A frustrating action puzzle game that crashes and burns due to its awful control interface.

This American release is, curiously, a game I first became aware of through its Japanese version. Back in the waning days of Game Boy, post-N64 launch before pre-Pokémon Red and Blue U.S. release, the system occupied a strange place in the American retail market. It still sold well enough to continue being supported, but with retail releases drying up and interest from core gamers effectively nonexistent, it was pretty much anything-goes with Game Boy. That meant you’d sometimes find strange things like Japanese releases mixed in with the rest of the games on a shelf at, say, a Waldensoft in Texas—as I did with Go! Go! Tank.

The game has always stuck with me since this bizarre and inexplicable encounter, a good seven years or so after its original Japanese release under the same title. Who knows how or why a few copies of the Japan edition of Go! Go! Tank ended up at my local game shop, but in the end it didn’t really make much difference. Go! Go! Tank has no language barrier to speak of, with practically zero in-game text and play mechanics that anyone can sort out in very little time. It’s a game about leading a tiny tank to a goal, in an indirect way.

Online reference sources like Wikipedia refer to Go! Go! Tank as a “strategy game,” which is fairly inaccurate. This is a straight-up action puzzle game, and despite the proliferation of that particular genre on Game Boy, it’s actually a standout example of the form. Go! Go! Tank is cast from the same mold as something like Lemmings or Mario & Wario, although it predates both. It’s a puzzle-oriented escort mission, which tasks you with the grim duty of leading said tiny tank to its objective despite having no direct control over it. The tank in question roams around mindlessly on the field, puttering about in a straight line and occasionally firing off cute little bullets. The tank can climb over low barriers, but not tall ones, and it advances until it encounters an insurmountable obstacle. When the tank hits a wall, it takes a bit of damage and turns in the other direction.

Your goal, then, is to create passable pathways for the tank to use to reach its goal before it smashes itself into oblivion and explodes. Other hazards exist on the field, including dangerous pits and hostile gun emplacements. The tank isn’t totally defenseless, but its driver is not the sharpest knife in the weapons locker, so it’s really incumbent upon the player to keep the poor dumb thing safe.

To this end, your plane is equipped with the ability to stage very limited and largely ineffectual air-to-ground attacks with a small bomb. These drop from your plane in a limp arc and detonate on contact with no real splash effect to speak of, so you need to be precise in your attacks all while doing your best to be a good shepherd to your ground-bound charge. It’s a fairly simple premise without an enormous number of factors to deal with, but Go! Go! Tank isn’t easy. The challenge here arises from the fact that your plane is a hassle to control.

Your plane is basically the opposite of swimming Mario. You know how you have to pump the A button to make Mario swim, because he sinks otherwise? Here, your plane constantly rises to the top of the screen, forcing you to nudge it downward repeatedly in order to maintain the altitude you want. This makes lining up your skyhook with blocks or landing precise bomb hits pretty challenging. You can’t easily fly level here, so the most essential skill in your toolbox turns out to be the power to predict and control the downward dips of your plane as you struggle to steer it. This is not the most enjoyable play mechanic I’ve ever come across, and it’s made even more frustrating by the fact that you can’t take other actions while turning your plane. 

While Go! Go! Tank‘s challenges would feel fairly reasonable if you could drop bombs or release crates while performing tight maneuvers, that simply isn’t possible. And the addition of weird “power-ups” like a duplicate plane that messes up your careful stair-step arrangements, along with the fact that you can accidentally destroy crates by dropping them in the wrong place, means that you can enter an unwinnable state even if you use the built-in infinite health cheat code! Game Boy certainly didn’t want for puzzle action games, and there are much better examples to be found on the system. It’s a vexing, though admittedly interesting, early take on the “escort mission” genre that would explode into the mainstream and the top of the charts just a few months later thanks to DMA Designs’ challenging-but-not-in-an-unreasonable-way hit Lemmings.

The game comes to us from some familiar faces: Toei Animation, Copya Systems, and Electro Brain in the U.S. Like every other Copya Systems game we’ve seen, Go! Go! Tank seems to mean well, but it’s too annoying to play to properly live up to those ambitions.