Treadnauts treads its way onto the couch multiplayer scene with a new twist on battle-arena gameplay. With its sometimes humorous approach to the tanks of Scorched Earth and the addition of rockets and power-ups, blasting your friends to smithereens can be a lot of fun.
Up to four players (or one and up to three bots) can don the personas of Treadnauts’ five included characters. Each character has its own colorful tank that suits their personality, but that’s where the distinction ends. Every tank has the same abilities, but it’s the power-up crates around the arena that define the capabilities of each tank and how you use them that will lead your driver to victory.
Treadnauts’ controls are pretty straightforward. You have tank movement — either left or right — and you can actually make your tank lift up into the air with a tap of the jump button. Pressing jump while holding a direction makes you roll in-air in that particular direction and, once you are in the air, you can do an additional jump. Since your tank fires shells in an arc, this is a great way to lift yourself above an opponent and get an overhead shot without much effort. Being in the air is also important due to the many suspended platforms you can only reach with a jump. Since your tank has treads that can stick to (almost) every surface, it’s important to be prepared for anything.
Aiming your ballistics is a little bit more challenging — as we’ve mentioned, the tank’s aim moves out in an arc. The longer you hold the fire button, the further (and higher) it will travel until the arc reaches up to the sky and tapers off. This ensures you can charge up a shot while moving to get a precise aim against your opponent instead of the slow pacing of most tank games. Since the shells themselves have an explosive force behind them, you can use them, while upside-down (in the air) and near a wall, to ‘rocket jump’ and propel yourself across the arena. It’s mechanics like this that really add to the manic gameplay and make experimenting fun and challenging.
The arenas in Treadnauts are unique and quite beautiful, each with its own theme and environment. Each arena also has different variations of their layouts, with new environmental mechanics such as mines which explode after being shot or even a wrecking ball your tank can stick to — when you fire, it shoots the ball off in the other direction, potentially smashing someone else’s tank. With many different arenas to unlock and so many variations of each level, you’ll always find something new and surprising on each play.
There are plenty of ways to play, too, as Treadnauts uses a modifier system very similar to Super Smash Bros. You can mess with gravity; change it so that shells’ splash damage affects your tank; or change up life counts, grant infinite jumps and much, much more. Crates show up randomly around the arena as time progresses and each one offers a new weapon or modifier, like, for example, turning your tank’s shells into a laser or bouncing shells.
Each time your tank gets destroyed — be it from a perfectly aimed shell, a tank crushing you from above with a mid-air blast propelling it downwards or even one of the environmental objects — you are knocked out of that round. Rounds are determined by the set amount of lives and the arena changes its layout after each round has its ‘winner’ (or rather, the last tank standing). Subpar or newer players will find solace in the game offering a one-hit shield after a number of failed attempts to down the other opponents. This shield reappears each round as long as you continue to falter, offering a unique opportunity to take back your spot if you find yourself falling behind.
The physics in Treadnauts take a bit of getting used to. With your tank often being upside-down or riding up a wall, it takes a particular concentration to determine where a jump or even a ‘shell blast’ might propel your tank. Part of the fun is not knowing; another part of it is once you grasp the angles and trajectories and know how to maneuver yourself around with ease. I did find that Treadnauts had some straight-up, game-stopping hitches during physics calculations sometimes, but it was rare enough to not really distract too much from gameplay.
Visually speaking, Treadnauts is a treat to behold. Each tank has character to it in its motion and design and the crisp vector graphics help the tanks clearly stand out from the animated backgrounds. Also, the sounds really help add to the arcade-y feel of the game, as each ping, explosion and even the movement of the arc while firing has that old-school clicky sound that just feels right. The music is just as important to the stages as the vistas themselves and each one serves as a veritable earworm; the catchy tunes define their associated environments perfectly.
Overall, Treadnauts is a great game. Its fun, frantic gameplay offers unique opportunities to showcase skill and have fun with friends. The graphics are clean, the sound perfectly fits the game type and the music will stick with you long after the game is shut off. I do wish they had more single-player opportunities other than bots and target practice, but the game is meant to be played with friends, and that is something it does very, very well.