By ShellShock
Revised on 03/06/10
   

 

 

Trax

Players: 4
About: Overhead shooter
Courtesy of: HAL
Back in: 1991
Originally on: GameBoy
Also on: N/A

 
           
 

It's a shame how 98% of HAL Laboratory's catalog developed before their corner stone pink mascot brought them into the big leagues seems to have been flushed out into a videogame history black hole. Nowadays all we can associate the company with are the Smash Bros. and Kirby brands, but I was quite surprised to find out that HAL's pre-Kirby archives are about as big as the sum of everything they have developed since their mascot's GameBoy debut in 1992. Most of these are titles for the MSX and NES/Famicom, the two systems they focused on most at the time. And sure, to be fair, a big chunk of them are either obsolete out of their time (sports titles) or just uninteresting enough to be best left resting in peace. However, names like Mother (a.k.a. Earthbound), Eggerland (a.k.a. Adventures of Lolo), and ultra obscure Gall Force managed to make a dent big enough to spawn sequels over the years and eventually become cult classics.

Japanese cartridge

Somewhere between all this, largely ignored nowadays, lay a few seemingly random but decent GameBoy entries: New Ghostbusters II, never published in America due to licensing conflicts with Activision yet one of the only decent early uses of the property; Pinball: Revenge Of The 'Gator, part of the company's largely unnoticed taste for video pinball; and finally Trax, case in point and another example of HAL's predominant, ongoing fetish for developing games around characters with a spherical or round shape.

The action starts in the rural countryside of an invaded land. A small enemy tank suffers malfunctions and is suddenly left behind by its squadron, which leads to it being inadvertently hijacked by the brave inhabitants of the occupied country. This rusty spherical weapon is then used by the rebellion on a mission to exact revenge on its own makers through four top-down, free-scrolling stages and their mid/end-of-level bosses; Blasting through roadblocks, leveling forests, and demolishing houses and other obstacles and parts of the scenery as satisfyingly as it is on any Star Soldier entry.

American cover

Despite its predominant war theme, Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank (something like "Charge! Junky Tank"), as it is known in Japan, is distinctively lighthearted and cartoonish in that Super Deformer/cutesy Japanese way. It's never as serious as Tank Battalion/Battle City/Tank or the tank sections in SNK's Ikari Warriors, neither is it afraid of showing it through silly but huge bosses, cartoon-like explosions and visual effects, and super-bouncy physics. These last two so similar to the ones later used in most Kirby titles that I wouldn't be surprised to find out HAL's pink mascot is the one hiding in Trax's cockpit.

American version
Japanese version

The only difference between the Japanese and American versions of the game seems to be the design of the invading army's flag.


While the B button shoots the cannon, which can be upgraded to the usual assortment of shoot'em-up shot types (namely wide, piercing, rear, and explosive), A is used to rotate the turret to 8 fixed directions to shoot independently of the tank's movement, perhaps ala Smash T.V. or Midnight Resistance. However, unlike these cabinets' specialized dual-joystick or spinner stick setups, the turret's rotation is restricted to the clockwise direction because of the GameBoy's limited amount of buttons. Hold the rotation button for a fraction of a second too long and you'll have to complete another full 360 degrees to get back to your desired target. Want to run circles around that boss and pump it full of lead at the same time? You can only do it in one direction. This is a serious issue on any respectable shooter, slowing down the action especially in the beginning when you are trying to learn how to control the tank as efficiently as possible. But after a while, once you realize it isn't necessary to meticulously aim at everything that enters the screen, it becomes just an inconvenience (Pro Tip: tap the button instead of holding it down for a faster rotation!).

Japanese cover

Trax's short lifespan, with only 4 stages (the last one being longer than the rest), is the game's other culprit for its obscurity. It can be beaten in less than 1 hour the first time around, and less than 30 minutes without continuing once you have played through it a couple of times.

To make matters worse, it's not very hard either. The difficulty curve starts easy, with enemies bumbling around and taking their time to attack, steadily rising as stages are cleared. But since Trax can advance at his own pace making sure the screen is clear of enemies before proceeding, and the overabundance of power-ups keeps him in good shape most of the time despite hits taking 1/4 or 1/3 off the health bar and making him instantly lose weapon upgrades, it never really reaches an ideal challenging level. Curiously, this is also one of the few GameBoy games with 4-player adapter support. HAL included 12 different battle arenas to play in both against other human players or the CPU A.I. The restricted turret rotation, slow shooting speed of the default gun, and lack of power-ups, however, will keep most from taking these multi-player maps seriously.

Kirby Super Star Ultra

Trax shows up as an enemy in Kirby Super Star Ultra, during the last section of the sub-game Revenge Of The Meta Knight.

Despite its less than ideal controls and short life (things that can be considered fatal flaws on any game), Trax's bubblegum but completely solid physics, charming comedic tone, and extreme landscaping capabilities still make piloting this suspiciously Kirby-ish tank genuinely fun in the end. A taste of the earlier HAL that I found myself gladly playing over and over in spite of its marked shortcomings, and a shame that the only trace of it left behind is a very subtle cameo in Kirby Super Star Ultra.

 

 

 

 
 
Trax - GameBoy
 
Trax - GameBoy
 
Trax - GameBoy
 
Trax - GameBoy
 
Trax - GameBoy
 
Trax - GameBoy
 
Trax - GameBoy
 
Trax - GameBoy
Head-to-head 4 player action.
 
Trax - GameBoy
Destroy supply trucks for power-ups.
 
Trax - GameBoy
 
Trax - GameBoy