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Pocket Tanks (PC) artwork

Pocket Tanks (PC) review


"You may not realize it, but this game has been around in some form or another since (you won't believe this) (you just won't) (I swear it on my life) the 80s. Yes, back when Cosby was everyone's paradigm of humor and people took you totally seriously when you did things like say ''Gag me with a spoon'' or bust out with the Safety Dance. This game's very oldest pappy was programmed in a strange archaic computer language called QBASIC (I can see all you young whippersnappers scratchin' yer heads i..."



You may not realize it, but this game has been around in some form or another since (you won't believe this) (you just won't) (I swear it on my life) the 80s. Yes, back when Cosby was everyone's paradigm of humor and people took you totally seriously when you did things like say ''Gag me with a spoon'' or bust out with the Safety Dance. This game's very oldest pappy was programmed in a strange archaic computer language called QBASIC (I can see all you young whippersnappers scratchin' yer heads in confusion) and focused solely on the epic struggle of two gorillas on top of a bland cityscape who had only one weapon with which to duel: explosive bananas. If you thought instantly of Worms when you read those two words, push the Back button in your browser now, because you're at the sign that says ''You Must Be This Old-Skool To Ride This Ride.''

The newest member of this vein of strategy games wherein you must set the strength and velocity of your weapon launch in order to score a direct hit on your opponent is Pocket Tanks (Blitwise, 2001). Pocket Tanks more easily relates to a more recent but just as crude strategy title called Scorched Earth, one of the very earliest PC one-man destructo-machine man-o-war games. Scorched Earth offered up literally hundreds of weapons that you could buy in ludicrous quantities with the money given to you at the game's outset. With the arsenal you bought, you would then move on out to the playing field, a rocky surface that gave very little leeway for forward movement. Scorched Earth had a lot of problems though: [1] it was ugly, [2] it aged worse than mayonnaise left out on the window sill, [3] it ended up suffering from the condition where old games get kicked up to light speed on newer high-end machines, and [4] no one could spend all the money the game gave you for weapons in three lifetimes. Scorched Earth was ultimately a sloppy mess of a game with a chaotic idea arrangement and cheaper animation than a direct-to-video Disney sequel. Pocket Tanks seeks to rectify the ancient machinations of our elders by simplifying the format and creating something accessible and pretty all at once. Like Gorillas and SE, it is of spare design, but unlike the latter, it doesn't skimp on the practicality of its artillery and makes itself properly presentable - enough so as to make it worthy of high priority on anyone's PC gaming list, though sadly one look at it will tell you it's doomed to underdog status for the rest of its days.

In Pocket Tanks, you get to input your own name of up to seven letters and can even, for the general who must accessorize, choose the color of your tank from a limited palette. After selecting a hopefully intimidating name and a suitable color for your vehicle of terror, you are sent to the weapon selection screen. No money is given to you, and there are not the hundreds of weapon choices that Scorched Earth gave you. The available repertoire instead consists of twenty choices (which you and your opponent take turns selecting) from a field of sixty possible objects, some of which will inevitably be dupes in order to create the chance that both sides can have some of the same junk. From this screen there are myriad item combinations at your disposal. You should be able to recognize your options for offensive strikes immediately, but there are also items that, while dealing no damage, can determine the course of a battle with the mighty shielding abilities that they possess. At a crucial moment in the war, would you rather fire a cannonball at your opponent on the off-chance that they could retaliate and win the match, or cover them in a humongous mound of dirt that gives them no choice but to blast themselves out with the most powerful ammo they've got? A randomizing option leaves everything to fate and can serve as a handicap favoring neither player, but the strategist with a healthy amount of foresight will find that perfect balance between offense and defense with the weapons that you take and that the computer or a friend leave available.

With no wind conditions to sway your missiles aside, it becomes a free-for-all take-turns affair on the green mountainous battlefield. You can use your ten given weapons in any order you please, which brings up another interesting question: do you use your missiles or dirt first? Would you rather cover the other tank with a good old-fashioned mud pie only to see him dig his way out of it, or go right in with your heatseekers, fission bombs, and pineapples and take him out so you have insurance points to spare? For you see, that is the way of things in Pocket Tanks; since the tanks can withstand any blast no matter how much dirt it flings up or many megatons it is, wins are gathered through a points system. Each hit you land on the other tank adds however many points it's worth to your score in the upper left corner of your monitor. Similarly, points are deducted when you hit yourself with a damaging bit of ammunition, no matter the cause of it. At the end of ten volleys (as the game calls them), whoever has the most points wins. Under this system, matches don't take long at all to complete and are so wondrous and compelling that you can easily sit and play twenty or thirty games at a pop. If this is the poor man's Worms, then give me a cardboard box and a bottle of alcohol in a paper bag, because this simple, practical arrangement is the life for me.

Graphically, Pocket Tanks is nothing spectacular, but is feasible for the task at hand and is vivid enough but also small enough to run smoothly even on dinosaur computers like mine. Some decent color fade effects and animated fun with the font on the menus make nice little extras that are entertaining but become annoying when you're pumped and rarin' to actually play the game. When you get into battles, the mountains have a grassy look that couldn't hide its 16-colors-ness even if it wanted to. Your tanks live up to the game's title in terms of both size and detail, and if it's cheesy explosion effects made by stringing together a bunch of thin colored lines you want, then this must be the game you've been looking for your whole life! Everything you ever saw in Windows Paint and little more infests the colors of this game, but it is well-designed and cleanly animated for a game that pulls the purse strings on the rainbow. The weapon icons are the most intricately detailed objects in the game, as you can see from their Worms-like bounciness and overt cartooniness (as in the pictures of the Late Bloomer and the Homing Worm - a possible homage?). Pocket Tanks is graciously easy on the eyes though, and strikes a pitch-perfect chord between the worlds of serious video game war and playful video game war.

PT's music is a dead ringer for the kind of stuff you hear in IMAX films about outer space. It has the sorts of pianos you would hear in those movies and possibly elevators, with the ambient synthesized strings in the background to complete the feel of it all. There aren't as many loud explosions as you might expect, but a few exceptions are present, as you'll see when you get just the right landing on a Crater Maker or a Fission Bomb. The tunes unfortunately do nothing to get you in the mood to play the game - they're totally the wrong style and have none of the instruments you'd want in your military marching band - but they go above and beyond the call of duty for such a small, humble game.

As does the entire rest of the game, as you will find when you play this neat little game. Pocket Tanks is one of the best games out there for your hard-earned dollar. It's extremely easy to pick up on the basic physics of it, and the weapons offer enough variety to keep you hooked for a good couple of weeks at the very least. Best of all, the whole package won't even take up half a megabyte of memory on your hard drive. Some of the weapons at your disposal have oodles of creativity put into them that you can't help but appreciate and sometimes even chuckle at, as in the case of stuff like the Late Bloomer and the Mud Pie (probably not the one you're thinking of, though - we can't have all the nice things we want). You couldn't ask for smoother running or more basic entertainment. If the most common thought your brain conjures up while playing video games is ''me blow up tank duh huh funny,'' Pocket Tanks has the lack of complexity to match the wavelength your brain is putting out. It's definitely a level worth stooping to sometime.

Rating: 9/10

snowdragon's avatar
Community review by snowdragon (December 09, 2003)

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