EpiXR Games are best known for their games where you’re soaring. Aery, Paper Flight and Life of Fly all have you gliding through scenes where hitting the ground is a very, very bad thing. With Sugar Tanks, that gets thrown for a loop, as you are very much landborne.
Sugar Tanks is a bit of a staple of console gaming: the twin-stick tank game. It’s one stick to move, and another to turn the turrets of your miniature battle-tank. Using both of them in concert allows you to become a death machine, nipping away from enemies as you fire volleys behind you. It works in 3D games like World of Tanks, and it’s been working for decades in top-down-ish games like Tank on the NES.
Unlike pretty much everyone else in the genre, though, Sugar Tanks adopts a more pastel palette. Out goes the camo and the burnt greens: in comes pink and purple. The levels are made out of pink wafers and lollipops, rather than the toiled fields of the Battle of Kursk. It’s definitely different.
Sugar Tanks has you trundling around these sweet-shop levels on the hunt for an exit. Enemy tanks, grim and grey, wait for you around the corner and immediately start firing slow volleys at you. You’re many times nimbler than them, so you can slalom through these volleys and position to fire yourself. Your shots aren’t much faster than those of the opponent, so there’s a little bit of anticipation at play, as you shoot where they’re going to be. If they’re static tanks, well, you have to worry about them less.
In the opening moments of the game, where you’ve just got the basic tank, you won’t be able to fire much more than one or two shots at a time. The tank is also pretty slow, albeit faster than everyone else, including the opposing shells. But killing tanks drops candy, and picking up that candy gives you the currency for upgrades. Gather enough of them and you can unlock tanks and upgrade them too, until you’re whippet-fast, can fire multiple volleys at a time, absorb damage and even shield yourself from fire. Not much can stand in your way once you’re fully upgraded (or you’ve just bought a fully upgraded tank for 10,000 candies).
Having played pretty much every EpiXR game, we expected this to be iffy around the controls, perhaps with some bugs tossed in for free. But we’re pleased to report that we judged this book by its writers. It’s great fun to control, smooth as whipped cream. Anyone could pick this up and immediately start decimating some enemy tanks.
It’s in the opening levels that Sugar Tanks is at its best. The speed is pitched just right, as you can weave around missiles if you’re well prepared. We’d have taken a slightly faster rotation of the turret – it can take slightly too long to reposition more than ninety degrees from your origin point – but Sugar Tanks makes the right decision of allowing you to easily outmaneuver the enemy. If you’re surrounded, though, you’re in a spot of bother.
Levels aren’t your standard 2D jobbies. There are ramps up and down, as well as arches that momentarily unsight you. There’s nothing spectacular in the level design, but there’s more than enough opportunities to retreat, inch around a corner, or duck down a ramp so that the missiles sizzle over the top of you.
The opposing tanks are mostly just variants on speed, number of shots, and whether they stand still or move. Helpful horns and crowns on the tanks give you an idea of which is which. Again, in the opening levels this is all fine and dandy. They never move fast enough to outrun your missiles, and the AI is uncomplicated, so you can anticipate where they’re going. This is just about the most accessible tank game you will ever trundle over with your caterpillar tracks.
Unfortunately, Sugar Tanks doesn’t have a third, fourth or fifth gear. While its opening moments are great, the ground gets a little boggy after the first dozen levels or so. That’s because Sugar Tanks can’t find a way to mix things up, and its attempts to make things more difficult simply don’t work.
There are no level ingredients that get added in as the game goes on. We expected slides, ferris wheels or other fancy elements that fit the theme, but all we got was more ramps and arches. The levels become longer, making it slightly more difficult to conserve your health, but that’s about the limit of it. You’re going to get pretty sick of those pink wafers.
To introduce some difficulty, Sugar Tanks mostly just throws tanks at you. There aren’t any additional tank types (outside of bosses, more on them in a mo). There’s just a bloody great mass of tanks around every corner, and it’s down to you whether you Leroy Jenkins into the room, or adopt a more tentative approach. We got good enough at the twin-stick controls to have our Leroy cake and eat it, but younger players might be forced to take it more slowly. Yet the tanks remain the same.
There are boss levels every four levels or so, but those bosses are – again – the same every time. It’s typical of Sugar Tanks that the last level attempts an end-of-game boss by… throwing three of the boss tanks at you at once. They are larger, making them easier to hit, and absorb more damage than your typical one-shot tank, but that’s all she wrote. We’d argue that they’re easier to kill than the average grunt tank.
Which is Sugar Tanks undoing if you’re anything like a competent player. It’s just not very hard at all. We died once, but only because we accidentally chose a duff tank that deliberately makes it hard for you (the interfaces are terrible, and make it inexplicably hard to upgrade anything or choose the tank you think you’re choosing). We romped to the end in one sitting (we really should have combated fatigue by playing it in smaller chunks), and emerged with all of the achievements apart from one. And that’s only because the final achievement was broken for us.
It sounds like we have a downer for Sugar Tanks, but we should be clear: this is a lovingly created, approachable tank game that younger players will probably adore. It controls like a dream, and has the nifty ability to make you feel like you’re amazing at it, even though you’re just faster and stronger than anyone in front of you. What it’s not so hot at is challenge and variety, and anyone older than the age of, say, fourteen will find that fatigue kicks in.
Sugar Tanks is a shot of syrup for tank game fans (or newbies to the genre), but you should be aware of the sugar-comedown at the halfway mark.