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9/10 – If you enjoy twin stick shooters, you will love Nano Assault Neo. It’s only $10. Get it now.
If you’re not familiar with twin-stick shooters, they typically involve navigating a ship (your character) with the left analog stick while controlling the direction of your weapon with the right analog stick. Avoid enemies (and bullets) with the left, point at them with the right. It’s a simple concept, but there will be lots of enemies and “bullets” coming your way. Toss in some collectibles, ship upgrades, variety in weapons, variety in enemies, and the high score incentive, and you have a challenging game that is satisfying to master.
Nano Assault Neo ticks all these boxes, except perhaps, variety in weapons. You have one primary weapon which you can upgrade with “satellites” either by collecting them or purchasing them in the shop. You can have up to 4 satellites which mimic your primary weapon, and they default to floating around your ship in a square formation. Both the formation and direction of the satellites can be customized using the Wii U GamePad. You can do this as often as you like, tailoring your strategy for your immediate situation. The GamePad can also be used for rotating a 3D map of the cell which shows where enemies and collectibles are. Using the touchscreen during play will automatically pause the game. Both of these features are very unique and you’ll use them more and more when trying for those high scores.
You can play the game entirely on the GamePad, a feature I really appreciate. In fact, during 2-player mode, one player uses the GamePad entirely, while the other player uses the TV and their choice of controller. Each player has their own dedicated screen – definitely the best way to do multiplayer and prior to the Wii U, not easily done. There’s an option to display the face of the GamePad player next to their ship on the TV, but it’s more amusing and distracting than useful. In 2-player mode, the map is static and displayed on the TV, and the satellites cannot be customized. Small sacrifices.
Right away, you will be struck by the high quality of the visuals. Even when rendering two independent screens the game appears to maintain a steady 60 frames-per-second. The art direction follows a microbiological theme with landscapes and enemies inspired by what you might find looking through a microscope. I found this both a strength and a weakness: it’s unique and provides a backdrop for great visuals, but it can feel like the enemy designs may have been constrained by the theme. I found the bosses uninteresting, and their death animation unsatisfactory.
The game is not long, but most players will find it fairly challenging – with the exception of the relatively easy boss battles. After you complete the single player (or 2 Players mode), you will have unlocked all levels and modes. But that’s not where this game ends… that’s where it really begins. High scores: besting your own and others’ scores via the online leaderboards is the real game here. And it’s really fun.
There are four sets of levels (called “clusters”) and four modes. Each cluster contains 4 levels (called “cells”); the last cell in the cluster is a boss. In Single Player mode, if you collect the letters to spell “BONUS,” you will get to play a bonus level where you fly through a tunnel at increasingly high speed. Completing the 4 clusters in single player mode will unlock Survivor mode: survive with one life in an endless sequence of random cells. Two Players mode is essentially Single Player mode, but the two players share lives. Arcade mode lets you tackle the leaderboards for a single cell. In all modes except Arcade you visit the “Nano Shop” in between cells. In Arcade mode, you’re given 2500 credits to spend in the shop before entering the cell.
I’d classify the music as gritty electronic, and quite good. The music keeps the tempo up and adds to the intensity.
There are some odd design choices with the menus and online leaderboards. Only your best scores are put on the online leaderboards. When you die, your score disappears and it shows the Game Over message. Unless you beat your previous best score, your score won’t be displayed again. In your final moments, you’re not typically looking at your score, so there’s a good chance you won’t know what it was. Even if you don’t have enough to make it on the scoreboard, it’s nice to know how far away you were. The leaderboard positions are only shown with 2 digits: 01-99. the 100th position will be 00, then it cycles through 01-99 again, so it’s difficult to know how far from the top spot you really are without scrolling until it stops. In addition to the player’s score on the leaderboard, you can see how many “Missions” (the in-game achievements) the player has completed, but not which ones.
And where is the restart option? For a game that’s all about getting points, you’d expect a restart option for those times your game starts off terribly. It’s a hassle to have to quit and enter the particular mode and level again, but it’s alleviated by extremely short load times.
These interface issues are very minor and should have no impact on whether you purchase the game. Perhaps some of them could even be fixed in a patch, Shin’en? 🙂
Nano Assault Neo is relatively short, but it’s challenging and offers limitless replay with online leaderboards, simultaneous local 2-player mode, GamePad-only play, striking visuals and intense gameplay. Highly recommended.