Two things hit me when I first fired up Nano Assault NEO: wow, this game is pretty, and man, it’s difficult. I haven’t played many twin stick shooters in general, and none since trying Super Stardust in 3D to give you an idea of how long I’m talking. Nano Assault NEO (NAN) took me about a half hour to get comfortable with, but I started to get the hang of it and began to really enjoy myself even sooner than that.
The name Nano Assault may sound familiar, and it should as there was a good 3DS game released under the same name about a year ago, and a pair of Nanostray games released on the DS in years prior. With NEO, players once again assume the role of a nano ship that is tasked with purifying contaminated cells. Each of the sixteen levels, is played on a different shaped cell that you have to explore in full 3D, similar to Super Stardust. Each cell has dozens of different microbes and bacteria and other icky enemies that attempt to destroy your ship. After clearing 90% of the infestation, an exit hole opens up. Players then have thirty seconds to reach the exit before the hole cell is destroyed, which robs you important bonus points.
The variety of enemies in NAN is one of its many strong points. Enemies come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and attack in different ways, keeping things fresh and entertaining. Some enemies are hard to see, others move slowly, others are fast and attack in packs, others have range attacks, other still emit a dangerous burst of energy when they are destroyed. By default your tiny ship is severely under-powered and the real challenge of NAN is just in surviving the first couple of cells in each cluster. If you can do that, do well on the Bonus Stage, purchase an additional life and some satellites — you’re in pretty darn good shape.
There are four sets of levels. The sets are known as clusters and the levels are known as cells. The clusters, which are unlocked in order, are named Epsilon, Zeta, Omnicron, and Sigma. As you would expect the difficult and frenzy increases with each cell and cluster. The fourth cell of each cluster is a boss fight, by the way. There is also a fun and short (generally between 30-40s) bonus round for every two stages you clear. In the bonus round, the goal is to pick up as many point emblems as you can as you automatically zip forward at faster and faster speeds. The further along you get, the more objects there are, not to mention things like fog to make them harder to see. As soon as you hit one of these objects, the round ends, but you collect your bonus points. The design of these bonus stages reminded me of levels 4,
9, and 15 in Sega’s classic shooter, Space Harrier (don’t ask me why I still remember those).
Netting points in those bonus stages is actually pretty important, or at least at my skill level. NAN gives you plenty of ways to earn points though, such as picking up emblems within each cell, exiting the stage as quickly as you can, picking up five colored icons that spell the word Bonus, and by clearing all 100% of contaminants from a cell instead of just the minimum amount of 90%. To get both a high bonus score for exiting a stage as quickly as you can and clearing 100% of enemies takes a little planning and some luck, but it’s doable.
The points you earn are spent in between cells on upgrades that include a Shield, an extra Satellite, an extra Life, an Attractor, and others, as well as a few different powerful secondary weapons. The default weapon of your ship is basically a plasma gun with infinite ammo. The secondary weapons, activated by pressing ZR, are really helpful on bosses, tougher enemies, and groups of enemies. I forget their specific names, but each of special weapons can be used about four times before being depleted. These special weapons and your shield will be lost if you lose a life, though. In other words, the special weapons do not carry over to your next life, assuming you still have one in supply. The same goes for your satellites, which are bonus ships that also fire the standard weapon. You can have up to four of these little helpers, which like the special weapons can either be purchased or you may get lucky and a defeated enemy will drop one for you to pick up.
Interestingly, you can adjust the position of the satellites, moving them to different corners of your ship, and you can adjust their angle of fire 360 degrees. This allows you to configure them as you see fit. You can have them shoot in the same direction as you, adding all firepower in one direction, or have any number of them shoot in another direction, perhaps giving you 360 degrees of coverage. I found that until I got into Omicron, just having them shoot in my direction was sufficient, but the speed and number of enemies in the latter clusters made tweaking their aims to help cover more area essential for me.
Besides the addictive nature of the game and its fast pace, and the leaderboards which you can quickly move up in if you’re determined to play through the game, there are also fourteen Missions to strive for. These Missions include milestones like scoring 2M points, clearing a whole a cluster without losing a single life, clearing a cell within sixty seconds, etc.
In NAN, you can play a cell a dozen times and never quite have the same game, although given the relative small size of the cells the game’s aren’t going to be significantly different. This helps the replay value about as much as it does any twin stick shooter, but I make it a point to mention here as the overall length of NAN isn’t particularly long, with ‘just’ sixteen missions, four of which are just boss fights, and then some brief bonus stages peppered in between. That’s not to say NAN isn’t challenging and something that will take someone at my skill level a few hours to complete, though. Furthermore I have found jockeying for position on the Leaderboards to be more addictive than almost any other game I have played. Support for a second player is included as well, with one player on the Gamepad, and the other on the TV using other compatible controllers. Survival Mode is unlocked upon completing the main levels, challenging you to revisit these levels and play through as many as you can. Arcade mode is available for any cell you have cleared, and this allows you to practice on a cell and work towards a higher score to post, so Shin’en does a good job of supplementing the main mode with alternative ways to play.
Gamepad integration is pretty cool. The game looks absolutely stunning on TV and the Gamepad, and like most Wii U games I found myself going to Gamepad-only mode for the most part. When you play with the TV on, though, the Gamepad shows you a 3D, rotatable map of the cell you are on, your satellite positions and angle (both of which you can adjust), and you can scroll through the fourteen missions I mentioned earlier. This menu can be brought up when you are playing with the Gamepad solely by tapping a icon in the HUD on the touchscreen, too.
Let’s head to the summary…