Shmups. Gotta love 'em! Having never played a shmup (shoot 'em up) of this sort I didn't really know what to expect, honestly. I knew that Shin'en (the developer) had created a new generation 3D experience, but other than that I had no clue as to what the game would play like. After doing an initial impressions video on my Youtube channel (otakudante), and actually getting into the game though things began to make sense. In essence "Nano Assault NEO-X" is your typical twin stick shooter with enhanced graphics, and a theme that suits the nano technology which the game is built upon. While there is no story to speak of you will find that your laser blasting spaceship is more, or less a micro-bot sent in to destroy bacterium that are harming, and changing the nature of cell clusters. There are a wide variety of these viruses, and bacteria on each cell which you must clear out in order to move on to the next cell.
The cell clusters, which are your playing field within the game come in an odd assortment of organic shapes, and names (Epsilon, Ceta, Omikron & Sigma). As you navigate your nano-ship across the alien terrain you must blast away the bad bacterium, and viral baddies that inhabit it. This of course is done by obtaining satellite power-ups, and a small variety of laser oriented weapons which will aid you in making quick work of the infestation. While this may seem straightforward gameplay is anything, but that. The difficulty with each cell cluster increases procedurally, and will force you to use different tactics to fend of the increasingly more aggressive swarms of bacterium, and viral agents in each passing level. As you continue to do your duty as a nano-ship by ridding each cell of it's threat you will collect currency points which can then be used in a temporary upgrade shop. Within the provided shop you'll be able to add usable weapons to your ship as well as abilities (attractor, multipliers ...), and extra lives. These bonus items are single use in nature, and only work for the next cell cluster you happen to take on (with the exception of the extra lives), but will definitely help you get through the more difficult tasks. This is why it is important to pick up the digital currency after it appears on the cell.
In the way of cell clearing objectives you'll find that not every bacterium, or virus has to be eradicated in order for the cell to be considered "Cleansed". By clearing out a certain percentage of the cell's occupants an illuminated exit will appear on the cell signaling that you have only thirty seconds to make it to said exit before your mission is considered a failure. This will occur even if there are bacterium, or viruses still moving around on the cell. One important thing to note though is that you can get a 100% completion if you opt to eradicate all of the bacterium/viruses. Doing so will greatly enhance your earned score, and will help to rank you higher on the game's global leaderboards. One thing I've yet to mention is that this game is a score based shmup. As you are eliminating the bacterium, and viruses points will be added to your total score, and will be tallied up with certain stats at the end of a cell playthrough. This earned score will then be displayed in numerical rankings on the games leaderboards for the cell you just cleansed, assuming you did so.
In total each cell cluster, which is divided by name (Epsilon, Ceta, Omikron, Sigma) is divided up into four different cells, or playable levels. The first three cells, which are unlocked as you complete each cell will be cell cleansing levels. This means that you will be completing each playthrough by eradicating as much of the threat as possible before evacuating via the provided exit. The fourth, and final cell is a boss fight in which you'll face off against a large boss bacterium/virus which has red targets adorning it's organic structure. In order to defeat each boss you must dodge it's bullet hell sprays within the confined area of the cell that the boss bacterium/virus resides on while destroying each of it's red weak points. It's in these final battles that the game truly becomes like a shmup, and offers the gamer a true challenge.
As far as controls go you will be using the 'Left Thumbstick' for your ship's movement, and the 'Right Thumbstick' for blasting your standard weapons in a 360 degree radius. When it comes to utilizing the special weapons that you purchase from the in-game shop, or gather on the cell via dropped power-ups you will simply need to press "R1" on your controller. In doing so though you need to understand that your special weapons are governed by a gauge which will empty out with each use. As far as I can tell these special weapons are only good for a single gauge usage, and cannot be refilled.
For those of you looking for gameplay outside of the norm you will find that 'Nano Assault NEO-X' has three modes of play including 'Single Player', 'Two Player', and 'Arcade Mode'. The first two modes of play that I have listed are the ones I've been talking about. They are objective based, and can be played with up to two players in a local scenario. One thing I forgot to mention about the standard modes of play is that if you are able to spell bonus by collecting the associated letter based power-ups you will get a chance to earn additional points through a tunnel based level (Think 'Earthworm Jim') that will have to dodging organic spikes that protrude from the vein like encasement. As you guide your ship down the living tunnel you will be able to collect bonus points/currency so long as you don't hit one of the raised spikes that appear before you.
When it comes to 'Arcade Mode' the playthrough is basically the same as that of your standard one, and two player modes except that your objective will be to earn the highest score possible via the 2,000 point power-ups that now replace the 200 point currency power-ups. As with the standard cells you will trigger an exit countdown once you have cleared out a certain percentage of the bacterium, and viruses that litter the cell. As you do your routine cleansing enemies will drop 2,000 point power-ups, and these point based power-ups will also randomly appear on different parts of the cell amidst the waves of bacterium, and viruses. In order to play on each cell cluster, and each cell you must first unlock them via a standard one to two player mode playthrough. Once it is unlocked in the standard modes of play you can then play them for high score purposes in 'Arcade Mode'.
After having defeated all bosses in the standard modes you will unlock 'Survival' mode which will also greatly enhance the game's overall replay value. The mode is pretty much self-explanatory, and will have you testing your skills as a shmup player. Unlike the standard modes, and 'Arcade Mode' you will face relentless waves of enemy bacterium, and viruses as you use the weapons afforded to you. It's hardcore shmup actionat it's finest.
Graphics in 'Nano Assault NEO-X' are a different story altogether. If you followed my tweets on Twitter earlier I disclosed a warning mentioning the fact that the graphics have a severe motion blur, and bright lighting effects that might induce seizures. It is best that you heed my advice in skipping the game if you, or a family member has ever had a history of seizures due to these in-game elements. If you can tolerate these sorts of gaming special effects though you'll more than likely enjoy the game. Seeing as the game looks absolutely stunning with it's hyper-realistic organic build, and 3D construction it's a beautifully rendered experience not to be missed if you can help it. In the area of sound Shin'en went for a relaxing zen style soundtrack that occasionally gets upbeat in tempo. It's the type of music soundtrack that you'd come to expect from a game of this sort, and is not disappointing in any way.
The Verdict ...
This is a short, sweet, and visually impressive nod to the shmup genre. It functions as it should, and enables the high score hounds to get their much needed gaming fix. I'd personally have loved to have a ton more cells/cell clusters though, but for the price you are getting a good enough experience to justify a purchase. This is definitely a new generation shmup by all accounts, and will impress you in the area of graphic presentation, and playability. If you are a shmup fan as I am I think you'll definitely dig this new release. Just heed my warning about the potential threat of seizures, and you'll do fine.