A generation has gone by without a right analogue stick on a Nintendo system, so it’s little surprise that its return on the Wii U GamePad coincides with the launch of a new twin-stick shooter. The same, of course, happened with Super Stardust Delta on Vita, and while German developer Shin’en Multimedia’s game can’t quite keep pace with Housemarque’s effort, both share a desire to highlight their host systems’ visual capabilities.
The technical competency of this studio shouldn’t be overlooked: Shin’en worked minor miracles with WiiWare’s miserly 40MB file limit, and it’s evidently determined to repeat the trick on Wii U. As you pilot your craft around infected human cell clusters, you’ll marvel at the beautifully gooey or fuzzy infections you’re asked to blast, not to mention the shiny, bump-mapped detail of the cells themselves. It’s not entirely biologically sound – evidently Shin’en believes the human body has its own internal light sources – but it makes for some of the most attractively rendered contagions we’ve seen. The music, by comparison, is lively but entirely unmemorable, its pulsing rhythms forgotten as soon as we paused to post our first screenshot to Miiverse.
Beyond its undeniable visual appeal, however, Nano Assault Neo is merely a competent shooter. Movement of your miniature craft is pleasantly responsive, while collectable satellites can be reconfigured at any time to provide extra forward firepower, or protection from the sides or rear. There’s little we haven’t seen before, but it’s executed with confidence and skill. Elsewhere, tokens can be spent on upgrades between levels, with limited-use weapons helping you out of sticky spots.
There are rather more of these than perhaps there should be: the challenge is stern but mostly fair, but the abstract shapes of the cells can sometimes leave you with an unfavourable camera angle. Advance over the crest of a Twiglet-shaped stage and you may be greeted with a hail of unavoidable projectiles. Elsewhere, bursts of distracting lens flare are an unwelcome side-effect of the developer’s determination to showcase its graphical talents. And though the guardians that close each chapter look the part, defeating them is simply a case of targeting their glowing red weak points.
More problematic still is the game’s erratic difficulty curve. Your ship begins each new cell cluster without any upgrades earned from previous stages, making the first level of each quartet more difficult than those that follow. Additional satellites are relatively cheap, and though you’re limited to five, that’s usually enough to deal with each boss fairly comfortably. A survival mode asks you to finish the game with a single life, but beyond the score-chasing Arcade mode, there’s little real incentive to return, not least because levels extend past their ideal end point.
One day you sense Shin’en will make a game that plays as good as it looks. Until then, this is a polished and attractive shooter that you’ll likely have a reasonably entertaining few hours with before forgetting it ever existed within a month. An ideal launch game, then.