It’s no surprise that game developers will occasionally create games that are heavily inspired by existing (and lucrative) franchises. Sony is the most recent to be guilty of this with their latest release of Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale, a free-for-all brawler starring some of the company’s most recognized characters (as well as several third party guest stars to fill up the paltry roster) that is clearly mimicking Nintendo’s own Smash Bros series in almost every copyright-friendly way.
It is for that reason that the Wii U release of Nano Assault Neo can be seen with some irony; as one of the first downloadable launch games for Nintendo’s new console, the high-score shoot-‘em-up may seem immediately familiar for anyone who has played Super Stardust HD on the Playstation 3. The dizzying array of colors, the spherical 3D areas, and the house-rocking techno music instantly call to mind the popular PSN game, with a distinctly more organic theme to try and mask the similarities.
Developed by Shin’en and originally released on the 3DS, the Wii U version of Nano Assault takes advantage of the stronger hardware to create a more epileptic experience, consisting of several effects and colors on screen: organic textures, particle effects, and lens flares make the game shine on HD displays, while occasionally obscuring the endless array of enemy fire coming at your tiny ship. The sound is even more impressive, with thunderous beats and basses cranked so high that your next door neighbors may come knocking on your door. As downloadable releases go, Nano Assault Neo is every bit as flashy and fluid as its unofficial point of inspiration.
The goal of the game is the same as any other wave-based shoot-‘em-up: kill all enemies. The difference in Nano’s case is that players aren’t actually required to destroy every enemy, just the majority of them: classified as “infections”, players must command a tiny ship to blast away at least 90% of the enemy viruses infecting the area (which are, in fact, enormous cell clusters…or perhaps your ship is just miniaturized like in the movie Fantastic Voyage. The game isn’t clear about its premise either way), which will then open up an exit to the next stage. From there, players have thirty seconds to reach the exit before the cell explodes, or risk losing all of their bonus points for the area (though they can still advance to the next area).
Each of the four cell clusters (Epsilon, Zeta, Omicron, and Sigma) features four stages each, with a boss encounter in the fourth stage. Completing all four stages will unlock the next cluster, and completing all four clusters unlocks a Survivor Mode. An Arcade Mode allows you to start at a specific stage in each cluster in order to boost your high score, while a two player mode lets local players work together either in split-screen or with one person using the Wii U gamepad as their main screen.
Speaking of which, the game features a rotating map on the gamepad that displays your ship and all the enemies surrounding it, though the relentless shooting and action means that players will rarely look down at the map, except during pausing. A more useful feature is the ability to manually adjust the position of the ship’s lasers (of which it can carry up to four), allowing full control on whether to spread them out for full covering fire, group them all together for a narrower, but deadlier, combo attack, or any other alignment that suits shooter fans. The game can also be played in its entirety on the gamepad, which is useful for those extended high score sessions befitting a handheld game.
In the end, Nano Assault Neo is a gorgeously presented debut title for the Wii U’s downloadable lineup that feels familiar, but also plays solidly. Though it could have used more content befitting a shoot-‘em-up (including multiple difficulty modes, of which there are none; boss fights in particular are complete cake walks compared to some of the crazier stages you must complete to get to them), the game succeeds as a quick pick-up-and-play title that you may find yourself firing up more often than not.
This review is based off of a review copy of the WiiU version of Nano Assault Neo by Shin’en Multimedia