3DS | Majesco / Shin'en | 1 Player | Out Now (North America)
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20th February 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
Designed with an arcade focus in mind, Nano Assault takes players on a journey of small proportions, taking on microbes and other things of this sort in a microscopic battle using the multi-purpose Nanite Ship. In this game, the term "World" is replaced by "Cell Cluster", with each containing a mix of ground- and flight-based missions that take you into the deep recesses of hives and other locations that some of these creatures have made their home. This is all done in an attempt to instill a sense of variety into the game's mission structure, and as you'll see, the developers did a good job of preventing any kind of repetition from invading one's enjoyment with the game. Not that that stops other things from getting in the way, of course.
Collecting 100 Carbon Crystals while playing in Story Mode will increase the maximum number of Nanites you can hold, but when playing in Arcade Mode, these Carbon Crystals will instead be used to increase your overall score. In terms of bonuses, you will gradually unlock new weapon upgrades for your secondary slot, items like time-delayed bombs and defensive electro-magnetic fields. You can only use one of these going into a mission, and it's usually fun to experiment with the different options as you aim for higher scores.
The controls in this game do take some getting used to, but it's nothing drastic. The special cruiser you control using the Circle Pad comes equipped with a main weapon that can be controlled directionally using the ABYX Buttons. The range of fire can be adjusted up to two additional levels using presses of the L Button, while the R Button is used to fire a shot with your secondary weapon. The gauge on the Touch Screen indicates the limit of how much firepower you have, which can be increased by collecting orange-coloured Energy Capsules casually dropped by defeated enemies. While the camera is controlled automatically by default, there is a bonus feature found just on the Pause Menu that allows you to use slight tilt controls to adjust it manually instead. Overall, it's quite possible that you won't like the controls very much to begin with, and while it's not something that necessarily grows on you, players will gradually get better at the process of firing and aiming the standard weapon.
In some places, I actually felt the main cruiser could have benefited from a temporary boost function. Not necessarily because the enemies move at a much faster speed or because the bullets are hard to dodge, but as I continued playing, I noticed two situations in particular that showed how this might've benefited the situation. The first scenario where this is noticeable is when you're actually traversing environments and are on the lookout for remaining enemies, and the second is with levels that were situated more like mazes than spherical worlds. Obviously this would require a change in the button configuration and I'm not totally sure how it would have played out, but it is something worth noting as it says something about the overall pace seen in the standard missions.
So getting back to the mission structure, you'll be tasked with destroying microbes, rocks, and other organisms all throughout the adventure. However, the approach you're forced to take differs from mission to mission. In the standard levels, players head to small planet-like levels referred to as Cells, where your goal is to clear all active threats and collect any DNA Sequences. Upon doing so, you will then proceed to purify the environment, then make your way to the next level.
Some of the smaller enemies only become visible once you get close to them, and they are often found in what's referred to as Infected Regions. When you have one last area to track down with no map to guide the way, it's anybody's guess as to what you missed and where you need to go to trigger the generation. Interestingly, if you defeat the enemies before collecting the last piece of the DNA structure, a 30-second countdown will initiate. However, if you were to flip this around and collect the DNA first, there's no rush placed upon you to rid the environment of the threats still lurking about. So I thought it was a little odd how that worked.
The second category of missions fits to an on-rails mold, taking a third-person view with the Nanite Ship traveling onwards in an open or confined air space. In these scenarios, any of the buttons on the right will fire a straight shot and either the Circle Pad or the +Control Pad can be used aim the targeting reticule. Under the Pause Menu, you're given the option of adjusting the sensitivity of where the shots are headed versus the position of the crosshair. But again, even with this function put in place, you'll need some practice to get used to the system.
To be quite honest, I wasn't a fan of the on-rails segments at all at the outset, but there were one or two towards the end that were actually quite decent. One, for example, had you following along this long trail that involved shooting tentacle-shaped creatures as other enemies tried to attack you from the sides. Another cell had some interesting camera angles where you were looking up or viewing the upcoming path from a sideways or even diagonal perspective instead of straight on. Despite these positive moments, I typically found these missions were a bit chore-like and they were easily the weakest part of the entire package compared to the other gameplay styles on offer.
The final set of Cells has you facing off against a hulking virus where multiple steps are required to break it down completely. Besides just being a somewhat frequent part of the game, bosses are never overly simple and usually have some depth to them, which was great to see time and time again. This was especially true because the approaches never felt repetitive or done the same way too many times. They usually are entertaining with different attack phases to get past and a couple making use of somewhat unpredictable tactics, like using a combination of laser beams and bullets. Some of these battles take place on a 2D plane in a round arena, while others occur in more open environments. The style of the on-rails missions does come into play in some of these boss scenarios as well, like chasing an abnormally-structured creature as it tries to run away and send little creepy-crawlies your way. This is definitely the highlight of the entire game, which isn't to say the entities they've created for tense combat will wow you, but they are engaging enough to be worthy of a degree of praise.
All things considered, Nano Assault isn't terribly creative, but at the very least it does have a varied progression. Despite this team's impressive track record, this is the first game I've played by Shin'en where I felt the gameplay was merely okay. I've already brought up some minor issues I have with the organization of levels and how things played out, but it's not like the game fails miserably or suffers because of crippling flaws. The game is fine, but it doesn't go much further than that. Realistically, it wasn't even until Cell Cluster 4 that I was starting to have fun with the game. I also thought Cell 3 in the Kappa Cluster was especially noteworthy with its nicely-approached ice theme and crystallized elements. With the exception of the boss battles which kept my attention nearly every single time, as well as a couple memorable segments here and there, nothing else really moves you or helps players build a lasting relationship with the game.
Whether you're patrolling a spherical world or are exploring a cave, the visuals used throughout the entire game are really top-notch. Rocky surfaces look smooth and reflective, open areas feel spacious yet intimidating, while other visual techniques simply demonstrate just how much effort went into making this game look really good. On top of that, the game may leave your eyes feeling a tad fatigued with 3D enabled because of how much players are pulled into the setting as it is. How unfortunate it is, though, that Nano Assault's visuals don't shine spectacularly because of constant framerate issues. The game has trouble keeping a steady pace at times, with the overall framerate acting up sporadically at regular points in the experience. It's not a major interference with the gameplay, but it's still hard to ignore. Sadly, this does indeed take away from how impressive the game looks visually.
Nano Assault also features a pretty good soundtrack with some neat tunes. Some parts feel quite unique and suitable for the mostly non-threatening atmosphere of the game, while other tracks sound a little less personalized. I quite liked the song 'Anarchy' for its move-fast-but-have-no-fear style that came through with the techno sound. I don't think the tracks in this game are as good as what we've seen in some of Shin'en's other games, so while they put forth a respectable effort, I still think they could have been done a bit better in this area.
If there was one thing that Shin'en got practically dead-on, that would definitely be the arcade focus. Shin'en adapted the game quite nicely as a portable title that you can just pick up on the fly, and that is easily one of its greater strengths. Though it is an arcade game by design, I still feel Nano Assault could have benefited from an overarching storyline to help give some background on this rather interesting viral war that you instantly become a part of. It doesn't beg for one as the game does make an attempt at introducing gameplay in a way the developers felt was suitable, but I don't think it would have hurt if we were given even more of a background coming into the experience.
Once you clear all the Story Mode missions, you can see merit in going through everything again in Arcade Mode, except with a much more arcade-focus built on score accumulation for high scores and bonus challenges where you can earn Nano Coins. You even have the ability to take your scores to the online leaderboard and see how you stack up against other players. Additionally, you can challenge your skills in Boss Rush Mode and see if you can complete multiple boss fights without losing all of your Nanites. In both modes, you'll likely find Nano Assault does a pretty decent job of extending the experience, but because the gameplay itself is unremarkable and some missions are more annoying than fun, I doubt your willingness to stick it out will be as strong as it might be in other 3DS titles. Additionally, the Nanoshop contains simple unlockables in the way of 11 tracks for the Jukebox and 20 Nanopedia items, purchased using the Nano Coins earned through Arcade Mode, or by exchanging Play Coins for a direct conversion to the in-game currency. All in all, additional content is another aspect of the game where Shin'en did commendable work.
Yes the game looks really, really good and the game has its moments now and again, but is that really enough to justify a buy? I have a hard time giving a resolute answer. Compared to other arcade titles tailored for the 3DS, I think Nano Assault definitely has what it takes to be viewed as one of the best of the bunch, strictly in terms of focus. While others may be more willing to forgive the gameplay due to the bar-setting graphics, I do believe that some tightening up in this department would have really put Nano Assault on top. As is, the game is hardly going to make you feel excitable, so unless you're okay with struggling to find major enjoyment along the way, don't be so hasty to go under the microscope.
21/30 - Good
Gameplay 6/10 - Feels standard in its approach to the different mission styles, some components feel a bit off, controls aren't the greatest, neat weaponry
Presentation 8/10 - Strong visuals amplified by the incorporation of 3D, music is good but not great, framerate takes away from the impressive graphics
Enjoyment 3/5 - Only moderately fun, great boss fights, on-rails missions aren't very fun, a few memorable parts here and there, not very moving
Extra Content 4/5 - Good number of levels, Arcade Mode adds replay value with scores and online leaderboards, Boss Rush Mode, collectible Nano Coins
Equivalent to a score of 70% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System