Friday, April 17, 2015

Another Year of the GameBoy: Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank (aka Trax)

With HAL Laboratory--purveyor of such fine video-game products as the Adventures of Lolo series, the Kirby series and the Mother series--back in the headlines the world over thanks to its recently released 3DS puzzler-platformer, BOXBOY!, I thought now would be the perfect time to chat about this little-known, HAL-made gem from 1991, which was re-named Trax when it was localized for the North American market.

If you've never heard of this particular GameBoy cart, let alone actually played it, here's a breviloquent rundown of what it has to offer: it's a four-stage, top-down, free-scrolling shmup that plops players into the driver's seat of an adorable, bouncy-looking tank.

Controlling said tank is accomplished using the GameBoy's directional pad--which allows the spherical vehicle to scoot about each level with surprising ease--as well as its A and B buttons. Pressing the former rotates (in a clockwise fashion) the tank's turret, uh, whatever half of 45 degrees is, while pressing the latter launches some sort of bomb, bullet or shell at anything and anyone in your path.

Sure, the distinct lack of playfields included in this portable title is a terrible disappointment, but in the same breath, I have to admit the experience doesn't suffer due to that limitation as substantially as you may think.

In fact, Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank is a lot like the aforementioned Kirby games in that it's hardly the deepest of experiences, but it's such a blast to play that you probably won't waste much time whining about that fact after blowing through the content that's on offer.

On a related note, the only piece of criticism I feel like leveling at Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank at the moment is that the designers and developers at HAL Laboratory were perhaps a bit too buttoned-up when they conjured up this cartridge's visuals. Don't get me wrong, the graphics here are nice and clean, but where's the whimsy? I would've killed for a stage that, say, dropped players into the middle a carnival or forced them to climb Mt. Fuji.

Oh, well, even in its current, semi-conservative--for the makers of the Kirby and Mother series, especially--state, Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank is a joy to behold. Plus, at least its packaging displays a bit of playfulness. Take a gander at the illustration (pulled from the game's instruction manual) of the bow-tied tank in the photo above for just one example.

Have any of you spent time with this fine (in the opinion of yours truly, of course) GameBoy title? If so, what do you think of it? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments section that follows.

See also: previous 'Another Year of the GameBoy' posts


TheGameroomBlitz said...

So hey, I've been dinking around with that GameBoy emulator I mentioned earlier, and found a real gem called Out of Gas. Although published by FCI (yeech), it was actually designed by Realtime Associates, whose developers used to make Intellivision games. It shows in the design, which has an old-school flair. It's a little like Asteroids, except less intense and with an emphasis on puzzles. Check it out if you can; it was a pleasant surprise.

Also, I did play Catrap. Was doing pretty well up until stage sixteen. =P said...

Thanks for the heads up, Jess! I'd never heard of Out of Gas before now. Weird that it only earned a North American release. Anyway, I'll do my best to check it out. Also, I'm glad to hear you've put some time into Catrap. Have you enjoyed the experience, though, or...?

TheGameroomBlitz said...

I'd say yes, but it's got the same issue as other pure puzzle games, in that there's just one solution for many of the stages, and if you can't figure it out, you can't progress. Oh well... that's why there are YouTube longplays, right?

One thing I've noticed is that the game is a lot more bouncy than most puzzlers... bigger, better animated characters and an upbeat soundtrack. Most GameBoy puzzle games don't really worry about presentation and get right down to business. said...

Ah, yes, I get what you're saying here, and I can see why you'd have issues with it. It also keeps replayability to a minimum, I think--or at least hampers it quite a bit.

I also agree with your second point, though, and it's one of the big reasons I love this game so much. The animations and the "feel" of Pitman really "make" the experience, if you ask me.

Adam Lee said...

I've been on a bit on a HAL kick thanks to BoxBoy, so I wouldn't mind enjoying what this adorable little Tank has to offer. Gonna have to be the JP release for the very cute box art. :3 said...

That's awesome news, Adam! I hope you like the game as much as I have ^^