Nintendo 3DS

Nano Assault Playtest: A Twin Stick Shooter Played With One Stick


The first Nanostray game was a vertical shoot-em-up on the Nintendo DS, while Nanostray 2 scrolled both upwards and sideways, depending on which stage you were playing. The defining feature of both games was that you could play them using the DS touchscreen, which worked especially well in Nanostray 2.


Nano Assault on the Nintendo 3DS is a follow-up to the Nanostray series, but it doesn’t use the 3DS touchscreen at all. Instead, it uses the Circle Pad, all four face buttons, and the L and R triggers as well. Depending on what stage you’re playing, you’ll either control your ship from a third-person view, or from above.


Nano Assault has two kinds of stages: ground stages and flying stages.


In the ground stages, your ship “sticks” close the surface of asteroid-like objects (they’re actually virus cells) that are very similar to planetoids from the Super Mario Galaxy games. They’re cylindrical, and you can move all around them, which gives the ground stages an exploratory feel. As you explore the cell, enemies of all sorts will pop up in different spots, and begin to attack you. Your ship is equipped with lasers, so you can fight back.


You fire your lasers using the A, B, X and Y buttons, each one firing in a different direction. X fires straight up, A fires to the right, B fires downward, and Y fires to the left. By default, these directions are relative to how the four buttons are placed on the 3DS, but you can change them to fire relative to the direction your ship is facing as well. At first, it feels like you don’t really need to be able to fire in so many different directions, but later stages feel more bullet hell-ish, and enemies tend to be rather mobile, so you’ll appreciate the ability move your ship in one direction and fire in another.


You can toggle how your laser is fired using the L trigger. They can either fire in a narrow spread or a wide spread. In addition to lasers, your ship can also use one of four secondary weapons. Two of them are powerful offensive weapons that you can fire at enemies, while the other two release energy balls that circle around your ship, destroying anything they touch. Secondary weapons are fired using R.


In the flying stages, the game turns into a 3D shooter, where you see your ship from behind, fire straight ahead, and can move around the screen to dodge incoming enemy fire. However, in these stages, the Circle Pad doesn’t control the ship itself. Instead, it controls your targeting reticule, which your ship’s nose follows. Pulling down gently on the Circle Pad will make your targeting reticule and your ship’s nose will point downward. If you pull down further, only then will the ship itself will begin to move.


You’ll be dodging more than enemy bullets in the flying stages, too. Sometimes, multiple enemies streak across the screen, leaving a trail of energy behind them in a criss-cross shape, or in straight, parallel lines. You’ll have to avoid these as well, but it can be a little difficult because you aren’t controlling your ship directly.


Nano Assault’s boss battles are where it makes the best use of the abilities you have. Boss battles can either be flying or ground stages, or a variant of both, where you circle in an orbit around the boss. Boss battles usually require you to dodge dozens of bullets at once while firing at a weak spot that the boss likes to move around a lot. Sometimes, I had to turn the 3D effect off during boss battles because the 3D can make the screen look a little confusing when there’s dozens and dozens of bullets flying around at once.



Food for thought:

1. The way you fire bullets in multiple directions in ground stages and the way you control the targeting reticule in flying stages makes Nano Assault feel a little bit like it may have originally been a WiiWare game that you would control by pointing the remote at the screen.


2. On occasion, the game’s framerate dips when there’s too much being displayed on the screen at once. It’s rare, but it does feel a little annoying.

Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan specializes in game design/sales analysis. He's the former managing editor of Siliconera and wrote the book "The Legend of Zelda - A Complete Development History". He also used to moonlight as a professional manga editor. These days, his day job has nothing to do with games, but the two inform each other nonetheless.