Much like the its 3DS predecessor, Nano Assault Neo is an arcade-style shoot 'em up that’s all about piloting a microscopic spacecraft and blasting molecular baddies. There isn’t actually a plot present in this game, so there’s no need to worry about being bogged down by unnecessary story. What we have instead is a fast-paced, and often punishing, twin-stick shooter that will keep you on your toes and begging for mercy.
Nano Assault Neo is made up of four different campaigns, or cell “clusters”, which contain three levels and a boss battle in each. There's also an unlockable bonus level that plays more like an endless tunnel game, but this is not at all dependent on the campaign and only exists to increase your score. Completing a cluster will mean unlocking the next of the four, and polishing off all four clusters will unlock Survivor mode. As the title implies, this is an endless run of all 12 campaign levels in random order, which must be completed using only one life. While the campaigns do have a tendency to be a bit on the difficult side, trying to complete Survivor mode will have you weeping like a child.
If you’re having trouble completing a particular campaign, there is the option to play in two player cooperative mode. To avoid confusion and alleviate players from what could potentially be an overwhelming split-screen experience, the second player uses a Wii Remote and Nunchuck, Wii Classic Controller or Wii U Pro Controller to control their ship on the television screen while player one sticks entirely to the Wii U Gamepad. While the GamePad obviously does not support the full HD of a modern television, everything still looks crisp and unhindered by the smaller stature.
The biggest complaint here is that the campaign is a little on the short side, though there is also an Arcade mode that allows you to replay any level of your choice. All scores from Arcade mode automatically get uploaded to online leaderboards, so all of you high-score seekers out there will be able to constantly fight for the top spot. Arcade mode, while simple in nature, adds plenty of replayability to any of the levels that you may have already finished in the campaign.
While there is not a true upgrade system for your ship or weapons, there is an in-game shop where you can purchase weapons using credits that are earned based on your score and pickups in each level. Here you can purchase satellites, which are additional guns that circle around your ship, and you can choose from a variety of secondary weapons as well. The available secondary weapons vary from enemy-seeking lasers to close-range melee-esque attacks, so choosing the right weapon for you can potentially alter the way that you play. True weapon upgrades and a variety in primary guns would have been welcomed, but keeping to the game’s tendency towards simplicity, these features are left behind.
One of the beautiful things about Nano Assault Neo is how simple it is to control, and how naturally the controls are optimized to the GamePad. Your ship is controlled using both analog sticks – the left stick is used for manoeuvring your ship, while the right dictates where you’ll be shooting. Pressing the right shoulder button triggers alternative weapons, assuming you have one equipped, while checking out the level map and adjusting your satellite arrangement is done on the GamePad’s touchscreen. As mentioned earlier for the co-op play, if you choose to do so this game can also be played entirely on the GamePad screen, but the controls remain unchanged.
Aesthetically speaking this game is, in a word, gorgeous. The image quality and attention to detail in both level and character design is astounding. The levels, while similar in design and scope, are all easily differentiated by their layouts, colour schemes, and hordes or interesting enemies. Despite the lack of true variety in design from level to level, traversing from one cell to another never feels tedious, and the feeling of being in a completely new and unexplored environment is ever-present.
Matching the pace of gameplay and the beauty of the environments is a booming electronic soundtrack. Each song is made up of a deep techno beat, that borders on industrial, and adds to the intensity of being assaulted by an onslaught of hundreds of micro-organisms bent on your demise.
There is no true achievement system on Wii U, but Nano Assault Neo has its own missions built in that fulfil this missing feature. Completing achievements won’t unlock any additional content, but they will show up next to your scores on the leaderboards, ensuring that bragging will quickly follow.
Nano Assault Neo is a great game that is a little light on content, but it still packs enough of a punch to keep gamers occupied. There isn’t a plot to be seen, but the focus here is definitely more on arcade-style high score seeking action, all while looking and sounding great. With highly addictive twin-stick shmup gameplay and difficulty levels that will have you trying over and over again, you’d be remiss to pass up on what could easily become an arcade classic.