Car Tank masters top-down chaos on Mars

Originally written for The Elektrospank

Rich Edwards is no stranger to fast, over-the-top shooters with a penchant for explosions. 2012’s Pineapple Smash Crew threw a handful of highly volatile munitions into a pot, mixed it in with some squad-based assaults, poured it out into a series of retro-styled intergalactic arenas before garnishing with a soundtrack full of the kind of thick, multi-layer chiptunes to drive marathon murderin’ sessions.

Straying away from the precise, calculated gameplay which usually makes a top-down arena shooters thrive, Smash Crew replaced it with looser physics, an explosive arsenal, and more general bombast. Rich’s latest game Car Tank introduces yet more unpredictability and roaring, high-speed explosions.

As – obviously – a cross between a car and a tank, the vehicle you pilot resembles something like a miniature Mako, only a darn sight more maneuverable. Driving (using the the WASD keys) across the cell-shaded mars landscape possesses all the ridiculous, smile-inducing qualities you’d expect from piloting a tiny rocket-powered war machine in low gravity. Take a corner too fast, and you’ll roll over. Hit a ramp at the wrong angle, and you’ll do a series of ungraceful somersaults, soaring through the air before landing near a turret which isn’t happy to see you.

“I want players to feel in control but also kind of surprised at the cool stunts and actions they perform,” Rich tells The Elektrospank over email. “The focus is squarely on hectic bouncy vehicle combat fun at the moment.

This rubber-lined combat, throwing yourself around the environment while still dispatching of dozen of enemies is where the joy lies. At any time, you’ll have a number of pink and blue projectiles flying across screen, coming from station turrets, follower drones or less beefy martian automobiles. It’s impossible to dodge them – keeping your tank upright is enough of a challenge – so shooting them down like incoming pigeons is your best form of defense.

Your turret scales up from a standard rapid fire pellet-shooter to a screen filling barrage of fiery projectiles, with some alternate firing modes such as railgun available as well. It’s hard to judge progression at the moment, as each stage feels like a playground-come-warzone, administering your adrenaline and dopamine fixes until you’ve blown up everyone in sight. It’s something Rich is planning to expand on.

“I think I learned that my strong point is minute-to-minute entertaining gameplay, but I need to work on the longer term elements more, to keep the player engaged and coming back over and over again,” he says, reflecting on Pineapple Smash Crew. While critics loved the combat and uniquie mechanics it brought, the lack of staying power made it hard for critic to recommend. “What you saw in the show was the raw fighting style of the gameplay, but I have plans that should make the long term rewarding and involve a little planning, with the bonus of adding significance to the fights you engage in.”

It’s an appealing playground, though. Edwards’ musical talents provide a punchy beat to underscore the on-screen chaos. Cartoon visuals cleanly display the action unfolding in the battlefield, and there are dozens of nice aesthetic touches: smoke bellows and light trails stream out the back of your tank, cargo realistically tumbles around the hole in the pilot ‘face-cam’ as you land a terrible jump.

Relishing slip-ups and wrong turns, Cat Tank’s floaty physics inject intensity and the feeling of being on your last legs right at the beginning of each level. It’s got a long way to go to become more than a 30-minute distraction, but the formula bleeds free-form fun.

The Elektrospank’s patented Polygometer(™) analyses work-in-progress independent games for not only a measure of how edgy it is, but exactly the form these edges take.

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