Sometimes JIG contributor, sometimes game developer, Jared Riley sends word of his latest effort, a hypnotic and relaxing shooter if ever there was one. Man your bubble ship on an excursion through a vast bubble field seeking out hostiles to assimilate in Bubble Tanks.
Navigation control is with the [WASD] keys on the keyboard, aim and click the mouse to shoot. You are at first equipped with a weak but unlimited cannon, with larger and more fierce weapons available by absorbing the bubbles your enemies leave behind. The more bubbles you collect, the larger your ship and the greater your weapon become. But as you grow so do the enemies that you will find around you. Lose all your bubbles, however, and the game puts you back to the nearest safe bubble where you get to start your ascent again.
Analysis: The graphics are simple and yet nicely styled, and it all comes together exceptionally well. The soundtrack, although a bit repetitive, is relaxing and complements the atmosphere of discovery. As I was playing the game while writing this review someone submitted the game, using our online game suggestion form, and described it as being similar to flOw. At first I didn't agree; but as I progressed further with the game I could indeed see the similarities. Perhaps Bubble Tanks was influenced by the elegance of flOw, and yet it is most certainly a different game entirely.
The first few bubbles you come to contain instructional text that guide you into the game play gradually, this is a nice effect and a creative way of educating the player. Also, by forcing the player to move between bubbles, Jared can limit the number of objects onscreen at any given moment, thus keeping the overhead for event processing and collision detection manageable for a game that boasts over 37,000 enemies instantiated when the game begins.
Beyond that the game becomes a grand adventure of discovery. I particularly enjoyed how the enemies would change gradually, always keeping my interest by giving me something new to encounter before very long. That observation is from moving always in one general direction toward one of the edges.
I would like to see some gauge of my progress, perhaps a map showing the bubbles cleared, or the number of bubbles assimilated or within the size of my ship; just something to look at besides simply moving to yet another bubble. The game is still very nice as it is, and yet it would benefit from some sort of feedback regarding how far I've gone and how much further I have yet to go.
The other thing it needs is mappable keys. Any game that requires keyboard input should allow the player to change the default mapping to one of their own choosing. There are just too many different keyboards in the world not to support this optional feature in games today. (Update: new version now up with mappable keys! Thanks for the quick response, Jared!) That being said, I dislike keyboard controlled games as a rule, and that aspect of this game was my least favorite part of it. Jared tells me he would like to include an option for controlling the ship entirely with the mouse, so perhaps we may get an upgrade soon.
All things considered, an excellent job, Jared. It's a very addictive game and had I not reached some bizarre "function:include" error in the middle of play, I would probably be still playing and not finishing up this review. I am still unsure whether it was just some strange combination of keys I was pressing at the time, or if I actually triggered something in the program. Is there an end to the game? Please find out and report back.
Play the entire Bubble Tanks series...