This review was written after completing the story mode, playing Survivor Mode for a high score a few times (I almost got into the top ten), and without having played multiplayer at all.
I had long been eyeing the original Nano Assault for the 3DS with some reservation. I could see that the game looked beautiful and the mechanics solid, but I kept wondering whether the gameplay would deliver good bang for its buck. I let my reservation get the better of me, and never got it. Now, with Nano Assault Neo as a launch title on the Wii U, I saw a clear opportunity to jump in and see what I had missed, and ultimately kick myself for not buying into this franchise earlier. Nano Assault Neo, though short, is a great shoot em up on its own right, yet its timing as a Wii U launch title gives it even heightened importance.
Nano Assault Neo is a hell of a beautiful game. The game runs at a crisp 720p resolution and a perfectly fluid (and necessary for a \”bullet hell\” game like this) 60 frames per second. It is dazzling with many beautiful graphical effects and, best of all, zero screen tearing or hiccups of any sort.
Taking place in what is supposed to be the microscopic level of some organism, Nano Assault Neo puts you inside a microscopic ship in order to fight bacteria and viruses…I guess. It\’s no matter – ultimately, you will be treated to some mesmerizing renditions of these building blocks of life, and the result is a certain visceral mood to the game, even if the screen is otherwise clean for gameplay purposes (save for the many bullets you will be dodging, of course).
Personally, I find Nano Assault Neo to be the best looking game of Wii U\’s launch. Don\’t be mistaken in thinking this is cheap praise; Nano Assault Neo really looks beautiful, and if I had my way (and this world was fair), Shin\’en would find themselves developing F-Zero Wii U with the help of Nintendo. They already did develop the underrated FAST: Racing League on WiiWare, after all.
In terms of music, you really won\’t hear anything in this game that you haven\’t heard anywhere else. It\’s an arcade game, so it\’s only natural that the game has incessant electronic beats driving the game\’s action. It\’s perfectly adequate music, but only that.
The bread and butter of shoot em up games is the simplicity and intuitiveness of its mechanics. While I cannot compare Nano Assault Neo\’s mechanics to those of brilliant games like Ikaruga, I can nevertheless say that indeed the mechanics here are a good balance of simple and deep to drive you in your quest for a higher score.
Nano Assault Neo is dual-stick shooter: you move in some direction with the left stick, you shoot in another with the right stick. As you destroy enemies, you will acquire upgrades that give you up to four extra satellites for extra lead pumping (this is the same mechanic as in Gradius), or one of three special attacks that can help you in different ways to destroy your enemies or get our of a sticky situation. After beating a level, you will be given a chance to use \”credits\” you\’ve picked up from the level to buy such things as extra lives, satellites, special attacks, or other passive upgrades, which will carry to the level. If you manage to gather the five B-O-N-U-S letters, you will also enter a tense bonus stage in which you must avoid crashing as you move at increasing speeds down a tunnel with obstacles.
As for the levels, there are essentially 16 different levels: 4 clusters of 4 cells each, where the last cell of any given cluster is a boss. It\’s worth mentioning that the upgrades you acquire are only valid for each specific cluster. This is only natural, since you are meant to play each cluster separately for a high score.
Speaking about game modes: there is story mode, which will be the first thing you beat; after beating a cluster in story you can then play its individual cells in Arcade mode for a high-score; once you beat all of story mode you will unlock Survivor mode, in which you play any of the 12 non-boss cells in a random sequence, and where you will continue playing and replaying random levels until you lose your one life. There is also a 2-player mode, which is essentially the story mode but for two players. Player 1 will play with the gamepad, while player 2 can choose from a Classic Controller Pro, a Wii U Pro Controller, or a Wiimote+Nunchuk setup. One quirky detail to note is that, in typical arcadey game fashion, a dead player can steal an extra life from the other player and come back into the action. Clearly Shin\’en knows what they\’re doing!
Why the Developers Are Awesome
It\’s not just the technical and graphical prowess that puts Shin\’en in a dear spot for me. They can work with a variety of genres, as evidenced from their having made Nano Assault, FAST: Racing League, Jett Rocket, and even the Art of Balance series. They love working with Nintendo consoles, which only means us Nintendo fans get a wider selection of great games to choose from. Most of all, they are full of potential, and if you ask me, it\’s a damn shame that Nintendo hasn\’t yet brought these guys in to work in a second-party capacity the same way that Nintendo did with Factor 5 and Silicon Knights back in the day, as well as MonolithSoft before buying the majority of their stocks.
I\’ve said it before and I\’ll say it again: Shin\’en should be developing the next F-Zero on Wii U. Bring these guys in, Nintendo, and give them some direction so they can make the defining graphical powerhouse your console needs, as well as the long-awaited sequel your fans have anticipated so.
Praise and Criticism
+Fantastic visuals. Shin\’en have really crafted a beautiful game here, in my opinion the best-looking game out of the Wii U\’s launch lineup.
+Short and sweet. \”Clusters\” are short enough to be played while you wait for something else to download on your Wii U, or for commercials to end, or yes, while on the ceramic throne (indeed, this game is bathroom certified, meaning you can play it entirely on the gamepad if you so desire).
+Fun mechanics. Though not particularly outstanding, Nano Assault Neo\’s mechanics are the right combination of simple and deep.
+Local Multiplayer I myself didn\’t get to test this out, but I sure wish I had. Playing local shoot em up multiplayer action has been a staple of my life since I frequented the Arcades throughout my childhood, and an experience I hope many others will appreciate with this game.
-Short and bittersweet. At the price of $10, you may find yourself wanting a little more than what is currently in the game. If you are a high-score hound, however, you will probably be satisfied with replaying the 16 levels to reach #1 in the leaderboards, especially in the highly challenging Survivor Mode
If You Liked These Other Games, Then This Game is for You
Nano Assault Ex — Basically the prequel, yet more complete due to it being a retail game.
Ikaruga — It\’s not fair to bring a masterpiece of the shoot em up genre into this conversation, but what I\’m trying to get at is that, if you like shoot em up or bullet hell games, you\’ll like Nano Assault Neo.