The sheer multitude of diverse experiences that gaming is capable of offering, borders on overwhelming these days; from convoluted sagas weaving tales of treachery and endangerment to the intense and crunching 4x epics authored by the player’s hands alone. To look back on the heritage of the media, you would be forgiven for finding the ancestors of modern day games primitive in comparison. When once adding RPG features to a predictable formula was all that was required to rejuvenate interest, nowadays it generally takes an unhealthy dose of gimmickry stirred vigorously by an ambitious PR department. For all it’s glorious divergence, it’s easy to yearn for those “archaic” days of simple and straightforward thrills, relieved from the burden of memorizing plot intricacies or complex button combinations.
It’s ironic then, that by channeling the age-old principle element of arcade games of yore whereby you repeat the same simple action endlessly under increasingly difficult circumstances, that Top Tank feels incredibly fresh. Taken at its most base fundamentals, you have a side-scrolling shooter where the majority of actions are automated. It sounds dangerously close to being too hands off to be enjoyable or engaging but it’s misleading, belying a subtle tactical depth enough to wade into without drowning in details. If you’ve fired a bazooka in an iteration of Worms sometime in the last decade then you will most likely settle into Top Tank‘s mechanics comfortably and quickly; the clean UI consists solely of a tempting big red button that begins the arcing of your turret, releasing your finger fires the missile.
Of course, a streamlined control scheme doesn’t necessarily mean your task is a walk in the park. You’re one tank versus an entire army, quite literally, with an array of armor, jets, helicopters, artillery and even more seeking to end your run in flames. Given that every single unit is a match for your vehicle or stronger, you need to adapt to the mechanics and develop a keen judgement if you want your name on the highscore board. Determining the angle required to launch a shell across the entire screen and into a pinpointed target sounds daunting and not at all entertaining but it very quickly becomes reflex and just as soon becomes hugely satisfying. As several vehicles cross the uneven terrain, you’re forced to rush your shots; prioritizing deflecting incoming explosives and those foes that are closest – whilst you can endure a single blow, colliding with another unit is an instant death. It’s a gleeful chaos, demanding reflexes and focus but rewarding with a sense of instant gratification that is dangerously addictive.
As much as I’ve stressed the ease at which you can intuit the gameplay, that’s not to say that the depth isn’t made up elsewhere. The Game Center integration is well-handled but the achievements are where it really shines. Normally something I’d glance over briefly before forgetting, instead they offer a Tilt to Live-style encouragement to attempt certain special maneuvers that lengthen the lifespan beyond that of most highscore chasers. Additionally, progress made during each session accumulates to unlock further levels to play on with each offering more than just a palette swap. The terrain becomes more haphazard and the enemy forces expand to include threats such as mines and howitzers, enabling you to reach greater heights on the leaderboards but also requiring a much greater discipline to master. It’s a small touch but the effect was almost debilitating on my free time; knowing that a few more gos would unlock the next locale was a sacrifice I was often more than happy to make!
Top Tank looks great, as long as the retro-styled pixelated graphics are to your taste. The sprites are chunky and instantly distinguishable, a necessary feature given that you must recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each one in a heartbeat. Aurally, as with a large proportion of arcade titles, the game aims to suffice more than impress and it’s hard to fault it for that. The chiptunes are simple and somewhat forgettable, but they’re up-tempo and engaging enough to serve their purpose so given that the game is intended for those small moments of idleness where you’re unlikely to bother putting your headphones in then it’s easy to forgive. It does still incorporates a few nice touches, with the roar of a jets and the blades of helicopters providing audio cues to incoming enemies that you would otherwise miss but it’s a minor complaint indicative of a strong overall package.
It’s no surprise to learn that Top Tank is a project from an ex-Popcap developer; it embodies the arcade perfection that their greatest titles excelled at. Whilst it may most resemble Heavy Weapon’s cartoony vehicular combat it’s strangely more aptly compared to Peggle. Watching a projectile soar through the air and miraculously landing a long shot for massive bonus points reminds me of the euphoria from a lucky shot in my favourite of Popcap’s repertoire. For those that were disheartened by the EA buyout and the move towards freemium titles, it’s encouraging to see Fun Fetched adopt a fully premium scheme with such a low entry cost. For a one-man production, it’s a confident and inspiring move, especially considering how easily it could have been molded into a freemium package. An in-game shop charging you a small sum to unlock the next location might not have been too distasteful but a boosts system with purchasable advantages would have quickly undermined the scoreboards like I’ve seen in so many games before. As it stands, it’s one of my most satisfying 99 cent downloads I’ve made this year and given how many times I’ve paused during writing to sample its delights again, I doubt I’ll change my mind any time soon.