game where every single face button on the controller is mapped to the same function (shoot). The game also auto-targets enemies, too. So, you're literally just using left stick to steer and any other button to shoot, which makes it easy for anyone to pick up and
play, which has its benefits.
On the other, those looking for a more in depth and rewarding experience will likely be disappointed. Before getting into the multiplayer mode, I spent several hours playing single player which is an exercise in tedium, with some exceptions. Each mission -- no matter if you are in single player or multiplayer actually -- is 180 seconds. During that 180 seconds, you are tasked with either destroying a single, large boss character, several huge but not quite boss-level foes, or dozens of smaller enemies. The enemies come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, but they're all some form of mechanical entity, most of them animals. Expect huge gorillas and mammoths, centipedes, spiders, multiple three-headed dragons, a griffin, and lots more. One of the reasons I kept playing through the campaign was just to see what the developers came up with next -- the variety of enemies and tanks is one of the game's strong points.
There are five kinds of tanks, starting with your basic kind that is balanced between HP and Speed. Others include speedy tanks that don't pack as much of a punch and have less HP, hover tanks that can go over any surface, tanks on wheels that maneuver really well, then your classic tank that is slow but has a lot of HP and packs a huge punch. There are dozens of tanks to unlock throughout the single player campaign, all of which have a unique name and appearance.
Different tanks also have different special weapons. Special weapons are a key part of the game as each tank's standard weapon, while having infinite ammo, just isn't powerful enough, especially as you get to the lunar based missions around level fifteen. As you destroy enemies, or harm the bigger enemies, special weapon power-ups come flying out of them, some of them landing outside of the bounds of the battle area (thus making them inaccessible) but no matter what mode I played I never had any trouble finding a special weapon. Whether it was the Yellow (weaker) or Blue (stronger) special weapon, though, was another question. The Blue weapons are stronger, but usually slower and you can't hold as many shots of each. The Giga-beam was the first Blue weapon that really impressed me; it would dish out 2600 damage while my Yellow special for the same tank was around 300. Oh, and the eight-way rocket for the first red tank? Supercool, even though you only get two shots with it.
So to reiterate, I thought T! did a good job with the variety of enemies, tanks, and weapons as far as their appearance, function, and balance goes. However on many other aspects of the gameplay, I wasn't as agreeable. For one, the 180 time limit seems arbitrary and just unnecessary. Usually, even with the CPU helping you, it's not a problem to finish a level within the time limit, but why 180 seconds? It makes each mission very short and maybe that's to help mask the fact that every mission plays out almost exactly the same. You are giving a short, can't-be-skipped briefing about how whatever type of monster is on the attack, and you and your CPU pal have to stop it (or them). Then, you're in control and already within firing range. The battle area size is boxed in, although it's big enough, and you literally just zip around, driving over power-ups, shooting constantly, and picking up more power-ups, hopefully meeting the criteria of defeating 50 enemies or whatever it is within 180 seconds. Then, you are ranked based up time remaining, and given a rank D through S.
Interestingly, and this is a real problem in my opinion, no matter if you pass with a C or do a great job with an S, you get a single medal -- every time. You also increase your Battle Points (XP), and after enough Points some pre-determined part of that specific tank you just used will upgrade, be it speed or HP, or damage from the standard, Yellow, or Blue weapon. The grating part about getting just a single medal for a mission whether you get an S rank or lower is that there are certain missions in the story that require a certain medal count. In other words, you can play through the first seven missions, get seven medals, but whoops, mission eight requires fifteen medals for some reason. Your only recourse? Go back to the previous seven missions, using a different tank, and play them all over again. You get the same short intro vid, the exact same level layout, and the exact same post-mission debriefing dialogue as you did the first time you played it. The only difference being that you had to use another tank to replay the mission. And while there are five different tanks, by and large, they play pretty darn similarly. There were times where I did want to use my Gungir (I think I have that spelled right) over another tank, but the differences aren't tremendous. My point being, replaying stages over again just to get extra medals felt as arbitrary as the 180 second time limit in missions.
Earning medals unlocks more story missions, but it also is the path to new tanks. Each new tank isn't necessarily a better one than the one you have now, which I think is a good thing. It depends on how you play and the type of mission it is (do you need more HP or a faster-shooting weapon to beat the clock), but about half of the time when I got a new tank, I would try it but then revert back to one of the earlier tanks. For what it's worth, there is somewhat of an interesting element that develops as your older tanks level up and your new tanks become unlocked. The older ones, while their base stats are lower, may be better for you since they've been upgraded. I wouldn't call this element a game-saver, but it is something I noticed as I played.
Of course, one of the most advertised features of T! is putting your face and those of your buddies in the game. When you launch either single or multiplayer, you are prompted to snap a picture of yourself and can then also use one of twenty or so built in helmets. These goofy, colorful helmets might look like a space suit helmet, a clown face, there's one with an eye patch and mustache, and so forth. Each picture taken is saved in what's called the Stock that you can pull up and use later, like in multiplayer. Also, when playing single player, you are asked to take a picture to represent the CPU's in-game icon.
As for multiplayer, it's surprising but there is no online integration at all. This is strictly up to four player same screen support. There are four modes: Monster Battle, Free-For-All, Team Versus, and My Kong. Sadly, you cannot play through the lengthy (and oh so tedious) single player campaign which seems like an awful oversight to me (would love to see a patch allow for this new mode!).
In Monster Battle, you and three CPU or three friends are tasked with two missions, and an optional third special mission if you net a Silver or Gold medal performance in the first two. The first mission is an assault on a hundred or so weaker enemies. The second is a boss battle. You can only select from the stages (City, Industrial Area, Lunar Base, Ruins, etc) that you have unlocked in single player. Free-For-All pits everyone against everyone. Power-ups are represented with simple boxes that say "Item" and when you collect one (by destroying someone else), you are given a random weapon -- plasma cannon, multi-rocket, and so on. The goal is to get the most kills in 180 seconds. Team Versus is the same idea except it's 2 vs 2. My Kong is pretty neat, at least for a little while. When you start My Kong, you can choose either a picture from your stock or snap a new one. Using a picture of an angry or yelling face works well, given that you're about to become a gigantic mechanical gorilla. Then it's you versus the CPU or your friends. The goal is to survive for 180 seconds and destroy the tanks as often as you can using a hammer fist, jumping up and landing on your ass, a right hand smack to the ground, and a special move. Each attack is limited by a cool down timer, but at least one attack is always available.
The jumping attack requires that you lift the Gamepad up and down, it works well, but the power up attack was oddly hard to execute. You're supposed to just move the Gamepad left or right "once," although the animation for it shows you rapidly moving it back and forth. I've tried both and cannot get any consistency out of executing that move. One thing to point out in multiplayer is that everyone uses the same stock tank, although any special weapon can be equipped by picking up the random Item power-up.
As for Gamepad integration, it's not very interesting. When played with the TV on, the Gamepad screen just shows you a generic speed and RPM gauge. You will also see sparks and other signs of damage as your HP drains. When you switch from TV and Gamepad to just Gamepad, the TV will display a message saying you can change channels or turn off the set altogether. However if you are playing multiplayer, the TV can be used by the other person or other two people while the Gamepad is used by itself, which is nice feature.
In examining the presentation, I give the developers some credit for the wide use of colors and interesting enemies and plentiful explosions and things, but none of the textures and lighting, etc., are impressive. For the most part everything runs smoothly, but I had a moment in mission 17 where I was underneath a huge mechanical mammoth and the framerate tanked, no pun intended, for about fifteen seconds before hitting its normal smooth stride again. The audio is also unimpressive; a narrator voice repeats himself constantly, announcing that whatever special weapon you just picked up is ready and to 'keep on it' and things like that. I'm not sure how many times I heard "Wild Fire Ready!" in the earlier missions, but it gets old. It keeps up in multiplayer, too.
To the summary...