Nano Assault

With the 3DS eShop continuing to grow, and the Wii U equivalent already shaping up with an increasingly encouraging range of confirmed titles, there’s plenty of positivity around Nintendo’s download offerings. Like any platform it still has its detractors and issues, such as the occasional broken mess on the release schedule and a never-ending debate about pricing, but the 3DS and Wii U era looks to be a significant and much needed improvement over the DSi and Wii services.

One developer with plenty of experience of Nintendo’s various download platforms is Shin’en Multimedia, a development studio based in Germany. The current generation of Nintendo gamers may be familiar with downloadable titles such as Art of Balance, Jett Rocket and FAST – Racing League on WiiWare, as well as 3DS eShop versions Art of Balance TOUCH! and Fun! Fun! Minigolf TOUCH!, and more. A common theme with titles such as these is that they’re all of a solid quality, with some notable examples that have earned particularly strong recommendations from us here at Nintendo Life. Its next download games will be Nano Assault EX on 3DS eShop and Nano Assault Neo on the Wii U store; if they match the standard of the original 3DS retail release Nano Assault, then these will be downloads to watch.

We caught up with Shin’en Multimedia's Manfred Linzner to talk about these projects and his view on developing for Nintendo consoles, particularly 3DS and Wii U. It’s a company with extensive experience of the big N's systems, particularly handhelds, going back to the Game Boy Color. “Previously we did games and demos on Amiga computers, so going to the GameBoy Color was a huge change,” Linzner explained. “We came from 512kb ram to 8kb ram, from 16bit to 8bit and from 8Mhz to 2Mhz. However, it was a pretty nice system at that time and we enjoyed developing for it.”

As the list of games earlier shows, Shin’en has shown diversity in its offerings, but it’s also shown a tendency to move back towards action shooters, perhaps due to the ‘Nano’ series representing the studio’s first venture into 3D game engines.

The Nano series was our first entry into creating a 3D game. Nanostray, the first title in the series, was developed on the Nintendo DS. On GBA we had the Iridion series and originally wanted to make a sequel, but we wanted to go much further with the new game and so we decided for a new brand.

The latest entries represent how far the developer has come, with help from the tools available on increasingly modern gaming systems. Nano Assault, which our review described as a “gorgeous trip through the beautifully-rendered worlds of the human bloodstream”, made significant use of the handheld’s capabilities. Linzner told us that the stereoscopic screen “can change the feel of a game”, while the graphics engine pushed effects that simply weren’t on the table with DS. “We tried to create something that would be a perfect fit; from the gorgeous 3D graphics to the glossy and bumpy cell surfaces. I think we never would have made this game without the special 3DS hardware.”

Looking good in HD

The move of the franchise to the digital platforms on Wii U and 3DS is a reflection of Shin’en’s experiences and focus on the potential of the download market. The original Nano Assault, despite its critical praise on a number of outlets, was only published in North America. With the eShop releases reaching more regions, there are undeniable benefits and easier access to consumers, without concerns over stock making it to major retailers.

Of course, the platforms matter, and Linzner spoke positively about the strength of the 3DS-exclusive library on the eShop, sharing his belief that it’s full of “great games” while not being crowded by shovelware. Releasing titles on both the 3DS and Wii U platforms reflects the studio’s optimism for the future of download gaming with Nintendo. “The 3DS eShop was already a big step forward and we’re trying, with Nano Assault Neo, to bring a real must-have title to the Wii U eShop on day one. We think the best is yet to come on digital.”

In terms of what each title will offer, Nano Assault EX on the eShop is essentially an expanded re-release of the retail original, with new modes, Circle Pad Pro support, as well as gameplay and graphical improvements; it’s described as “Nano Assault 1.5”. The decision to develop Nano Assault Neo, however, came back in 2011 when the original 3DS title was released. Linzner told us that the studio’s access and approval to work on Wii U came early.

We felt very privileged to be one of the first indie developers that were allowed to work on the Wii U. From day one we knew this console was something special and it felt like it would have endless possibilities for new games from our side.

There’s plenty of positivity about the potential of Wii U within Shin’en: while the team knows “pretty well” what 3DS is capable of, with Wii U it sees “a lot of possibilities, and we know there is a lot of untapped power to discover”. Linzner emphasized the challenge of understanding the various abilities for players to interact with the system, while the GamePad is what excites the studio the most; “it changes everything”, is how Shin’en’s man put it.

Showing what 3DS can do

With such optimism and enthusiasm for 3DS and Wii U, we quizzed Linzner about Nintendo in more general terms. Although unwilling to go into great detail about the Wii U eShop, which is only just coming to light, we were told that Nintendo has continued to improve in recent years with the 3DS service, and that we should expect the upward trajectory to continue. When asked about a possible file size limit on the Wii U service, Linzner replied, “I don't know about such a limit”, but emphasized that his company’s policy is to minimise download sizes for the gamer’s convenience.

We also raised the often touchy subject of Nintendo’s level of support for developers, and asked about the perception of an over-stringent approval process on WiiWare.

Nintendo developer support is excellent. We never felt left alone and even years after a platform has been launched Nintendo still updates best practices for developers to get the most out of it.

The process is easy. You get a set of guidelines. If you follow them then your game gets approved. If you don't care about those guidelines then you have a serious problem. The process for eShop is pretty much the same as for WiiWare, only the guidelines changed.

The enthusiasm of Manfred Linzner — and by extension Shin’en Multimedia — for Nintendo systems is undeniable, with the studio dedicating itself to the Japanese company’s hardware for over a decade. Like many gamers, Linzner’s response when asked about his hopes for the Wii U eShop was to fantasize about GameCube titles on the Virtual Console, barely hiding his excitement at the prospect of re-visiting Super Mario Sunshine on the GamePad. We feel that it was his closing statement to us, however, that truly emphasized why this studio’s titles often show such a commitment to quality and high-standards, a focus that's sometimes lacking in its contemporaries.

We've worked with Nintendo for almost 14 years, and identify very much how they think about games and game development. There are a lot of different markets today for your games, but we feel that doing games for a Nintendo console is still something special.

We’d like to thank Manfred Linzner for his time. You can watch the trailer for Nano Assault Neo on Wii U below, and if you want to know more then check out our first impressions here.