Review: Battle Tank (NES)

In this review, we load up on our arms for Battle Tank. We find out what this FPS game is all about.

This game was released in 1990.

The story seems to revolve around you being a member of NATO. Your mission is to tackle the enemy by destroying resistance and their infrastructure.

The enemy employs both tanks and helicopters to guard certain areas of the map. Destroying all of them is critical for you to advance to later missions.

Also along the way are occasional mine fields which you need to avoid. In the last few missions, you need to navigate your way through those minefields.

To complicate matters, enemies may have pieces of infrastructure that you must also destroy. These can be power stations and fuel tanks. If you are ordered to destroy them, destroying these are critical.

Aiding you along the way are headquarter buildings. These go from helpful from the beginning to critical as you advance. If you approach one, you’ll be able to re-arm yourself, re-fuel your tank, and complete repairs. Unfortunately, you can only use each one once. Once you’ve used them up, you can’t re-use the same building to get more ammunition, fuel, or complete repairs. Some maps, mercifully, have two headquarter buildings which will allow you to regroup twice.

As you work your way up to later levels, you’ll also find that NATO will ask you to destroy major pieces of infrastructure once you have completed the maps other objectives (destroying enemies and various pieces of smaller infrastructure). This serves as a sort of mission “boss”. The location will be revealed on the map and you must approach that location. You’ll be taken into a sort of shooting gallery where you must attack and destroy all the areas that have a sort of muzzle flash.

The downside is that, apparently, NATO is running on a budget and can only afford to maintain a single tank (you) to wage an entire war. You get no air support or anything else, so you are basically running a series of solo missions throughout the entire game. On the plus side, you are armed by a small arsenal of weapons at the beginning of each mission.

The first weapon you get is the 150mm cannon. This is basically your main classic tank weapon. You can lob these shells at all of your minor enemies. You can adjust your barrel anywhere between 0 degrees (good for attacking enemy tanks at medium or close range) and 10 degrees (good for attacking helicopters that approach you). If you can manage it, there are some targets you can attack at boss areas, but generally speaking, it can be difficult to hit most targets with this. You are generally armed with somewhere between 40 to 90 shells and can fire about two at a time.

The second weapon is the wire missile launcher. While there is a bit of a learning curve to this weapon, this weapon can be extremely useful to help conserve health as you take down several enemies. If you lock on to, say, an enemy chopper, you can fire this missile for an often instant kill. Sometimes, the enemy may evade the initial shot, but if you locked on successfully once fired, the missile will actually follow the enemy and destroy them. The downsides of this are the fact that reloading takes a particularly long time. In addition to this, if you didn’t lock on properly, the missile will simply fire straight ahead. The third major downside is the fact that ammunition is very limited (typically lower than a half a dozen shots). So, if you can use this to your advantage, it can help a lot, but it can only take you so far with the limited ammunition.

The third weapon is the smoke screen. While initially, this seems to have no real value to you. You’ll find that, in later missions, you will be grateful you had this. If you fire this, you’ll lob a small shell-like object in front of you. The result is that everything goes white for a period of time. In normal combat, this may be useful for you to escape enemy fire when you are severely damaged. Otherwise, it’s very useful when taking on level bosses. Apparently, enemies have a hard time hitting you with the smoke deployed even though you are literally stationary throughout the fight. Thanks to the muzzle flashes, it’s possible to fire at them while being half invisible at the same time. Like the wire missile weapon, the ammunition of this is typically very limited.

The fourth, and final, weapon is your .50 caliber machine gun. Often, you have hundreds of bullets for this, so as far as ammunition capacity is concerned, this weapon is completely unmatched. This weapon is useful for attacking enemies at medium to long range. Each bullet doesn’t do as much damage, but it will wear down enemy health (and even destroy them if you’re persistent enough). A second downside to this weapon is the tendency for this to overheat. After a while, if you’ve fired this weapon long enough, you’ll suddenly see red next to the weapon. This simply means that the weapon has overheated (if you still have ammunition of course) and you need to wait for the weapon to cool down. One way to prevent overheating is to fire in bursts. This will delay the heating process while still allowing you to fire more bullets before the weapon overheats. One other useful use the machine gun has is the ability for it to take out landmines. Provided you haven’t driven too close to it (it can only aim down so far), one bullet is enough to destroy the landmine without it harming you. Useful for the last few missions if the target is behind a minefield.

Like many vehicles, your tank has fuel. Being stationary will use less fuel, but it will still use a small amount. If you run out of fuel, your mission will be over.

Another thing to note if that you have a health meter. This is indicated by 6 lights. If non are lit, then you have full health. However, as each one lights up, this indicates damage. You never have any real chance to see all 6 lights turn on because that means you’ve destroyed your tank.

One final, and critical, feature of this game is the radar/map accessed via the start button. This map denotes any significant object found on the field. A horizontal line with a small pixel on top (typically in bunches) indicates mines. The square with a line icons indicate tanks. The asterisk-like icons indicates enemy helicopters. The barn-like building with the flag indicates a friendly headquarters building. The pair of drums indicates an enemy fuel tank. The power-line icon indicates and enemy power station. Finally, the circular target that appears on the map at the end of the mission indicates the location of the enemy boss area. One thing about this map is that it makes your movements much faster weirdly enough. That means that if you want to travel to a location quickly, you must stare at your map until you get close. If you switch to normal view, you will move around the map still, but at a much slower rate. Additionally, the map wraps. If you move off the map going north, you’ll eventually appear on the southern part of the map. Same can be said on either said of the map. It won’t take you long to get from one part of the map to the other, but running over mines will be far more damaging as you’ll likely hit several in rapid succession. It can be a bit confusing with buildings, but the actual location of the building is near the top of the icon.

You have 1 continue. If you die and wish to continue your mission, you are given the option to do so. Unfortunately, this comes at a cost of all of the points you have accumulated up to that point in time. If you are destroyed or run out of fuel a second time, then it’s officially game over.

In total, there are 10 missions. I was disappointed because I died fighting the boss on mission 10, so I was so close to finishing the game only to come just short of the final goal. Still, I was able to come up with some interesting strategies like using the machine gun as I’m approaching a tank. Then, when that enemy tank is in closer range, quickly switching to the main cannon and firing at it as many times as possible. Another strategy is, after the first encounter of an enemy helicopter, allowing it to give chase to me as I run away, then slamming on the brakes when it starts catching up and firing the main cannon at it as it blows past me.

This game, I found, had things going for it, but also some major pitfalls. The major thing going for it is the fact that the developers managed to cram a first person perspective game into an NES cartridge. This is obviously a technical feet in and of itself. While this game is far from the first to accomplish a first person perspective (Ballblazer, for example accomplished this earlier on the Atari 5200), it is still an achievement nevertheless. For gamers at the time, a first person perspective game on the console was certainly a bit of a novelty.

While the perspective was a technical achievement, the learning curve was, unfortunately, a bit steep. This largely thanks to the controls. The only way to pause this game is by pressing both “A” and “B” at the same time. I’ve never personally seen this in a console game before when there is a sort of “start” button available, but that is how you pause the game. To accelerate, you have to hold down “B” and press up on the control pad. Braking is simply holding down “B” and pressing down. Turning is done with left and right. Aiming requires the D-pad (up and down for the main cannon. All four directions for the missile and machine gun). Select toggles the different weapons. Start allows you to access the map. While possible to figure all this out, it takes a bit of getting used to.

When I was getting through the first two missions, this game dragged a bit more than it should have. I was about to throw in the towel out of boredom, but decided to give this game one more chance. The levels after the first three did get somewhat interesting, but only enough for me to keep playing the first few times around as I formulated strategies. Beyond that, I’m not sure how much replay value this game actually had.

The graphics does reflect the technical achievement of having the game in a first person perspective. It was even better when the terrain actually changed from time to time. Sometimes, you were in a desert. Sometimes, you were in an ice field. Other times, you were in a grassland. The, at minimum, changing of the color pallet was a real treat. The other great part was the use of realistic imagery (as realistic as could be pulled off on a NES anyway). The downside is that this game only had an additional image for the end and a cutscene at the beginning. So, while what was in there was impressive, there was a bit of a lack of quantity to be had here. Once you take away the battlefield and the beginning cutscene, you are left with virtually nothing left over. So, wish there was more, but what was in there was pretty good.

The audio was a major weakness for this game. All I heard was one track. That track was the beginning cutscene. The same track is repeated in the briefing room. After that, there was only the sound of an engine. While this might be good for an Atari 2600 game, it doesn’t cut it for a NES game in my books. The sound effects were decent, but could only take the game so far.

The reaction one can get from this game depends a lot on what lens you see this game through. From a technological perspective, this game is impressive. Pulling off a first person perspective in a NES game is definitely an achievement even if not unprecedented in the console game world. If you are looking at this game from a simple gamer’s perspective, this game does feature major pitfalls. The handling of the map system could have been better. The learning curve is a bit steep. The game outside of the battle field left a fair bit to be desired. The ending was a let down. There was seemingly 1 track in the entire playthrough I had. It’s easy to simply put the controller early on in the game and say that it’s a boring game. The replay value was just not that great. So, how you enjoy the game depends largely on how you are approaching it. Considering all perspectives that I could think of, this game is a half decent game, but if you missed it, I don’t think you missed a lot.

Overall

Furthest point in game: Died attacking enemy train station on mission 10 (final boss of the game apparently)
High score: 251,250.

General gameplay: 19/25
Replay value: 5/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 2/5

Overall rating: 66%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.



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