Nano Assault is like the Magic Schoolbus field trip from hell. Instead of exploring dinosaur bones or space or even the redheaded kid’s colon, they’re exploring dangerous cells plagued with a horrible virus. That means the bus stays parked; this time they’re taking a spaceship with lasers.
Nano Assault’s worlds are called cell clusters and each mission consists of an individual, alien-shaped cell. These levels are almost entirely different shapes from one to the other, and they switch between Super Mario Galaxy-style level wrapping and Star Fox style on-rails navigation.
The level wrapping (ala SM Galaxy) is one of Nano Assault’s finest accomplishments. There are two things to do on each uniquely-shaped cell: 1) kill all the enemies and 2) collect three sections of a double-helix, which is the only collectible and it unlocks later levels. Both are fine and dandy until you’re floating around a massive cell for ten minutes, searching for a single remaining enemy or helix (an occurrence that happens surprisingly frequently on huge levels). Fortunately, the scenery is nice to look at and interesting to traverse.
If you’re the kind of person who gets nauseated jumping around Mario’s galaxy, Nano Assault will make you as sick as the bacteria you’re eliminating. The combination of slightly more exaggerated level design and an intense dose of 3D will likely even leave the normally-unaffected feeling dizzy from time to time.
But once you finish puking, you’ll come back to Nano Assault for its epic boss battles. Each cell cluster (of which there are seven) contains several exciting bosses – huge forms so mutated by the deadly virus that they grow tentacles and flagellum at random until the stage looks like an octopus Sorority party. These classic bosses are always different and always fun to destroy, even with the oh-so-clichéd slightly-different-colored-weak spots.
These boss battles are so obviously the game’s highlight that developer Shin’en gives them their own mode, a boss battle survival mode which earns you points you can spend unlocking information and music.
While the game is surprisingly delightful, after a breezy three hours it will also feel surprisingly concluded. The three additional modes ultimately only recycle content, and while a leaderboard Arcade mode will keep perfectionists busy, we don’t expect those leaderboards to be exactly packed with competition. In the end, the game’s short campaign and limited replay value may leave some gamers feeling like eliminating these viruses feels a bit anemic.