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Tang Tang

Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Take 2 Interactive
Developer: GameVision
Media: Cart/1
Players: 1
Genre: Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:

There's always something about an old-school type game that gets me hot. Whether it's scrolling shooters, pixelicious 2D Platformers or vector-graphics, I'm a sucker for the kind of games that sold me on gaming in the first place. Not that I don't appreciate the brave new world of gaming, but let's face it: Sometimes gameplay is sacrificed for pretty window-dressing.

That said, Tang Tang is not a game that puts much stock in graphical sophistication. The obvious Japanese design style may remind some of Bubble-Bobble or other such Puzzle games, and you wouldn't be too far off in placing Tang Tang in the same company as those 'cute' themed puzzlers. The story is futuristic and so are the characters. The levels are bright, loud and how 'bout a little more bright and loud for ya... It's a fun looking game. The character animations, while on the small side, are clean and each of the four main heroes looks unique. As for the levels, they include beautiful and varied background images that change for each stage with plenty of monsters to fight both big and small. It's definitely a retro, 'Made in Japan' look, but what about the gameplay?


Gameplay:

In the style of...what? Well, to me Tang Tang is a combination of Penga and Lode Runner. Penga went by other names, but it was a penguin sliding around pushing ice blocks into little fuzzy things that were constantly hatching from blocks and running around the level making life more difficult. Lode Runner has had more staying power, and was originally a fairly simple game of building your way out of levels by digging holes and filling them strategically. Strategy was paramount for both games, and Tang Tang comes out clearly as at least a distant ancestor by way of gameplay.

The story, forgettable as it is, revolves around the invasion of The Associated Nexus of Galaxies (TANG). Forced to play a last desparate card, TANG brings out the Tangibles, a cyborg army capable of conjuring 'solid blocks out of thin air.' And so, another block-pushing Puzzle game is born, right? Wrong. The reason this game reminded me so much of the two I mentioned was that instead of stacking, pushing or turning blocks, Tang Tang is all about building. Levels start with some basic structures, but most of the blocks in a structure can be destroyed leaving room for the Tangibles to work their block-conjuring magic. The objective in any level is to gather Energy Crystals without getting tagged by monsters. Don't think for a minute that you're going to be able to wipe out monsters easily, since the Tangibles have little to no offensive power. Like Lode Runner, where you dug traps and built barriers to stave off attackers, Tang Tang is a largely defensive, non-confrontational game.

Getting to Energy Crystals is a step-by-step endeavor. First, you scan the field for monsters and watch their pattern. Look around at where you stand. Should you be building blocks or destroying them to get the crystal? Is there an order you'll need to tackle the blocks in to avoid moving a monster into your path? Can you build blocks so as to cordone monsters off and away from the crystal? And, as your one fallback to an attack strategy, should you use one of your precious projectile weapons if all else fails? Typically, you'll find 3-4 crystals hidden in each level, which sounds easier than it is in practice. Luckily, there's a simple tutorial to help you learn your way around Tang Tang before you play the first time.


Difficulty:

This is a thinking-person's game for sure. Taking a 'wait and look' strategy pays off time and again as you learn how the monsters move and where you'll be able to tackle each crystal without getting tackled yourself. The best Puzzle games, to me, are those that appear ridiculously simple at first glance, but pay off in depth once you spend time with them. Tang Tang is probably deep enough for anyone who likes a good head-scratcher from time to time, and maybe a little too deep for some little puzzlers out there. Getting to all the crystals within the time limit can seem impossible at times, but trying different paths and organizations of blocks will show the way ultimately. Patience is required, but also the confidence that every level DOES have a solution. With 120 levels to conquer...well, you'll be at it for some time.

Game Mechanics:

Learning to play Tang Tang is easy, and mastering controls is the least of your worries. Response time is good, and the Tangibles move, jump and do their thing with blocks quickly and easily. The only tricky move is shooting Power Bolts, but since you only have 3 per world (24 worlds, 120 levels...you do the math) it's safe to say you'll be saving the projective weapons for special moments. One nice feature would have been to make a difficulty setting that included more Power Bolts, but it ain't there, so you're stuck with that feeble gray lump you call a brain. ;) Tangibles move and jump, but when it comes time to create or destroy blocks, some special moves come into play. Blocks are created or destroyed by pushing the same button, and it just depends on what is in front, above or below you at the time. If a block is there and can be affected, it is destroyed. If there's an empty space, a block appears. The controls are intuitive, and the only tricky thing is sometimes making blocks above or below you, since this involves standing in the right place and pushing up/down while pressing the button. Otherwise, if you're just knocking down the block in front of you, turn and burn and it's gone. Shooting projectiles is accomplished by pressing down and using your 'jump' button. But again, there just aren't enough of these weapons for them to count much. They are really only there to add one more level of complexity to the occasional level. And, for the occasional boss battle.

Puzzle games, especially good puzzle games, don't seem to come around that often. Maybe because they're more rare, they tend not to suck, and Tang Tang is no exception to this newly minted rule. Buy it as an alternative to the frantic Platformers or Action titles if you're just not into the pacing of those games, and definitely do not buy it unless you're ready to put your thinking cap on. Some may reject the frilly looks of Tang Tang in hope of a more dignified Tetris style game that's sure to come for GBA soon, but don't miss a chance to play a puzzle game with some real substance just because it looks cutesy. You'd be making (as Ahnold self-referentially jokes himself as saying in 'The Last Action Hero') 'a big mistake.'


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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