According to what we've learned from previous developer interviews, Nano Breaker
was designed as an action game that would convey the extremely violent results of fluid futuristic melee combat. As is often the case, paper proposals do not live up to real world standards. Here, the final product is a markedly mundane experience that neither strikes us as being particularly violent nor particularly action packed, since the word action usually goes hand-in-hand with excitement, which this one actually features little of.
In 2001 the United States established an island facility to research and develop nanotechnology for implementation in military and civilian life. To eventually reach this widespread end, the United States collected the world's foremost scientists, analysts and businessmen and then formed a secluded community out of them. This small isolated town of renowned folks resulted in nearly 20 years of positive scientific breakthroughs in the field of nanotechnology.
Toward the end of the island's prosperous life and the beginning of this game's adventure, the created nanotechnology was injected into every resident of the island and used throughout the facility to better the lives of its inhabitants and further the government's reckless steps into a new technological era. As is the way of efficient machines, the central computer that controlled these microscopic robots malfunctioned and instructed its entrenched nanites to forsake their previous programming and begin self-replicating, whereupon they would consume the flesh of humans and the steel of cities so that they could become monstrous, impractical things. These gigantic mosquitoes, crawly demon-things, huge waving phallic symbols, and spewing seashells of puss were then used to annihilate the island's population and the military's initially feeble attempt at intervention. This is apparently the way of machines...be jerks.
Instead of simply nuking the place and being done with it, the government opts to send a certifiably annoying, totally irrational female technician in to shut down the central computer and end the crisis. Of course, she's a moron and insists on infiltrating the island by herself. Ten minutes later she's accosted by freakish nano-jerks. This is approximately when our reluctant hero, the militant cyborg ninja Jake, comes into play (and yes, that is his full title).
Become Jake, a soldier known to indiscriminately slaughter men, women and children. Drop into a hot zone wielding a transformable plasma energy sword and proceed to aid the female technician as she attempts to restore order to the island by disabling and/or repairing its central computer system. That's the plan, anyway.
Jake represents the height of over 20 years of modern Japan's vision of what a futuristic ninja warrior would be, and is thus so terribly clichéd and tired that his preposterously gruff but astonishingly bored attitude do little to distinguish him from his equally bland adventure.
Jake's tale starts out poor enough, but then quickly spirals out of control to eventually include a few miscellaneous conversations that offer little to no impact on the course of the game. Also expect a ridiculous assemblage of utterly pointless character interactions (Jake's arch nemesis is another militant cyborg ninja named Keith). In terms of narrative, the only discernable positive of this storyline is that it's completely underdeveloped and thus incapable of consistently beating us over the head with its character's incessant onslaught of ever-increasing machismo and supposedly smooth offhandedness. I'm so cool, I just stand around looking cool until I chop something. A well developed plot was never a priority for Nano Breaker, and so we'll not dwell on it or its inadequacies any longer. Rightly classified as a hack and slash, Nano Breaker instead chooses to emphasize combat with a few pinches of gameplay seasoning. Unfortunately, it is here that the title truly fails to hit its mark. Nano Breaker breaks down into four play categories.
1) Repeat the same sets of amazingly powerful moves in place of a vast array of configurable combinations.
2) Occasionally decipher the rudimentary, overtly simplistic patterns of a few distinct enemy types.
3) Combat an array of uninteresting bosses who all adhere to the same principles of pattern recognition.
4) Navigate infuriating platforming areas that are only a trial due to the title's clumsy nature and often awkward camera perspectives.
While Nano Breaker certainly features a powerful energy sword, its proposed transformations are lackluster, to say the least. Billed as being capable of turning into a hammer, axe, sword, or any number of lethal instruments, our protagonist's weapon of choice boasts none of that personality. The aforementioned transformations happen so quickly, they become unnoticeable. And, since the game uses a very simplistic two button attack system coupled with a one button attack modifier, the weapon transformations come between rapid, successive strikes, and thus do not offer distinct sensations. This is to say that a Triangle - Square - Triangle attack is nearly identical to a Triangle - Square - Shift + Triangle attack, save for the last arc of the swing that moves at a different rate and happens to be slightly larger or slightly smaller in size than previous blows.
Most of the transformable combinations provided are also useless. Nano Breaker allows its players to attain and then utilize upgrade canisters to expand specific attack combinations. The game also provides easy to pull off instant kill maneuvers in addition to those. These devastating attacks play off Nano Breaker's energy whip, which lets a gamer lasso in an enemy. Once at a certain range from the hero, that enemy can be instantly killed with a well-timed attack. Pulling off this two button critical strike does take a little getting used to, since the timing required is rather unforgiving, but once mastered, virtually no enemy can stand in the player's way. To worsen things, Nano Breaker provides Booster upgrades -- the very first of which eases up the timing constraints of the critical hit, making it impossible to miss with that deadly attack.
When not utilizing the critical attack, you'll find the combinations you have been acquiring do unimpressive amounts of damage, which means players will want to focus exclusively on the whip-pull-kill, when applicable. This downgrades the title from a sometimes accommodating hack and slash to a repetitive one trick pony.
The worst grievance with gameplay is how remarkably uninteresting every single room and encounter is. The enemies display little to no intelligence (despite being reportedly governed by intelligent machines), and the environments in which the player engages them offer nothing more than a rainbow of brown and grey. The title is so terribly depressing in this way that its only artistic plus is the fountain of "oil" that fallen adversaries spew forth. Since covering the entire world with a drab red that resembles blood is almost as boring as leaving it all grey and muddy brown, Konami has allowed users to switch an enemy's blood color to a mixed tooty-fruity. That's a feature! There's little more to appreciate. Multi-colored blood is as good as it gets.
Nano Breaker is a title that reminds us of broken PSX games with its totally unentertaining sort of primitive 3D gameplay that hearkens back to an era when developers were still coming to grips with the third dimension. The controls are clunky and frequently step over themselves as looping animation routines fight to prevent new commands from being executed. The art is amazingly drab. The technology is severely limited, as is evidence by the incredibly short draw distance and terribly unarticulated enemy models. The story is perversely clichéd. And, the gameplay is awfully redundant.
It's truly disconcerting when a title from a AAA company in the year 2005 can release with few positives -- positives that include ridiculous sprays of multi-colored blood and an empowering protagonist that only feels tough because the game is terribly unbalanced.
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