- Unique retro-inspired graphics
- Local multiplayer support
- Multiple tanks with leveling up
- Weak power-up system
- No random enemy generation
- Sluggish movement
It's pretty clear that the game industry wants to tap into our love for nostalgia. The now-discounted NES Classic and the rumored SNES Mini are perhaps some of the best examples of that, but what if you want that "old school" experience in a brand new game. That's the promise of Lil Tanks, a game that will feel very familiar and yet surprisingly novel at the same time.
The Earth Is Under Attack Again
Developed and published by Lead Money Games, Lil Tanks follows the same kind of side-scrolling, shoot-em-up mechanic as classics like Gradius. Instead of flying a spaceship or fighter jet from left-to-right, you pilot a little tank and you hold down the "fire" button to blast them to smithereens. Meanwhile, you have to avoid running into them and you've got to dodge enemy fire.
While some other retro-inspired titles boast super shiny new graphics, Lil Tanks remains true to form with retro-inspired visuals too. The official announcement tells us that the 90s are back, but I found the unique visual style to fit somewhere between the old Atari and the NES. The arcade influence is also immediately clear.
And like so many other games from that era, the story behind Lil Tanks is mostly inconsequential. An alien race called the Cuur have invaded Earth and it's up to you to fight them off. This "story" is delivered through a series of static cutscenes, most of which I was happy to skip over as quickly as possible. Let's just get on the battlefield!
Big Tank, Lil Tanks
The good news is that you don't have to face this alien invasion on your own. You've got a little buddy following you around. In Lil Tanks, you control the larger of the two tanks and the smaller one basically follows in your path, just lagging a couple steps behind. In local multiplayer, a second player can take over control of the secondary tank instead.
Two features immediately piqued my interest after I finally figured them out. (Side note: there's no tutorial or real instructions, so you really do just learn the game as you go along.) First, the little tank appears to be completely impervious to everything. It simply absorbs those pink blasts from the baddies and this does not appear to have any effect on your health.
This is very useful if you can strategically guide the little guy around, using it like a roaming shield. Remember that this is a "bullet hell" kind of game, so things can get very crowded and very hectic very quickly. The variety in enemies is a little lacking and where they spawn is not random, so you start to remember patterns.
Powerups and Specials
As part of the controls, it indicated a button for "switch." I read that incorrectly to mean that I could "switch" to the little tank. What it means is that you can "switch" the powerup over to the little tank. You'll need to do this if you want both tanks to have a powered up blaster. That's very important to know.
Just as I am a little disappointed in the inability to power-up my powerups like how I can in some other shoot-em-up games, I'm also a little disappointed that I cannot appear to choose the specials or collect more than one to keep in my reserve. The type of "special" is indicated by the icon on the lower-right and it regenerates over a period of time. You can't choose which one you get, as far as I can tell. The "special" also isn't quite as powerful as I would have liked too.
Other Game Modes
From what I can gather, the main mission mode consists of six levels, each of which ends with a boss battle. You can play through all six levels using four different tanks, which are unlocked as you make your way through the game. Each tank must then be leveled up on its own and make its own way through the six levels. They're slightly different, but not remarkably so.
While this may not sound like a heck of a lot of content, the difficulty level in Lil Tanks is awfully unforgiving. Even if you're pretty good at these "bullet hell" type games, it will likely take you a few tries to get through each stage. It helps when your tank is levelled up. This difficulty aligns with the game's arcade inspiration, except you don't have to dig through your pocket for more quarters.
Beyond the main missions, you'll also find a high score challenge by way of the endless mode, plus a boss battle mode that skips the whole stage so you can get to the final boss right away. It's not a lot of depth, but it's something.
MEGATechie Blast from the Past or MEGATechie Tread Carefully?
With addictive gameplay, a unique graphic style, and a terrific soundtrack, Lil Tanks delivers on its nostalgic promise. The unforgiving difficulty of this "bullet hell" is rewarding. Attention to detail is also good, as you'll notice the trail of treads the tanks leave in their wake.
However, this game is certainly not without its shortcomings. The movement of the tanks feels sluggish and clunky, quite unlike the experience we have with classics like Raiden and 1942. Maybe that's the point; tanks are clunkier than planes. The repetitive nature also gets boring, especially with lack of enemy variety or random spawning. I also found the tiny powerups hard to notice in the heat of battle and the switching of powerups between the tanks can seem unclear when you're so close to one another.
Lil Tanks is available now through Steam for $9.99 US ($10.99 Canadian). While not a lot of money, it still feels a little steep for how much you get out of this title. At about five bucks, it'd feel much more like an impulse buy.