Release Date: February 12, 2007
It might at first seem an odd choice to include Tanks! in Nintendojo’s list of Wii’s Forgotten Gems. It’s only a mini-game, after all, included in the certainly-not-forgotten Wii Play. The nine-game collection was an easy sell (and the fourth most purchased game of the console, in fact) seeing as it usually came bundled with an extra Wii Remote. And it was worth it: Wii Play‘s mini-games have more to offer than Wii Sports‘, including a welcome throwback to Duck Hunt along with a few racket sport games and tests of perception. Even its Fishing mini-game was arguably a bigger hoot than some retail games dedicated to the pastime.
Yet Nintendo EAD (the developers behind Wii Play) knew to save the best for last. You had to unlock each mini-game sequentially, you see, with passable success in one giving you the keys to the next. The final reward was number nine, Tanks!
Here’s what makes it a Wii experience worth revisiting.
Tanks! is essentially based on a series of Atari games by the same name (minus the “s” and the exclamation point). You roll around at low speeds, shooting AI tanks before they shoot you. Or hoping they get too close to a land mine.
To this Nintendo added a toy block aesthetic, ricocheting missiles, Wii Remote controls, and color-coded enemies–each with a different MO. Things start to get hairy around Mission 5. These missions never vary: you’ll learn to never stop moving against the twin green tanks of Mission 5, aspire to go so far as to hear the newly layered music of Mission 12, dread the bouncing hellfire of Mission 17… Faced with these unchanging levels one starts to feel like an arcade-urchin, mastering the ins and outs of each successive level in order to reach the end (there is an end. As of my writing, I’ve only seen it through once).
Played alone and played with a friend, Tanks! is a different animal. On your own you’ve got a few lives to your name, while dying as a duo means game over. If your ally becomes a scrapheap, it’s best to play defensively.
Or maybe it’s best to do that anyway. Tanks! is a nervous little game, calling for awareness as much as for precision. You move slowly (and you’ll never get quicker), so it’s the tiny, informed movements that make all the difference. You can also destroy missiles with missiles, though that’s usually a lucky flinch rather than a Jedi trick.
Let the wars begin!
Tanks! also has a few subtleties to it. You don’t have a limited rate of fire per say; the cap is instead on the number of shells you have “out.” If you’ve got five of them sailing across airspace, you won’t be able to send any more. And each shot comes at the price of ever-so-temporary immobility. If you’re rolling while sending salvos, you’ll stutter perhaps enough to get hit.
As with any little game of limited but golden mechanics, I wish the makers had done more. A level editor and three on three skirmishes would have made Tanks! a mainstay in my stable of competitive games. As it is, Tanks! is instead a delightful game that– beyond being a great reason to keep dust off the ageing Wii– represents everything the console meant to: accessible, simple fun with motion controls that not only work, but enhance gameplay to the point at which you wouldn’t have it any other way.