Friday, August 12, 2005

Laser Tank

Title: Laser Tank
Author: Jim Kindley
License: Freeware
Web Site:

A few weeks ago, a update to the freeware classic Laser Tank was released. Just in case there are two or three puzzle game fans out there who have not heard of this one, I thought I would review Laser Tank this week. The most amazing thing about Laser Tank is its huge online following. People just love it. Users have made over 13,000 levels. And there is an active Yahoo group for Laser Tank. I wish more games had this kind of following.

The goal in each level is simple enough: guide your tank to a flag. Standing in your way are walls, water, and anti-tank turrets. But you have a nifty laser cannon on your tank. It can destroy some types of walls, push special bridge building blocks around, and bounce off mirrors to destroy those pesky anti-tank turrets. The game is played on a 16 by 16 grid and is turn based. You may take as long as you would like to work through a level.

The default download of Laser Tank contains 2030 levels. If you join the Laser Tank Yahoo Group, you can download something like 13,139 more levels. As you can imagine, the quality of the levels varies greatly. There is a system for users to rate levels based on difficulty: Kids, Easy, Medium, Hard, and Deadly. These ratings are quite accurate, but I wish there was a way for users to rate the quality of the levels as well.

Some of the levels are quite difficult. I would say some levels are in fact unfairly difficult. It is possible to make a level in which you have to look 20 moves ahead in order to solve it. It feels like you are performing a depth-first search. Some user made levels seem to be designed this way. There were more than a few levels I just did not enjoy solving. To further justify my point, there are 257 levels which currently "unsolved".

I am sure that the hard core Laser Tankers are calling me a wimp right now. So be it. For those hard core, there is a global high score. If you find a solution which uses fewer moves and shots than the previous best, then you can submit your solution, and your name will appear on the global high score list in the next month's release.

One of my favorite things about the game is the graphics. Looking that screen shot, you might think I am crazy. But, the point is that graphics are simple and functional, but do not get in the way. Puzzle games should be about the puzzles, not about flash. Laser Tank follows this motto. Also, fans have designed over three dozen graphics sets in case you do not like the default. I like the simple "EyeSaver+Grid" graphics, but to each their own.

Laser Tank is a good game, but not a great game. After downloading the latest version a few weeks ago, I played it a fair bit for a week. I had not played it in over a year and had a grand old time. I knocked off another 75 levels bringing my total to around 400. However, by the end of this session, the levels started seeming the same. There is less variety in the levels than one would hope. But, in a year, when the next update comes out, I will probably download it and have another grand old time.


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