Back when Resogun was announced for the PlayStation 4, there was some dissatisfaction that Finnish developer Housemarque was leaving behind its brilliant Super Stardust HD blueprint. The space shooter eventually launched to critical acclaim, putting any concerns to bed – but it hasn’t stopped us from pondering how the studio’s original intergalactic shmup would look on Sony’s super system.
Fortunately, that’s where Nano Assault Neo-X comes in – an enhanced port of German developer Shin’en Multimedia’s former Nintendo Wii U launch title. This marks the firm’s first foray onto PlayStation formats, and it certainly leaves a strong initial impression. A kind of biological bullet hell, the title’s cellular stages look impressive, and are packed with plenty of pretty presentational properties.
The problem is that in spite of its snazzy special effects, the bodily blast-‘em-up is a bit, well, boring. With gameplay revolving predominantly around your core cannons and the odd weapon pick-up, there’s none of the depth augmented by Super Stardust HD’s boost and bomb attacks, while the bosses subscribe to the tired ‘shoot the glowing red bits’ cliché. It’s all a bit predictable.
You can reposition the placement of your satellites (your extra cannons) using the touchpad, which is a nice, er, touch, but it doesn’t allow for quite the tactical depth that the developer may be eager to tout. Indeed, it doesn’t really matter whether you choose to spread your lasers out or put them all in the centre, as you’re still going to be shooting anything that moves and trying to avoid red blobs.
To be fair to the game, it does control like a dream on the DualShock 4 – but the difficulty’s all out of whack. There are four ‘Clusters’ (or mini-campaigns) for you to complete, which comprise of three levels and a boss. However, you’ll often find that the first of these stages causes you the most trouble, as you’ll unlock currency as you play, which allows you to boost your effectiveness in battle.
Once you’ve augmented your ship with double credits, a vacuum to suck up any nearby trinkets, and a shield, though, you’ll absolutely rip through your enemies, making the concluding boss fights the easiest skirmishes in the game. It also means that you’ll be done with the internal escapade in around an hour or two, with only Survivor mode and split-screen multiplayer to bring you back.
The former is a bit of a letdown, too, as it restricts you to a single life and sends you packing across a sequence of random stages. However, it removes the option to purchase extra lives, meaning that you can upgrade your ship, but can’t ever prolong your session beyond three hits. As a result, you’ll end up with thousands of credits to spend – and absolutely nothing to use them on.
This part of the package also cuts out the bonus stage, which can be accessed by scooping up letters. This extra works a little like the minigame in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, where you need to perform loop-the-loops through a tube in order to gather up tokens. Like the rest of the game, it looks lush, but once you’ve got the Trophy for surviving for 60 seconds, you won’t be rushing to return to it.
And that’s the problem with the game as a whole: it’s all style and no substance. The title does genuinely look stunning; a combination of chromatic aberration and clever depth of field effects give it an almost CG-esque quality. However, by the time that you’ve seen each stage a couple of times, you’ll inevitably slope back to something more satisfying – like Resogun.
With a striking but submicroscopic campaign, Nano Assault Neo-X probably has the right name. There’s plenty of style on display here, but not much in the way of substance to back up its stunning presentation. As a twin-stick shooter, this is a perfectly competent one – but where Super Stardust HD kept us occupied for an entire generation, Shin’en Multimedia’s overdue PS4 debut will be lucky to hold your attention for an hour or two.