Worker insects are known as drones. That explains how Drone Tactics got its name. But it doesn't explain why publisher Atlus chose such a lifeless title for a turn-based battler that 1) lets you wage war with a squad of giant robotic insects, and 2) lets you customize your fighting bug-bots with spikes, machine guns, and nearly a hundred other wonderfully destructive weapons.
The school age heroes, "let's be friends" story, and insect-like robots are clearly meant to endear the game to a younger audience and to escape the ire of nervous parents that thought Advance Wars or Custom Robo were too violent. That's fine, because beneath the cute veneer you'll discover that these bugs kick some serious tail.
Moving your stag beetle into some trees or rocks will bolster its defense. When an enemy cockroach launches cannonfire toward your beetle, the protection afforded by the terrain, along with the "defend" command, will probably cause the rounds to bounce away harmlessly. Then, you can unload on the roach with a long range beam weapon, courtesy of the high-tech bumblebee you strategically placed behind the beetle.
And, while you have to watch two-dimensional bugs skitter around the map on the system's lower screen, all of their mighty attacks play out in glorious 3D on the upper screen. You'll watch a massive rhinoceros beetle slam head first into a giant spider, knocking the spider on its back. You'll see a butterfly unload missiles toward an armor-plated pillbug, which will then tuck itself inside its armor to lessen the impact.
The basics work like every other turn-based strategy game. You move your units, you select the attack command to target individual enemy units, and you end your turn when you're done. Then, your opponent gets to do the same. So it goes until someone's base - a giant snail - is destroyed.
There's strategy aplenty. Each bug can carry melee and long-range weapons. When you're under attack, you can choose to counter-attack, straight up defend, or attempt to evade the incoming blow. If the going gets tough, you can load damaged robots into your base and bring them out fully repaired during the next turn. At any step along the way, you can also play re-usable battle cards that can bolster your actions, hurt nearby enemies, or repair some of your damage.
Another high point is the high level of customization the game allows. You choose the paint jobs and decorative emblems. You choose the bugs that go into each battle. You decide the weapons and armor that each bug carries into battle. You even get to put together your own deck of preferred battle cards. The further you go in the story mode, the more your insect army starts to feel uniquely "yours."
So what's not to like? You'll wish you could skip the tutorial battles that make up the first few chapters. You also probably won't like being forced to play through the optional-but-not-really-optional badlands missions a dozen times each just so you can gain experience and level up your bugs to keep pace with the boosts the CPU gets from one chapter to the next. A level editor or an online battle option would've been nice, too, although the 2-player wireless VS mode offers plenty of maps for those that can take advantage of it.
To put those complaints into perspective, it'll take you 40-plus hours to finish the story mode. Longer if you try to complete all of the optional badlands missions. That's 40-plus hours worth of awesome battles and addictive customizing.
May 19, 2008