Super Smash Bros. is an interesting series. Many would swear by it as a competitive fighting game; others would vehemently claim the opposite. One thing’s for sure: Smash Bros., in all its iterations, has been enjoyed by people of all skill levels. Treadnauts, the first game by Seattle-based Topstitch Games, is gunning for much of the same appeal.
A party game at first glance, Treadnauts has a surprising amount of depth. Topstitch has designed robustly competitive mechanics, while still ensuring the game can be accessible and fun.
You have tank, you drive tank, then you shoot other tanks. Badda-bang, badda-boom. For a game like Treadnauts, you don’t need more of a story than that.
However, what the game lacks in narrative it more than makes up for in style and charm. Playing Treadnauts feels like playing with a lovingly crafted toy. The game’s art and sound meld together to create an experience that’s altogether friendly, deadly, and fun.
While each tank functions exactly the same, you can choose from five drivers, each with a unique vehicle. Whether it’s the excitable Nalani or the hearty Rohan, all of the characters in Treadnauts possess distinct personalities. The drivers’ vehicles are just as colorfully quirky, their strong geometric designs popping against the game’s vivid backgrounds.
Treadnauts paints a colorful picture with broad tones and simple shapes making up the landscape and hazards you traverse. Whether it’s a creaking, rusty windmill or a precariously breezy rooftop, the games’ environments are gorgeously minimalist.
As with the visuals, the sound design in Treadnauts is playful, simple, and fun. An original jazzy soundtrack fills the moments between matches, while bright, blippy tones cover a wide array of sound effects. The audio works great on its own but adds so much more dimension to the game’s presentation.
“You Squashed My Battle-Tank!”
What Treadnauts brings to the table is a fresh take on the unfortunately sparse “Artillery genre”. Titles like Pocket Tanks, Worms, and Gunbound opted for a slower, more tactical approach where you optimize shot trajectories, positioning, and abilities. Treadnauts captures those same core concepts but places them within an arcadey framework for fast-paced combat with simple, yet engaging mechanics.
It’s easy enough to get started playing Treadnauts. Your tank can move left or right, jump, and shoot other tanks. Easy-peasy (possibly lemon-squeezy). Things get trickier, however, when you dig into the deeper mechanics that Topstitch has implemented. Rocket-jumping, wall-riding, mid-air pivots, half-second tread deflects, and shot manipulation are just a few of the tech skills that give Treadnauts a hefty amount of depth.
Although this list may seem daunting, the clear audio and visuals prevent the players from getting confused. In competitive multiplayer, keeping track of the action on-screen is crucial. Players must be able to do three key things:
a) Follow what’s happening – “Where’s my tank?”
b) Recognize what’s happening – “My tank is moving on the ceiling.”
c) Make decisions based on that information – “I can hop off, pivot, and rocket-jump to propel myself in another direction to squash that tank over there.”
Topstitch has done a fantastic job of creating audio and visual cues that are simple to follow and easy to recognize. Small things like a puff of air when you double-jump or an audible “plink” when your shell bounces off a surface go a long way. These seemingly minor cues allow the player to make split-second decisions based on well-communicated information.
No Items, Fox Only, Final Destination
As the beginning of this review may have indicated, I’m a bit of a Smash Bros. fan. The game’s ability to cater to both casual and competitive crowds is an invaluable trait that Treadnauts has in spades. The variety of stages and gameplay-affecting modifiers create combinations that might not be the fairest, but are immensely entertaining.
Perhaps you’d like to visit the mine-filled, powder-laden shores of Salt Harbor and spin around in Zero-G. Or maybe you want to flood the screen by spamming massive bouncing bullets. Slap on your favorite modifiers and you’re good to go!
Two of my favorite features in the game are the “Randomize” button for active modifiers and the ability to save a specific modifier configuration. This means that when you and your friends are getting ready for a night of hot multiplayer action, you can change rulesets on a dime and save your favorites. For any kind of party game, ease of customization keeps the action fresh for hours on end.
Playing these “party” modes also acts as good practice for the core mechanics, meaning that someone who’s never played before can ease into Treadnauts without much practice. As they become increasingly familiar with the controls, they’ll find it surprisingly easy to hold their own in a more “competitive” ruleset. Topstitch has created a game that appeals to all types of players without pandering to them or compromising Treadnauts’ core mechanics.
Tanks for Everything
Treadnauts, with its satisfying combat, high customization, and impressive polish, emphasizes everything that an Early Access title should be. It’s a well-designed product that brings a fresh take on gameplay popularized by Pocket Tanks, Worms, and Gunbound.
That said, there isn’t much in the way of single-player content. There are the challenge maps, where the goal is to break targets as quick as you can (similar to “Target Smash!” in Smash Bros.), but no bots mean you need to play against real people, online or offline.
Aside from lack of single-player options, most of my gripes are concerned with bugs and quality-of-life issues. Fully customizable controls, more stable network features, social features, and additional game modes and maps would go a long way towards making a good game even better.