While Natsume is a name you probably associate with Harvest Moon, the Kunio-Kun series, retro classics like Pocky & Rocky and Wild Guns, or other unique games from Japan, ConnecTank is something a little different for the publisher. First revealed in March, the game is a partnership with developer YummyYummyTummy as part of the Natsume Indie Program.
ConnecTank is a procedurally-generated humorous tactical adventure game that drops players into a world ruled by a gig economy. There, three barons—Finneas Fat Cat XV, Lord Lewis Longneck of Lewingford, and Emperor Pontius Penguin—fight for control of New Pangea via tank-wielding shipping companies. As a worker for such a company, your job is to, well, take jobs from any of the three barons, while using your tank to fight off other shippers trying to get in the way of you making your deliveries or pickups.
Those tank battles are the core of ConnecTank, and they promise a mixture of fast-action and puzzle solving. Inside your tank, you’ll need to connect conveyor belts between ammo distributors and your main weaponry, and then craft that ammo using a variety of materials and a selection of blueprints. The faster you can get your automated line going and stocked with ammo, the better position you’ll be in for defeating your foes. Of course, battles won’t be so simple, as you’ll need to take care of broken conveyor belt pieces, fix damaged parts of your tank, fight off invaders, and more.
During a recent preview event for the game, I asked ConnecTank’s director and producer Spencer Yip what he’s most worried about new players having a problem with—and he directly mentioned that gameplay loop.
“I think one of the things is that there’s just so much to learn from a mechanics standpoint, because it’s pretty different from other games out there,” said Yip. “Things like trying to figure out the flow of the game, being able to connect your conveyor belts in a speedy manner, and then working out how to craft your ammo. That’s why the first missions are pretty easy in one sense, so you can get a chance to really learn the mechanics.”
Even if that initial learning curve may be a tad steep, the gameplay I got to see for ConnecTank looked like a lot of fun once you get the hang of it and get into a good groove. Initial complexity will only go so far, though, so I asked Yip about how gameplay will progress the further you get into the campaign. Part of ConnecTank’s long-term enjoyment, according to him, will come from the effects the barons have on gameplay depending on their influence. The more jobs you take for a certain one of the three tycoons, the more it’ll shift the balance of power in their favor, which will in turn unlock new tanks, unique munitions, and stage types.
However, as unique as some of ConnecTank’s elements seem to be, there was also something very—familiar—about the game. With a laugh, Yip confirmed my suspicions that he had indeed taken influence from Square Enix’s Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime, a 2005 Nintendo DS game that tasked players with running around inside a tank to manage its systems while in combat with other tanks. He also confirmed another source of inspiration that didn’t surprise me: Pipe Dream.
“I love the idea of connecting things together in [that game],” said Yip.
One thing neither Rocket Slime nor Pipe Dream had, however, was Patrick Baker. One of the writers from Cartoon Network’s hit series Regular Show, Baker serves as the narrative director for ConnecTank. His contributions are quickly apparent, as the game is dripping with a unique style of humor and character development that could really help set ConnecTank apart.
What was also interesting to me was the impact that writing for the game might have had on Baker, given story and character needs writing-wise are very different between an interactive piece of entertainment like a video game, and a more passive form of media like a television show.
“Having to create games where the player is always the person in the driver’s seat means there’s only so much control we get to have over how the narrative unfolds,” explained Baker. “So, I think a lot of it is playing with the idea of what these characters want at their core, and then how would that change or not change depending on the balance of power?”
Baker gave the example of Fat Cat, the “hyper-capitalist straight out of the gilded age.” If Fat Cat’s world domination level is at 95-percent, his missions are going to be very different than if his power is, say, hovering around the 5-percent mark.
“You get to see different sides of that character depending on which situations he’s put in,” Baker continued. “But those will only be unlocked if the player makes it their goal to weaken Fat Cat, or to strengthen him for that matter.”
Those comments lead me to something else I was curious to ask Baker about: the difference in narrative exposure. In a television series, stories always unfold linearly (as produced), and the creators know exactly what every viewer will or won’t see. That isn’t the case with video games, and certainly not with a more open-ended, procedurally-generated game like ConnecTank. So, does he feel any sadness knowing there are parts of his contributions that most players will never see?
“I don’t,” Baker replied. “I think that’s one of the coolest things about video games in general. My hope would be that the game is fun enough for people to want to, for example, be like, ‘Hold on, did I learn everything I could have learned about Emperor Penguin?’”
With the preview event nearing its end, I was legitimately interested to see more of ConnecTank in the days ahead. Is it some magical new indie title that will become the darling of the industry? Maybe not. But it’s definitely a fun idea that incorporates some gameplay elements that I’ve always been a fan of, and I can see it especially shining when playing with up to three other players in co-op, where each person commits to filling a different role in keeping their tank ready to survive the challenges that await in New Pangea.
Speaking of teams and survival, though, I couldn’t help but ask one final light-hearted question to Yip: Might we one day see a free-to-play battle royale version of ConnecTank?
“I would love to make a battle royale game out of this,” he said laughing. “That would be really cool. I hope one day.”
ConnecTank will be released on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC this fall.
Mollie got her start in games media via the crazy world of gaming fanzines, and now works at EGM with the goal of covering all of the weird Japanese and niche releases that nobody else on staff cares about. She’s active in the gaming community on a personal level, and an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming, consumer rights, and good UI. Check her out on Twitter and Mastodon.