Also Known As: Great Tank (Japanese version) Platform: NES Developer: SNK Publisher: SNK Released: 1988 Genre: Top-Down Shooter - Scrolling Players: 1
Iron Tank is a personal favourite of mine, for mostly one reason- it has the tightest controls of any rotary joystick conversion, and that's saying something as they're an absolute pig to get right. After Micronics' attempts to get it right with the slow-as-molasses turning in their NES Ikari Warriors ports, SNK had to show 'em how it's done, and they pulled it off marvellously. As Iron Snake (Ralf in Japan, Paul internationally) of the famous Unit 88, you must go deep into enemy territory, destroy the enemy's legendary long-range weapon, and single-handedly win World War II (apparently) in the mightiest battle vehicle to ever trundle across the earth, the Iron Tank!
Loosely based on the arcade game T.N.K. III/T.A.N.K. (SNK's first rotary joystick game, although it used something closer to a dial), you must make your way across the country to the enemy's secret headquarters at the top of the map, and wipe 'em out. Along the way, you'll pick up upgrades for your tank's cannon fire that you can equip at any time, including long-range and rapid shots and one that will refill your energy meter upon death, but the ammo is limited and you need to use it carefully. In your way are the enemy forces, including infantry, boats, planes and massive war machines, but it's mostly other tanks you'll be fighting. The enemy variety is nice- there's several kinds of tank that each require a different approach, and other areas have unique enemies that also need to be dealt with, so combat-wise it doesn't get repetitive. The environments don't fare quite so well- there's a lot of forest areas, but on the plus side there are multiple routes throughout the game. You'll mostly be seeing the same areas, but some routes are far easier than others, and it gives you an incentive to pick the game up again to see if you should've gone another way. One final note of criticism is that the game suffers from flickering in certain areas, although only one area has it bad enough to really affect the game.
As I said, though, the main thing Iron Tank gets right is the controls. By holding the B button and moving in any direction, you'll swivel your tank's cannon in that direction, and this means you can set it pointing in any direction you want while moving independently. It's especially useful when you can set it at a diagonal direction to hit awkward enemies- after playing Iron Tank for a while, I found myself struggling with similar NES games like Gremlins 2 because I couldn't aim diagonally with as much ease as here. The controls are complimented by the level design, which ranges from open areas where you're surrounded to tighter places where you need to be careful. The movement is also just right- your tank is a little slow, but it makes the game a bit more methodical than your standard fare, not too frantic, and with the right strategy and weapons you can basically deal with anything it throws at you... Although it's not that easy, especially if you take the 'hard' path and the evil spread-shot tanks swarm you. It's the right kind of challenging- you've got to focus to win!
Add in neat little touches like the messages you get from rescued P.O.W.s and your allies (some of which have more of an impact on a second playthrough) and the nice explosion sound effects (very satisfying to hear) and, well, you have Iron Tank. It's just a game I instantly clicked with, and it's definitely one of my favourites in this genre from the NES era (alongside Jackal). It's almost all because of that control scheme, though- it's a thoroughly nice way of playing a game like this. So, you know, give it a try. For SNK.
For having the best adaptation of a rotary joystick control scheme, Iron Tank: The Invasion of Normandy is awarded...
In a sentence, Iron Tank: The Invasion of Normandy is... My favourite NES game (that isn't, you know, obvious).