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Driller Tanks / Itasan Drills - MSX, ZX Spectrum (1983)

by Nick Zverloff and John Szczepaniak - May 19, 2012

ZX Spectrum Cover

Driller Tanks is one of Hudson's earlier titles, and while the developer would go on to create some of history's best-loved classics, like all fledgling companies they too had their share of duds - at least until they got their technique just right. Driller Tanks follows the concept of being trapped in a maze with enemies, much like Eric and the Floaters (aka: Bomberman), and which later became Hudson's trademark. But while it has some sound ideas, the execution isn't quite right. There are two versions of the game, for the MSX and ZX Spectrum microcomputers. Both are almost identical and use the same maze.

You play as a burrowing tank that goes underground to defend what appears to be the Taj Mahal against pink, fire-breathing Mammuts, which are trying to reach the surface. Inside the maze are also the insect-like Skorks, which while not as dangerous as the Mammuts, still cause you trouble. You defeat monsters by freezing them with your cannon and then touching them with your drill tip. To start with the maze is filled with soil, which slows movement; once drilled away, movement is much quicker. This goes the same for enemies - Mammuts have a sluggish pace through the soil, but once in an empty tunnel will gun right for you at terrifying speed. Skorks meanwhile fill in the tunnels as they move. The game is a loose blend between Pacman and DigDug, though not as good as either.

Even with a sound concept, Driller Tanks has a lot of problems. For starters movement for both versions is via the keyboard, which is unresponsive and frustrating, though with a peripheral, such as a Kempston Joystick, or if emulating, this isn't too bad. The other major problem is that the best tactic is always to ignore the maze completely. Since burrowing through soil slows you down, it's far easier to clear a horizontal path in the starting tunnel, and then just wait for Mammuts to come to you. You can try chasing them down, but your freeze cannon can't pass through soil, meaning you need to head towards an enemy, double back on yourself then quickly turn around to attack them should they venture into the open. It's definitely much easier to stay put and wait for their arrival, but this obviously becomes monotonous.

This changes for every 4th level though, whereupon the maze disappears and enemies have free roam of the environment. Also, if the Mammuts reach the Taj Mahal, it's instantly Game Over. It doesn't matter how many lives you had, the game just ends. The whole point of the game is to prevent this, and it does add some real tension to proceedings, especially level 4 where there's nothing to stop them heading right for it - but even so, it feels really cheap when you've played three perfect levels and have plenty of lives, only to get Game Over just because one slipped the net.

Reviews at the time, at least for the ZX Spectrum release, were negative to lukewarm. Sinclair User described it as being part of a "feeble four" group of releases, scoring it a 3/10. Personal Computer Games felt it had potential but said it needed more variety, scoring it 4/10. One Crash reviewer said it was fun but not for long, the overall score being 62%. Which are reasonable assessments; it's certainly fun in short bursts, but the novelty soon wears off.

There are worse maze games from that time (Chack 'n Pop is an awful, unplayable mess, for example), but the reason for inducting Driller Tanks into our Kusoge Hall of Infamy over any others, is that Hudsonsoft learned from their early games and infinitely improved themselves and the concept. While it was Eric and the Floaters that ultimately went on to find success, as various Bomberman installments, you can't help but feel that maybe a little bit of Driller Tanks binary DNA helped along the way. Maybe.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Publisher:

  • Hudson (MSX)
  • Sinclair Research (ZX)

Genre:

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Driller Tanks (MSX)

Driller Tanks (MSX)

Driller Tanks (ZX Spectrum)

Driller Tanks (ZX Spectrum)


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