It's interesting to see a twin-stick shooter on the 3DS, a handheld with, well, only one stick. That's why Shin'en decided to pull a Peace Walker and turn the 3DS' face buttons into a second analog stick. Right off the bat, it may seem that Nano Assault was set up for immediate failure. You'd be surprised that it actually didn't turn out that way.
The third in Shin'en's Nano series following its DS brethren Nanostray and Nanostray 2, Nano Assault, which is nothing like the two, is part twin-stick shooter, part on-rails shooter, utilizing both genres in very unique ways. The game begins with you, being captain of a new atom-sized spacecraft, aiming to wipe out dangerous viruses that threaten human society as we know it. Yeah, I'll be blunt, it's a really dumb story (if you can even call it a story), but it's not like the game really needs one.
But enough of that. Let's get on the core of the game.
Nano Assault features 7 worlds, each of which contains four to six levels. Of these levels, only one or two of them are on-rails levels, while the rest are twin-stick levels (both will be covered in detail later in the review). At the start of each level, players are asked to choose their ship (all additional ships unlockable through progression), each with unique power stats and secondary weapon. Once chosen, players will be thrust into the actual level.
As mentioned before, a large majority of stages in the game are twin-stick levels, in which players use the circle pad to move and the face buttons to shoot. Though it may seem uncomfortable to use the face buttons as a "second stick" at first, it to me but a couple of levels to get used to it. Each level takes place on a cell, on which are infected organisms that players must destroy to finish the level, and 3 DNA sequences to collect (though they are NOT required to complete the stage). Players control the ship around the cell a la Super Mario Galaxy in search of these organisms and DNA sequences. It may feel a bit like a long treasure hunt, but it's fun nonetheless.
The on-rails sections are very different from the twin-stick sections. In fact, they're very different from your everyday on-rails shooters as well. These on-rails sections focus on two different aspects: background shooting and foreground dodging. The circle pad here controls both the ship's movements and the shooting receptacle, forcing players to focus on both aspects at the same time. Additionally, enemies may appear in both the foreground and the background, sometimes transversing between these two layers. This gives Nano Assault an added complexity that will give on-rails shooter fans a run for their money. It also is the reason why Nano Assault does not contain an inverse-axis mode (though I understand the EU version will). The fact that players must control both the ship and the receptacle at the same time means that inversed controls will make the game feel unplayable and broken.
Most of the 10 boss battles also take place during these on-rails sections as well (one takes place on the ground), many of which feature this aforementioned foreground-background element. Of course, this makes many of the bosses extremely challenging, sometimes to the point of ridiculous. But don't worry; Nano Assault features a "leveling" up system that increases the maximum number of lives players get when they collect 100 blue gems that are dropped by certain enemies. This makes most levels challenging but not unreasonable.
Visually, Nano Assault is absolutely stunning. Each cell is crafted in a unique manner and the environments found in the on-rails sections look amazing. The 3D effect is also put into good use; because of the nature of Nano Assault, the 3D makes it feel as if you're looking right into a microscope. The on-rails section are effective in showing off the 3D due to the aforementioned foreground-background mechanic. I do have one complaint, though, and it's that there's no way to move the camera around (a gyroscope option is given, but it's very limited). It would have been nice for Shin'en to utilize the touch screen as more than just a HUD holder, but that's only a minor complaint. Overall, Nano Assault is a very solid shooter.
Besides the main story mode, which will probably take 5 to 6 hours to complete, there is also a plethora of other modes, including an arcade mode, stage challenges, and online leaderboards. The game is packed with content, though admittedly it's all recycled content from the main game. But for hardcore shooter fans, that may be okay. It's fun to replay those glorious levels over and over again, and the leaderboards add an extra competitive edge to the game.
Though the game itself is solid, I can't help but feel that Shin'en could have done much more to Nano Assault. That being said, the game is still very well-done and polished. Beautiful graphics, unqiue design, online leaderboards... Nano Assault seems to have almost everything! And guess what? It will only run you $20! So what are you waiting for? Get on your ship and destroy those deadly microbes!