Much to Sony’s dismay, the PlayStation Vita has struggled since launch. There’s constant debate over what the handheld needs – does it need more AAA titles that really show off the hardware’s power, or does it just need more software in general? It’s a dilemma brought about by the vicious cycle of development costs versus profit – if the portable console isn't selling well, why would publishers risk supporting it? And if there isn't a steady stream of software, why would gamers buy it?
Enter indie developers – many of which we've seen before on mobile platforms, the Vita’s touch screen making porting their titles a seemingly simple task. There’s certainly no shortage of smaller, more casually focused releases on the platform – and depending on your disposition, this can be either a good or bad thing. Thankfully, Frima Studio’s Nun Attack shows just how compelling such games can be, regardless of your views on the indie development scene.
This is a fast paced, pick-up-and-play real-time strategy with a ton of RPG elements, controlled completely with the touch screen. It’s exactly the crazy kind of game that you’d expect to find on your phone’s app store, but beneath its quirky art style hides a deceptively deep title that will keep you coming back for more.
Nun Attack gives you a small squad of four gun-toting nuns and tasks you with taking down their rogue sister and her army of skeletal bad guys. Everything about the game is accessible, from the controls to the gameplay, and the mechanics are explained in bite sized chunks, perfectly suited to the platform’s portability.
There are two modes of gameplay, the first of which sees you guiding your selected nun duo across relatively simple overworld maps while avoiding the projectiles that demonic portals throw at you, some of which you can flick back with the swipe of a finger. It’s a strangely compelling mix of mini-game-like silliness and subtle strategy as you carefully move your holy sisters to their destination while swatting any incoming dangers.
Sitting on these maps are battlegrounds, which when encountered lead to the title’s second mode of gameplay. Here you’ll be directing your nuns around a small area by simply tapping them and dragging your pointer to the desired position – then all hell breaks loose as enemies flood from off-screen, engaging your heroes in combat. Another quick tap allows you to open fire on the undead, and it’s hugely satisfying to see their health bars slowly chip away as a sister paints them with bullets.
Things start out simple enough, with just a few gun slinging skeletons trotting towards you, but later on Nun Attack gets incredibly hectic due to the introduction of exploding monsters and heavily armoured abominations. It becomes a frantic examination of just how fast you can coordinate your fingers, furiously tapping the screen before you’re completely overrun. Even when the odds are stacked against you, it’s difficult to stop yourself from having another go – it’s just good old-fashioned chaotic fun.
Complementing the release’s gameplay mechanics are some simple RPG elements. Everything from levelling up your party of nuns to upgrading their weaponry is here – and like chipping away at an enemy’s health bar, seeing each character’s experience gauge fill up is a satisfying experience. However, this is also where the title’s main flaw lies – the game can often be a shamelessly tedious grind.
Playing back through previous stages to level up your group doesn't seem so bad at first, especially since each map only takes a couple of minutes to complete – but this is a game best played in quick, rewarding bursts whenever you've got a little time to spare. As such, constantly trudging back to old areas feels a little out of place.
And unfortunately, grinding is all but a necessity in order to take down the powerful bosses and some groups of deadly enemies, as trying to skip ahead with an under-levelled squad will almost always result in a few nun-shaped stains on the ground. The same is also true of your equipment; you’ll find new guns in treasure chests scattered around the maps, but you’ll often need immense amounts of in-game currency to upgrade them, again a commodity that’s mostly gained through replaying levels.
However, proceedings are kept somewhat fresh thanks to each nun boasting their own weapons and abilities. Eva, for example, dual wields pistols and can summon a decoy to effectively distract foes as you flank them. Olga on the other hand simply acts as a human wall, drawing the attention of every onscreen baddie as she blasts anything that gets too close with her shotgun. Because of these differences, you’ll often find yourself retrying failed stages using a different duo, as their tools may be just what‘s needed to progress.
Aesthetically, Nun Attack is a smart looking game that boasts a confident and likeable cartoon style. Animations are simple but effective, backgrounds are nicely detailed, and characters have an air of personality. It’s a neat and tidy art direction that goes hand in hand with the title’s intuitive, extremely accurate touch controls and streamlined menus, creating a release that feels polished in all areas of its presentation.
Nun Attack is a brilliant example of an accessible portable title, perfectly suited for quick stints of gameplay whenever you have the time. Although the excessive emphasis on grinding detracts from some of the fun, the game offers a deceptive amount of content for such a low asking price, with multiple RPG elements adding a welcome layer of depth.