By Joseph Luster

It’s not often you get a chance to play a World War II-related game on Nintendo’s portable 3DS platform. Then again, Bugs vs. Tanks! is far from your average scenario, as the name should imply, and its availability is all thanks to Japanese game company Level-5’s consistently interesting Guild initiative.

While it’s true that consistency may not apply to the quality of every game released, the mere existence of the Guild project is something worth celebrating, especially the fact that the games managed to make their way to the West. For those unfamiliar, Level-5 kicked things off with Guild01, which hit Nintendo’s eShop in Japan last year with four downloadable games. The gist of it is that some of the industry’s top talent gets a chance to build smaller games and unleash their creativity on Nintendo’s portable. Some of the featured creators in the first round included Suda51 (Lollipop Chainsaw, Shadows of the Damned, No More Heroes) with the shooter Liberation Maiden, Yoot Saito (Seaman, Odama) with the manic luggage-sorting Aero Porter, and Yasumi Matsuno (Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy XII) with the tabletop-RPG-inspired Crimson Shroud.

A Capcom Veteran Tries His Hand at an Armored Shooter

Naturally, Guild02 followed in 2013, and the West has already gotten all three of the very disparate entries. Sandwiched in between Kazuya Asano and Takemaru Abiko’s The Starship Damrey and Kaz Ayabe’s nostalgic Attack of the Friday Monsters! is an oddball alternate history action game called Bugs vs. Tanks! One could probably guess precisely what the game is all about just by looking at the name, but what makes it even more special is that it comes from Keiji Inafune, former Capcom producer behind legends like Mega Man. The end result is a slightly uneven tank-and-bug-battling game that manages to rise above a few of its more drab features thanks to some lighthearted writing and a truly absurd setup.

Lighthearted writing and an absurd setup make Bugs vs. Tanks! worth short bursts of play.

Bugs vs. Tanks! offers up a mix of strategy and action, as a WWII panzer division finds itself minimized Honey, I Shrunk the Kids style. Now ordinary ants, bees, and other bugs and obstacles pose just as large a threat as the war itself, and the group must find a way to survive in this savage new world.

Humor Makes Up For Its Other Shortcomings

Said means of survival pretty much boils down to blasting the hell out of some bugs, but it isn’t going to be easy. Bugs vs. Tanks! provides a few options to customize the experience to the player’s liking, thankfully, because missions can get unforgiving pretty quickly. Combat generally consists of rolling your tank through the dirt, pivoting your turret, and firing away either automatically or manually. Auto-fire puts the control in the computer’s hand and makes it a little easier to concentrate on maneuvering, but it’s also wildly unsatisfying to have the AI pull the trigger every time an enemy is in range. I think most players will want to switch to manual early on like I did, but it definitely makes things more difficult as you progress toward more involved missions.

The word “strategy” has been thrown around, but ultimately this is an action game. Sure, there are some tactics involved in choosing the tank most suited to your style—different types and paint jobs are unlocked upon discovering abandoned units in the field—and it helps to know which shell type to use in certain scenarios, but success here is mostly going to depend on how good you are at commandeering the often unwieldy vehicles.

Good for Quick Bursts of Portable Gaming

Bugs vs. Tanks! is also not a very pretty game. That’s forgivable given its bite-sized budget nature, but staring at the same drab, muddy backgrounds can get a little old. Humor spices things up, though, and makes up for other more lacking aspects. There’s something completely ridiculous about the gung-ho attitude of the panzer troops as they shout orders in broken English: “Panza forwaaaaard!” Some of the dialogue can be pretty funny at times, too, and it’s nice in general to see a Syfy Channel original movie plot like this not taking itself seriously in the least.

The end result isn’t close to being the most enjoyable of the Guild games released thus far, but there’s some charm to be found for sure. The missions in Bugs vs. Tanks! are well suited for quick bursts of portable gaming, and that’s precisely how it should be played. It would be easy to burn out on pretty much every aspect of this average tank action game, but in small chunks it provides just enough fun and challenge to make it worth checking out.

Back to the issue this appears in