Everyone has guilty pleasures. The paperback section at the grocery store. The out-of-place, lower-than-B-grade DVD racks at gas stations. Novelty shot glasses. Keiji Inafune’s Bugs vs. Tanks! is the game equivalent of those things, the things that people who take life far too seriously would turn their noses up at. It’s the eShop parallel to that absurd horror movie you found on the shelf behind the Steven Seagal direct-to-video releases at your local, non-chain convenience store. Even compared to most of the other Guild titles available, it isn’t very good. However, it’s infectious in its earnest adherence to being silly. I likely won’t miss it, but I didn’t put it down until I was finished.
Bugs vs. Tanks! is as straightforward as it gets. You’re some World War II-era German soldiers (the game makes an amusing effort to skirt around the fact that they’re Nazis) that are small for some reason, and all of the bugs want to kill them, even the moths. Also, they have tanks. It’s sort of an ugly game, with moments of horrid-quality voice acting and lazy music. The bugs are large and the tanks are detailed as they can be, but it looks like a PS1 game running on an emulator, beefing the visuals up ever so slightly. That said, the localization is mostly cute. It adds little to the game itself, but the banter between the soldiers and other silly dialogue do well to keep the player engaged while nothing else is happening on the screen.
The gameplay itself is interesting. The tanks appropriately control like tanks, but the way you handle the turret is odd. You move it left and right with the Y and A buttons, and center it with X. Firing defaults as an automatic function, but you can also set it to manual fire. There is a bit of reload time between shots, and it makes attacking feel a bit like you’re a singular unit in a tower defense game. It especially holds true in levels in which you, well, have to defend your camp. Many other level types are present, including some up in trees that have you fighting bugs while trying not to fall off of thin branches. Yes, bug attacks cause knockback. Fun!
The tanks are customizable as you find parts, and are impressively based on real-era models. You can even choose accurate paint jobs based on different styles and countries. You can also pick from goofy stuff. (My tank was covered in hearts for most of the game.) My biggest problem with the game is how much less mobile you are than your enemies. It works if you try really hard to justify it using the logic of the game world, but in practice it can be frustrating, especially during boss encounters. Enemies are understandably faster than you, but when you shoot them, they’re stunned for a second before automatically bursting forward until they’re practically on top of you. You’re a tank; you can hardly reverse. Combine that with knockback and spotty aim when things are right on you, and getting surrounded can result in you being knocked around like a pinball for a moment. It isn’t a big deal during normal levels as the tanks are quite durable, but there are huge sections of the game with tight time limits, and getting stuck once can be enough.
There are some co-op and StreetPass functions, but the logistics of getting that set up are shaky at best. It’s a mess of a game, but it has a ridiculous premise and a silly enough localization to keep you entertained. While funky at times, the game can definitely be fun in short bursts, or even longer if you get into the setting like I did. It really is novel to take on an army of giant bugs in a shrunken 1940s panzer while the tiny dudes inside yell incoherently in poorly-recorded German.
Pros: Silly fun, a lot of charm
Cons: Doesn’t wear its budget as well as its peers, mechanical imbalance can be annoying at times