Trax
  • Genre:
    • Shoot 'Em Up
  • Platform:
    • Game Boy
  • Developer:
    • HAL
  • Publishers:
    • JP HAL
    • US UK Electro Brain
  • Released:
    • JP 01/08/1991
    • US September 1991
    • UK 1991
Score: 75%

This review was published on 04/18/2018.

Trax is a shoot 'em up video game developed by HAL Laboratory for the Game Boy. It was originally released in Japan on January 8, 1991, North America in September 1991, and Europe in 1991. The game was published in Japan by HAL, and Electro Brain published it in North America and Europe. HAL is better known as the company that created the Kirby series in 1992, but they developed games before that. While it's officially an independent company, many of HAL's games were developed for Nintendo. However, that's not the case for Trax. This is one of the few games HAL developed of its own accord and thus owns all the rights to. Regardless, their handiwork is definitely apparent here, as this game features a level of polish that's present in nearly everything they make. The clean art style and explosive sound effects are similar to the Kirby titles HAL later developed for the Game Boy. Think of this game as the prelude to HAL's future greatness.

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If you stay on the title screen long enough, you'll eventually be treated to a short sequence that clues you in on the story. There's no text, though, so it's a little ambiguous. That ambiguity is significantly lessened if you read the instruction manual, which I'll summarize here. A nameless country was invaded by its neighbor, the Republic of Akuda. Akuda's military might is formidable, and so it brought the nameless nation to its knees in the blink of an eye. However, the spirit of freedom lives on in the people of the ravaged country, and so a rebellion against their aggressors began. They managed to steal a tank from Akuda's army, and are now en route to the capitol city to take on the cold and cruel King of Akuda. With a tank so creaky that its treads had to be replaced with rubber tires, can the people take back their country?

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As should be obvious by this point, you control a tank in this game. From an overhead perspective, you move the tank in eight directions using the d-pad and fire its cannon by pressing the B button; holding the B button rapidly fires the cannon. Similar to movement, the cannon can be aimed in eight directions. Pressing the A button will rotate the cannon a fraction to the right, whereas holding the A button will continue to rotate it until you let go. There's no way to move the cannon to the left, so if you want to aim there, you'll have to continue rotating it to the right until it's at the correct position. That limitation makes aiming a little weird, but since enemies generally come at you from a single direction, you rarely have to alter your aim. Odd aiming aside, the controls in this game feel real good. Also, as the health bar to the right side of the screen indicates, you don't die in one hit like in most shooters. This is good.

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Destroying enemy supply trucks will reveal precious power-ups for your tattered tank. Aside from the fuel that replenishes your tank's health meter and 1ups, all of the power-ups alter the shots of your cannon. These shot alterations include bullets with the capability to pierce through things, explosive bullets that do damage to nearby targets, bullets that shoot from the front and back of your tank simultaneously, and a spread shot. All of the power-ups are pretty handy, but you're only allowed to have one at a time. You also can't stack the same power-up to upgrade its potency as you would in other shooters. Additionally, you lose whatever power-up you had if you take a single hit. That's a tad annoying, but the game throws enough power-ups at you that you'll almost always have one. Plus, this promotes careful play, motivating you to make better use of your aiming capabilities.

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Unlike most shoot 'em ups, the stages don't scroll automatically, so you can go at your own pace. Not only that, but you aren't always heading in the same direction; while you primarily travel upwards, you'll sometimes have to go left or right. You can't ever go back the way you came, though. The main thing you'll be doing during the game is blasting away at enemies. On top of a variety of tanks, enemy forces include trucks with guns mounted onto them, helicopters, and robots. Every stage also ends in a big battle against a big boss. Some of the bosses are worth mentioning, like a comical robot that attacks you by clumsily tripping around the arena. In addition to the enemies, every stage is littered with objects that you're able to destroy with your cannon, such as rocks, fences, and buildings. Demolishing absolutely everything in your path is super satisfying due to the intensity of the explosions, though the game is exceedingly short at only four stages long.

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As you'll see right on the title screen, this game has a multiplayer option. Using Game Link Cables and the Four Player Adapter to hook up multiple Game Boys together, this game can be played with up to four players. It's also possible to play this mode alone against computerized opponents, or have a combination of human and computer players. Multiplayer matches consist of each player controlling a separate tank in a battle royal, and dead players are able to watch the rest of the match unfold from the sidelines. There are twelve maps to choose from, and it's possible to set handicaps on certain players. Overall, the simple multiplayer can be enjoyable for brief periods, especially if you're able to play it with actual human beings. It should be noted that very few titles on the Game Boy support four players. Sadly, there are probably less than four people on the planet who know about this game.

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While this game doesn't stack up to some of HAL's later titles, it's still pretty good. It's not insanely hard like most old school shooters, there are infinite continues, and blowing everything up as a cute cannon is cool. The only problem is that the game is way too short. Short and sweet is better than long and gross, though. Try Trax out sometime.

Word Count: 1,053

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