Game: Nano Assault Neo
Developer: Shin’en Games
Publisher: Shin’en Games
Available on: Wii U only
Shooting stuff is fun, and not getting shot is also fun – well, more fun than actually getting shot, anyway – and it’s this not-quite-radical pairing of ideas that forms the basis for games like Nano Assault Neo. Classically described as “bullet hell” shooters, games of this ilk typically feature hundreds of enemies trying to perforate your soft bits while you, in turn, attempt to do the same to them. Without fail, you’re outnumbered, though you’re not necessarily out-gunned. You’ll always have back-ups, power-ups, shields, boosts, extra lives, continues. Your enemies can shoot, dodge, swoop, explode, but they can’t think like you, nor react to different stimuli, and therein lies the balance from which the gameplay itself is born.
But just because the fundamental mechanics of a title like Nano Assault Neo are very straightforward and rarely original, it’s not to suggest that the game itself isn’t very, very good. In fact, Nano Assault Neo is one of the best examples of its genre to be released in recent years.
Similar in form and theory to the PlayStation Vita’s Super Stardust Delta, Nano Assault transports the frantic action of a classic 2D shmup to a 3D environment; in this instance, the organic cells of a living creature. It looks close to spectacular whether played on your big screen TV or the Wii U GamePad, with brilliant, vibrant colours and an attention to minute detail that truly pays off in HD.
You take command of a tiny craft and must destroy pretty much everything that moves besides yummy collectible power-up discs, at the same time avoiding a hailstorm of bullets, laser-beams, rockets, flames and kamikaze enemies. There are four stages, each divided into four parts. The first three are straightforward missions that simply require you to stay alive until the exit appears, but the fourth is invariably a boss fight. Each boss has a set routine of attacks and manoeuvres for you to learn and exploit, but none of them are particularly easy.
As you play you’ll pick up satellites, little canons that float alongside your ship and can be angled however you like. Once you have four, it’s only a matter of tweaking their line of fire until you’ve essentially got every angle of approach covered with lasery death. You can either buy them from the between-level lobby or collect them as power-ups, and they come in incredibly handy. Factor in a handful of special attacks mapped to ZR and you’re given more than enough tools to even the crowded playing field.
You’ll also see collectible letters bobbing up occasionally which, when found, spell BONUS. Find them all and you unlock the bonus mode, a slice of high-speed brilliance that slings the camera behind your ship and rockets you down a dark, narrow tunnel. The objective is to collect as many credits as possible, but one crash and you’re out. As the speed increases and more and more obstacles are thrown your way, it becomes more exhilarating and nerve-jangling than even Burnout ever was.
There’s an innate charm to Nano Assault Neo that’s hard to resist. A bullet hell blaster that manages to be both simple and elegant at the same time, with fantastic HD visuals and a fast, heart-pounding soundtrack, Nano Assault Neo almost feels like it would be far better suited to a straight handheld, and yet it still looks gorgeous on a bigger screen (when played like this the GamePad displays a 3D map of the level and is used for adjusting your satellites.
VERDICT: A better looking and deeper game than Super Stardust Delta, Nano Assault Neo is a great little shooter and one that Shin’en were wise to bring to the Wii U. Although as much fun played on the GamePad screen, it’s actually quite cool to use the touchscreen to spin the map and angle your auxiliary cannons.
Nano Assault Neo doesn’t set out to reinvent the 3D blaster, but it’s playable enough and fresh enough that it doesn’t matter. If you’re looking for something fast-paced and challenging to pass the time, you could do a lot worse than this little beauty.