Back during the launch of the Game Boy Advance in 2001, German-based developer Shin'en created Iridion 3D. Originally developed as a Game Boy Color title before being moved to the then-new handheld, it was a remarkable title if only for its graphics which pushed the boundaries of what was expected from the GBA due to its quasi-3D graphics. The developer released a sequel on the platform years later and followed up with two Nintendo DS titles under the name Nanostray, each of which featured the same frantic and demanding "bullet hell" shooting action. With the Nintendo 3DS now taking the spotlight the developer has revived the franchise yet again with its newest iteration: Nano Assault.
Like many of Shin'en's other titles in this franchise there isn't really much of a story to be had in Nano Assault. You control a nameless person who hops into a ship to combat a deadly contagion by collecting various DNA strands and defeating the enemies you come across. That's it. It really feels like something is missing as Nano Assault doesn't invest much at all in its story or the character the player is playing as that's involved in the fight against the contagion as it isn't really brought up once you pass through the opening sequence. Even shooting-focused bullet hell titles such as the games in the infamous Touhou series have more story interaction than Nano Assault.
All isn't bad, however, as Nano Assault does have some other good qualities that outweigh the lackluster story, or lack thereof. The graphics are easily some of the most impressive the Nintendo 3DS has seen in its current less than a year outing both in 2D and in 3D. The game has two distinct game modes, one of which takes place on a multidimensional cell where you travel across its surface not unlike Super Stardust's spherical planets. Weapons, and the aiming for that matter, are mapped to their respective face buttons. Combined with the 3D effect it's easily one of the better showcases for the handheld.
The other mode is modeled after the flying antics seen in the recent re-release Star Fox 64 3DS. This mode does suffer from some control issues, such as the lack of sensitivity. Turning up the sensitivity does alleviate this slightly, but even on the most sensitive setting it still feels like there's lag behind the ship's movements. This is exacerbated by the barrage of bullets you encounter in each level. Since you can only take so many hits and there are no checkpoints until you reach the boss it may feel overly difficult for newcomers and non-veterans of the genre alike.
All in all the controls for these stages feel much more like a Wii motion-controlled title than a Nintendo 3DS title and thus feel exceptionally out of place from the norm on the system so far. Something else of importance to note for players that use inverted controls is that you can't switch the movement directions in these sections, which may be a deal breaker for some. The game also suffers a drop in frame rate when a large amount of enemies appear on-screen, but only for a split-second before it recovers. It's a little annoying, but doesn't degrade the overall experience.
Rounding out the rest of the game is a number of other modes, including an arcade and boss rush mode to compliment the story mode. Progressing through these modes will unlock points that can be used to unlock other various goodies such as encyclopedia entries on the various enemies and the game's soundtrack (Play Coins earned through the handheld's pedometer can also be used), but these modes simply rehash the existing content found in the game. The fact that the main game only lasts about 3-5 hours doesn't help things either. The game does include an online leaderboard for players to compete for the top spot, which is definitely a rarity for most games on Nintendo's recent consoles and handhelds.
Nano Assault is definitely a mixed bag, to say the least. It exceptionally appeals to the hardcore bullet hell crowd which has put up with a lot worse in terms of controls, but for those who are new to the genre or only have passing knowledge Nano Assault doesn't do much to help you get accustomed to it. While it does have some of the better graphics we've seen so far on the system (in both 2D and 3D), the control and length issues definitely put a dent in what is otherwise a great arcade-inspired bullet hell shooter. Sadly, it seems like this contagion might be a little anemic itself.
|Nice 3D visuals.|
|A variety of game modes.|
|Each level presents a good amount of challenge.|
|Lack of story setting, even for this genre.|
|Controls suffer some lag.|
|Frame rate drops when the screen gets busy.|