First Impressions: Nano Assault Neo

Big things from a small world

Nano Assault on 3DS probably qualifies as an under-appreciated gem, a title that was awarded an impressive 8/10 in our review but unfortunately never arrived in Europe. It's a pity that it hasn't been enjoyed outside of North America and Japan, though thankfully developer Shin'en Multimedia has confirmed that a 3DS eShop title based on the retail release, Nano Assault EX, will arrive in Europe along with other territories.

For fans of the original, or those that like the concept but haven't yet played it, there's also the digital follow-up on Wii U's eShop to look forward to, Nano Assault Neo. In fact, the representative at Nintendo of Europe's HQ informed us that this will be a launch title, making it one of the very first downloadable games on the system. From what we've seen, it could be a fun introduction to the eShop platform on the new console.

We saw four levels in our playthrough, during which we got to try out the two-player co-op, new to this version. Regardless of how many players are taking part the setting is once again on a single cell, blasting away all kinds of enemies that, presumably, represent a deadly virus. The story doesn't ultimately matter, as the objective is to move around the cell, with plenty of contours and spherical areas to explore, and destroy a target percentage of enemies. Once you hit your target an escape tunnel appears with a 30-second countdown, prompting a frenzied dash where either player must get there before the timer hits zero. It's frenetic action with an old-school vibe, which is exciting and promises a good challenge.

Whereas the 3DS title uses the Circle Pad and four main buttons for shooting in multiple directions and moving at the same time, this Wii U version makes use of the dual stick option of the GamePad, Pro Controller or, in our case, the Wii Classic Controller. The only button used is to activate a power-up weapon, and moving with one stick while determining the direction of fire with the other feels immediately instinctive. The implementation of two player couldn't be simpler, meanwhile, with player one using the GamePad screen and the second player using the TV; thanks to the crisp visuals on the touch screen it doesn't feel like one gamer is missing out to any great degree.

Whichever screen you're playing on, this is a title that shows the graphical potential for the next era of download games on Nintendo's system. Impressive lighting and particle effects pop on the screen, with the gameplay zipping along at a smooth frame rate despite the chaos on screen; one exception was slight slow-down during explosions, though this may have been for dramatic effect. In any case, the two normal 'cell levels', the bonus tunnel race level — in which you grab bonus points for as long as possible without crashing — and a boss stage were all impressive to watch and play. Throw in some pulsing techno music, and it pushes buttons for intense shmup action.

The representative on hand did explain two key modes that'll be available. Arcade mode will be the closest thing to a story, blasting through consecutive levels, while Survival will be a non-stop mode where you stay alive for as long as possible. Like the 3DS title, there'll be online leaderboards for each game mode, so high-score chasers should be happy.

Considering the pedigree of the original 3DS retail release, it's little surprise that this is shaping up to be a technically impressive, fun 3D shmup experience. A simple control scheme is perfect for the intense and challenging levels, and fans of the genre should keep an eye on this one.

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