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Retrospective: Death Tank Zwei

Duke Nukem 3D on SEGA Saturn hides one of the greatest hidden gems of wanton destruction and friendship destroying action.

A large screen TV, a SEGA Saturn, a multi-tap and a copy of Duke Nukem 3D. Those were the necessary components to bring my friends together in the late ’90s for hours of controller-busting, fight-starting, joy-filled destruction

During this time, Sony was on their way to dominating the video game world. The PlayStation was proving to be more than a match for SEGA, with its bungled Saturn launch. It seemed like everyone was busy playing all the new 3D-rendered games that Sony was touting for the PlayStation.

Not my friends and I. We were having way too much fun with a single-polygon, death-match game that was graphically on par with Combat on the Atari 2600 and played like a real-time Scorched Earth on PC.

Of course, I’m talking about Death Tank Zwei.

Death Tank on PowerSlave
The first version of Death Tank unlocked on PowerSlave.

A rare gem tucked away on Duke Nukem 3D and only found in the Saturn version, Death Tank Zwei was developed by the revered Lobotomy Software, who, in October 1996, released PowerSlave — a first-person corridor shooter with an Egyptian slant — on the Saturn, PlayStation and MS-DOS.

In PowerSlave, they hid the first version of Death Tank. It quickly developed a small following of Saturn fans who touted the brilliance of the two-player, low-polygon tank battles.

In their sequel, Death Tank Zwei, Lobotomy upped the mayhem quotient. The game is unlocked by having a Quake save (also developed by Lobotomy), on your Saturn’s memory. Alternatively, the game can also be unlocked by destroying every toilet inside of Duke Nukem 3D – a laborious chore indeed!

What is Death Tank Zwei?

Death Tank Zwei on the SEGA Saturn

In Death Tank Zwei, you play as a single, colored parallelogram with an arrow extending outwards. You can move your tank side to side across a simple line landscape, as you extend your arrow to add distance and aim your shot. Each shot transforms into a beautifully pixelated arching parabola that showers your opponents like a rain of death from above.

Adding more strategy and mayhem is the wide variety of weapons at your disposal. An example of these instruments of destruction are cluster bombs, rolling mines, heat-seeking missile and even nukes that utterly annihilate your opponents and crater 20 percent of the screen!

If that’s not enough, there are also defensive devices, such as shields, to deflect shots, and jump jets that allows your tank to quickly traverse the rugged terrain.

On top of all of this, the rarely used Saturn multi-tap can be utilized, which supports up to seven players at once! Having all players moving and blasting at once was a frantic change, especially compared to the turn-based action of Scorched Earth.

Why is Death Tank Zwei so special?

My friends and I spent hours huddled around a Saturn, cursing one another and celebrating hard-fought, joyous victories. Its simplistic graphics were a non-factor when its gameplay featured such rage-inducing, blood-thirsty action.

The satisfaction of seeing the look on your vanquished foe’s face after they took a direct hit from an all-powerful nuke is something that can’t be replicated with today’s online multiplayer games.

Another aspect my friends and I loved the most about the Saturn version, was the incredible theme song. It was a chant of “my tank!your tank!!! death tank!!! death tank !!!death tank!!!!!” That simple little song with something that we would sing to each other, certainly a quintessential part of the experience.

I cherish the memories of my friends and I huddled together facing off in Death Tank Zwei, sweating every shot, quickly recalculating a counter, all while attempting to track the in-air artillery. Sure, there were plenty of controllers thrown in frustration after a quick elimination, but we still we couldn’t wait for the next round for a shot at redemption.

Tanks shooting projectiles at each other against a blue, snow-filled background in Death Tank Zwei.
A new Death Tank version was released on Xbox Live in 2009 and was co-developed by Ezra Dreisbach, the game’s original creator.

Where to play Death Tank Zwei today?

Death Tank Xbox 360 box art.

Unfortunately, Saturn prices post-Covid border on ridiculous, not to mention the rarity of a Saturn multitap, so it can be a challenge tracking down all the necessary components. If you’re a Saturn owner already, I heartily recommend picking up Duke Nukem 3D and a few of your closest frenemies for some in-person mayhem.

With that said, we understand the economics of things can make it pretty tough for some to track all this down. Fortunately, a new version of Death Tank was released on Xbox Live in Feb. 18, 2009. This version was co-developed by Death Tank’s original creator Ezra Dreisbach of Flat Games and Snowblind Studios. A free demo is available, and the full game is only $15.

In the Xbox game, you can unlock the Saturn version of Death Tank Zwei by shooting down the supply plane that drops the $100 pellets overhead.

This version allows players to upgrade their tanks and supports up four-players for local multiplayer action and up to eight players online. There was also a free update that added new tanks, weapons and items.

I hope I made a strong case in this retrospective for why you should consider picking up Death Tank Zwei. I promise you won’t regret it. Just don’t blame me if it ends with broken controllers and bruised egos.

Recently I re-acquired a Saturn and a copy of Duke Nukem 3D. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some toilets to smash and friends to humiliate.

Andy Schneider

Lifelong SEGA fan ever since the Master System. Avid comic book reader and video gamer. Midwest born and raised. Yakuza, Jet Set Radio and Panzer Dragoon are some of my favorites.
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