Nano Assault EX
3DS Download | Shin'en | 1 Player | Out Now | $14.99 / £13.49 | Play Coin Support
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20th March 2013; By KnucklesSonic8
Carrying on, these are similar sets of ideas that guide Nano Assault EX, a downloadable version of the original retail release from over a year ago, which vows to bring with it an assortment of enhancements for both fans and newcomers. The concept of an enhanced version might add undue pressure that the game has its ideas fulfilled to an unfaltering degree, but because in this particular case, Nano Assault might not have followed through on all its initial promises, one can only conclude that a slight upgrade would be a positive step forward. The question is, how much re-shaping has been done, and has it been to the extent of ensuring the game delivers in a full capacity?
The core concept is that of a 3D shooter, centered around a beneath-the-soil universe now populated with strange creatures and viral armies. These organisms have sullied a once-pure world and made it into a fertile ground for bacterial growth and decay, a state that can only see to restoration with your help as you take on theses treacherous foes within a small Nanite ship. In its original form, the game was devised with a twin-stick system tailored for the 3DS. Since the Circle Pad was used to affect movement and a second Circle Pad wasn't built into the handheld, what they did was map shooting to button control. While this may not have as seamless and as fluid of an effect as the alternative, it performed adequately with a few quirks. This is the default configuration that still exists in Nano Assault EX, except that now that the Circle Pad Pro has made it possible for dual-analog gameplay, Shin'en has wisely seen fit to make this a control option. It's like they are finally fulfilling what they originally set out to accomplish. Now, this isn't something I can verify, but I have a good feeling that this inclusion has made a notable difference in the reactions that will be had towards gameplay.
Cell Clusters you visit adopt three main gameplay styles as a fair mix of both ground and aerial segments. The first involves re-establishing the original make-up of a particular cell by scouring planetary and space rock-like masses for three DNA sequences, while also ridding it of all active threats. The second pits you against a single foe of considerable size in a continued bid for eradicating the products of the infection's growth. And finally, the third engages players in on-rails flight sections that get into the region's deepest catacombs. It is here that the landscape is especially overrun with crawling entities, and your purpose in wiping them all out is with the ultimate end of establishing a link between the current Cluster and the one that follows. Severing this connectivity is a monster that awaits you at the end of your flight path, with attacks even more ferocious than those seen earlier on.
There's a nice split in the way of game flow, as these different segments create just enough variety to balance out the bold. Even in looking at different iterations of the same stylistic treatment, there are additional changes in the way of angles and vantage points, with some encounters offering only side-to-side movement while others are more in-your-face by moving with the creature as if on a guided tour. Through alternating attack patterns and points of station (in the case of bosses), as well as the mildly progressive gameplay brought on by firm, environmental hazards (in the case of ground levels), the game strives for an eclectic vibe without doing so at the expense of its vision.
Aerial sequences are admittedly stretched-out in that they contrast the pace seen in the ground levels, but on the plus side, you don't have to do the on-rails portion again if you end up running out of lives during the concluding boss fight. In these areas, Nano Assault EX decidedly makes no trimmings to better or re-center the broad focus, keeping these sections largely untouched and without detectable impact.
While the size of the game's universe may not be gargantuan, players will really be swooped up by the sheer fantasy of it and the inescapable edge it carries. There's an energy created by all of it being set against the backdrop of a futuristic style that bears distinct organic qualities, and while I'd hesitate to call it realistic, there is something believable about the game that I admired about the original and now feel the same toward this edition. That said, the varying entities that you do battle with don't have a stark dominance on the world, or even isolated portions of it, so it's not like the spread of the infection has resulted in something completely dystopian.
There is no question that Nano Assault EX, like its predecessor, is one of the most visually outstanding titles for the system to date, featuring sharp and eerily life-like graphics that dazzle. The fact that it can retain such visual power in a downloadable format without any loss in quality or strength is a feat in itself, but to see how much lustre 3D adds is yet another fine component to the overall whole. The textures seen in levels amaze on one note, but there are also some really well-rendered enemies here that feed the vibes and aid in bringing the game to life. Along with that, the tones existing in the pressure-filled music really capture a sense of heroism and danger, while at the same time sparking a measure of intrigue through upbeat and swift-paced tunes.
Where Nano Assault EX comes up short in the way of presentation is the same complaint that was had in the original. The framerate hasn't completely been cleaned up, that much is certain. But it's less dicey in both effect and frequency. There are multiple places in the game when the left side of the screen seems to have an abrupt ripple effect going on, but it's common for this to be displayed either only or more actively during the introductory lead-ins to each level. One final thing to be aware of is the presence of a glitch that happened to me during the boss fight in the Kappa Cell Cluster. Rather than transitioning to the next phase after all vulnerable spots had been completely damaged, it simply remained on a loop with a now-impenetrable shield where the only way for me to continue on was to restart the mission. It only happened to me once, so I don't think it's a recurring issue.
For all the effort put into superb production values, it's unfortunate that the gameplay doesn't command as much attention, and this is mostly attributable to gripes resting with the game's core design. As the ground levels especially demonstrate, Nano Assault EX is very much a search-and-destroy kind of game. This isn't an inherent issue in itself, provided this was the original intention and that point is tangibly relayed to players. But where this starts to fade into an area of concern is when the game's consistent and unrelenting pace is disrupted by plenty of roaming and lurking around environments for concealed entities.
Now, you do have the map assigned to the +Control Pad to assist you in tracking these down, but this can be misleading as the direction your mark on the map is facing isn't relative to your current status on the field -- it always points upward in a neutral position. Either way, it's often the case that approaching certain spaces where there is an identified signal of enemy presence results in you being blindsided by sudden appearances, some of which will pop up in an assigned portion of land where your ships just so happens to be stationed. It's comparable to searching for buried pressure plates that will trigger traps, and it makes the game unpredictable in a way that gets frustrating at times, though not erratically so.
What's more annoying than anything else is when you realize there are more organisms in the area and have to move into the right place for one or two to appear before you can move on. If you keep an eye on the numerical indicator on the Touch Screen, then you won't find yourself scrambling to return to a piece of land you thought you cleared in full but had overlooked one that was hiding. Between these elements and the traits of the less successful on-rails segments, the game does have a slight imbalance in its gameplay that, over time, lessens the overall tension felt, and it's annoyances like these that start to pester players as they move forward. However, the overall difficulty is never taxing nor unreasonably demanding, so that prevents the aforementioned issues from escalating into things that you'd really start to resent if the game became more unforgiving.
The bosses aren't exempt from having their own quirks as well. One features a portion where a regular adjustment of the reticule is required as a result of a triad-beam laser that divides the screen and thus limits your movement. Since this forces you to hold off on fire for about two seconds before resuming, there is a need to alter the control sensitivity under the Options menu. Aside from that, though, the game's boss encounters are pretty strong in their own right, in the sense that even those that seem too strenuous initially are actually well-designed. Plus, a fair number of them do provide indications on upcoming attacks without greatly marring the thrill of defeat, and that too is something that will be appreciated by all.
While completing Story Mode in full will not take more than five or six hours, doing so will help you see the secret to the game's longevity -- that Story Mode isn't, in fact, the main point of interest here. On the contrary, the real highlight here is Arcade Mode, where players shoot for top scores on both offline and online leaderboards. During levels, Blue Carbon Crystals that once granted you extra lives in Story Mode take the form of Yellow Carbon Crystals that increase your final score. Also present is the Nano Gauge, a multiplier that only allows for a short window of activity before it is reset. It's hard to really map out a plan of attack for achieving the best possible scores, save for one or two levels where there's a clear strategy you must employ (e.g., having flying enemies trail you to an explosive of sorts). Yet, Arcade Mode is really the heart of Nano Assault EX, and both because of high-score sharing and the presence of skill-testing challenges, it will remain your primary destination over the long-term.
Nano Assault EX also features the same Boss Rush Mode that existed in the original, but this is more of a one-trick pony as it is explored almost solely to unlock the all-new Survivor Mode that's exclusive to this edition of the game. Seeing as there's only one life to run with, playing this mode does call to attention the gameplay issues mentioned earlier regarding instantaneous enemy arrivals. And too, there appears to be a reserved pool of stages that are chosen from (I keep encountering the same ones as my debut stage). But it's still a fun challenge that those who feel they've mastered the game's mechanics can seek out. One final option of note is the Nano Shop, as it is here that you can use Nano Coins earned in Arcade and Boss Rush (or Play Coins) on Nanopedia entries -- an in-game encyclopedia that catalogues the game's diverse enemies -- and audio goodies for independent listens at the Jukebox.
Nano Assault EX has its share of gripes, but it still maintains a fresh feel and atmosphere rather well. With the exception of the boss encounters, the initial pull becomes more gentle as you move forward, which places some onus on Arcade Mode to help reinvigorate players. But even so, it's never a bore to play, and the way Shin'en has created a visually stunning universe without a hugely defined story is worthy of commendation in itself. Fans who enjoyed the original departure may wish to consider re-investing, because while there aren't enough improvements to transform the game into something truly spectacular, what minor adjustments have been made assist the game in delivering on its promises in a better way than before. For anyone else who admires the odd shooter and doesn't mind a few imperfections along the way, this improved digital offering may just surprise you over what it does do right.
23/30 - Good
Gameplay 7/10 - Improved controls, even style presence, design issues exist among all components, well-designed bosses, on-rails sections less successful
Presentation 9/10 - Framerate less dicey, some bugs, edgy universe, dazzling visuals and texture detail, worthwhile 3D, energetic soundtrack
Enjoyment 3/5 - Difficulty reasonable and never taxing, tension lessened over time, sudden enemy appearances result in instant deaths, enjoyable bosses
Extra Content 4/5 - High-score nuts will get the most out of it, Survivor Mode is entertaining for experts, good value for the price, small bonuses
Equivalent to a score of 77% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System