Publisher: Level 5
Here's a phrase that probably doesn't pop up too often in reviews of download-only 3DS games: morally abhorrent. And yet that seems like the best way to describe Bugs vs Tanks.
I mean, it's not very often that you play a game in which the Nazis are the good guys. Yet that's exactly what you have here. And I'm not talking Nazi analogues or Nazis from some crazy alternate dimension, or Nazi zombies, or anything like that. I mean that, in Bugs vs Tanks, you play as a Panzer-riding, genocide-doing, Hitler-loving Nazi straight from the 1940s.
Admittedly, the whole "genocide and Hitler" thing isn't exactly stated outright. And, obviously, a game in which you and your squad mates have been shrunk down to the size of bugs isn't exactly going for historical verisimilitude. But at the same time, you — playing as a German – are riding in tanks drawn from the historical record, and the game's intro explicitly places the game in early 1940s, and you rage about the dirty Allied forces that did this to you. There's really only one way you can take that.
Don't get me wrong, I think it's perfectly possible to create works of art in which morally dubious characters are the protagonists: think Lolita, in either book or movie form. Heck, think modern day gaming heroes like Nathan Drake or Kratos, if you want something a little more relevant to this particular discussion. But at least those examples pause every so often to remind you that, whatever charm the protagonists may possess, they're not exactly saints. In Bugs vs Tanks, by contrast, you're supposed to help the Germans on their way so that can…what, get back to gassing Jews?
You might think that I'm overreacting, that I should just look at Bugs vs Tanks as some silly little downloadable oddity, that I should put politics aside and just focus on the game play. I mean, inherent ideology aside, what you've got here is essentially Earth Defense Force-lite, but shrunk down to its basic components so that it fits on the 3DS — and God knows I love EDF.
But the fact of the matter is this: Bugs vs Tanks isn't good enough to make me do that. If it were a truly exceptional game, it might be possible to pull off the "You're playing as a Nazi!" twist. But a couple of base defense missions and kill quests in which you're playing as wise-cracking Nazis, with no additional commentary beyond that? Sorry, but that just doesn't cut it.