Nanobreaker (PlayStation 2) review
"Whereas manly brawlers like Chaos Legion or Dynasty Warriors throw everything at you simultaneously, Nanobreaker doles its orgamechs out in small, easily-sliced clusters as if this were a really boring version of Streets of Rage or Final Fight."
Lisa was just a normal twelve-year-old girl. She went to normal classes at Nanotechnology Island Academy just like she did every day, showing off her freshly-pressed school uniform and cute girly pigtails. She talked to her friends about normal things, like perfume and lipstick and which video game reviewer was cutest (Bluberry lost).
On her way home, Lisa stopped by the comic shop to get her younger brother Michael a comic book. Since Michael was afflicted with an extremely advanced case of cerebral palsy, he had to rely on big sister Lisa. While browsing the racks, Lisa suddenly felt an odd spasm in her right arm. Moments later, spikes burst from her arm like enormous mutant pimples. She cried for help, but the cashier -- a young man named Vincent who worked part-time at the local orphanage -- had already metamorphosed into a giant machine made of flesh. Lisa didn't understand how a machine could be made of flesh, but she was too scared to ponder such things. She ran for the door, desperately crying out for someone, anyone, to help.
Then some platinum-haired cyborg guy with a pink plasma sword sliced her in half.
Now legless, Lisa crawled towards the door, desperately trying to escape. The biomechanical bastard, suddenly realizing that Lisa wasn't quite dead yet, dropped Vincent's decapitated head to the ground and sprinted to catch the crawling twelve-year-old. With a mighty swing, he smashed her head into a juicy pulp with an enormous energy hammer. Then the platinum-haired cyborg guy drank all of Lisa's blood.
Meet Jake Warren, the hero of Nanobreaker.
Taking over the Castlevania series is impressive, but creative visionaries want to create their own worlds instead of building on others' legacies. Nanobreaker was game producer IGA's opportunity to mold an entirely new world to his own vision without any precedents or prior expectations. Unfortunately, no amount of cliché precautionary anti-technology morality can redeem what is, at its excessively bloody heart, a 3D hack-and-slash game with barely any enemies to hack or slash.
The basic gist is that you're Jake Warren, a bloodthirsty cyborg soldier from some great sci-fi war who achieved fame by singlehandedly winning the war and achieved notoriety by slaughtering countless women and children along the way. Your crimes were so abominable that you were sentenced to execution (but you were actually just locked away in cold sleep for seven years). Let's hear it for the hero!
This platinum-haired Snake Plissken rip-off is brought back from his seven-year sleep to take down the orgamechs -- parasitic nanomites that infect organic beings and mutate them into bloodthirsty dopes. These body-snatching Snatcher rip-offs generally come in six different forms: humans, flies, bees, scorpions, dogs, and fat people. These same six enemies pop up throughout each of the eight levels again and again, but each comes in a variety of different colors. Nanobreaker revolutionizes 3D action by using palette-swapped polygonal enemies -- sometimes the human orgamechs are orange, sometimes they're puce! Even the original Resident Evil swapped out all the zombies with hunters midway through the game to freak people out, but Nanobreaker isn't that adventurous.
Jake wipes these multicolored doppelgangers out with his super-manly hot pink plasma sword, which can transform into an axe, spear, or scythe (among other forms). When hacked, stabbed, or sliced, the mutant cyborgs spray INSANE amounts of blood into the air, onto the walls, and across other orgamechs' faces, and our vampiric hero Jake collects all this blood because that's what heroes do -- they collect the blood of their victims. There's even a counter in the corner that tracks how much you've acquired... BY THE GALLON. My personal best is 684,135.40 gallons.
If blood makes you squirm, you can change it to slime, ichor, oil, or a laughably dumb rainbow mix, but whatever color you pick, it's EXCESSIVE and STYLISH! Despite all of this liquid spraying, there are only about six enemies onscreen at a time... and that's during the most action-packed moments. Whereas manly brawlers like Chaos Legion or Dynasty Warriors throw everything at you simultaneously, Nanobreaker doles its orgamechs out in small, easily-sliced clusters as if this were a really boring version of Streets of Rage or Final Fight. Kill six mechs to face six more -- Nanobreaker is oldschool in all the wrong ways. Fortunately, it's got an AWESOME combo system. It's somewhat wasted (since there are so few enemies to kill), but that doesn't take away from the fun of juggling mutant dogs into the air and then smashing them into the ground with an enormous energy hammer.
Every Snake needs its Ocelot, and the name of Jake's recurring nemesis is Keith Spencer. In an awesome cinematic called "Reunion", Jake and his former rival Keith -- his sneering face and biotechnically-enhanced body brimming with insatiable malice -- meet again after seven years apart. This awesome first-level FMV briefly raised my hopes for Nanobreaker.
But then it all goes wrong!
The battle itself consists of Keith standing on the other side of the screen, occasionally running at you while swinging his sword in repetitive, easily-dodged patterns. You'll fight this guy twice more later in the game, and only the final battle is actually entertaining (when Keith starts flinging hot pink energy beams across the screen). Contrast this against any of Devil May Cry's recurring bosses: the difference is that each DMC battle is challenging and exciting.
But that's not the worst of it!
There's a tutorial... in the middle of the first boss fight. Yes, as you fight a giant Venus flytrap, the battle suddenly stops and menus start automatically opening on the screen.
There's a special skill that turns your plasma sword into a Darth Maul double-bladed fauchard and sends you into a berserker rampage! By "sends you into a rampage", I mean that Jake swings it all on his own without any button presses. How about that -- the coolest weapon in the game and you don't even get to control it.
There's a scrapyard. While you're wandering through it, a giant crane suddenly falls on your head. WATCH OUT FOR CRANES!
Nanobreaker insists on interrupting the action with irritating platforming segments. At one point, Jake leaves a room full of enemies and gets to hop across a pit of lava on blocks that mysteriously fall from the sky.
Another platforming segment involve pulling crates out of the way because they just happen to be blocking all of the doors. There's nothing in this scene that can kill you. The crates are just there to waste your time.
The fourth level starts with a series of ten double-jumps to get to the top of an enormous sewer pipe. Immediately after that, there's a series of eight double-jumps to get to the top of another pipe. Again, nothing in this scene can harm you. It's just there to waste your time.
That same level ends with an electrical generator. According to the story, you have to restore power to the main computer by jumping to the top of the power generator (six or seven leaps) and turning it off. How do you restore power by turning off the electricity? I don't know, and I don't care enough to ask Konami. If you fall down while trying to get to the top, try again. And again.
If you successfully shut off the electrical generator, you get to do it twice more... because there are three of them, all in a row. And the action won't commence until you finish.
As you keep falling down and repeating these platforming segments over and over, the shocking realization sets in: these backgrounds are really boring. There are ladders on the walls that can't be climbed, doors that can't be entered, and very little scenery otherwise.
Nanobreaker starts to get cool in the sixth and seventh action-packed levels (what a time to start getting cool)... but then the final level brings back the dumb platforming with a trek up an excruciatingly tall tower. This journey consists of a lot of double-jumping and block-shoving. If you fall down, you're unhurt; you just have to start over from the beginning. There are no enemies. The only thing that could possibly cause the game to end is you pressing the power button out of frustration due to the scene's excessive length and inconvenient camera angles.
When you push the camera stick right, the camera moves left. Push the stick left and the camera moves right. Even if you get used to manipulating the viewing angles, the point remains that you'll spend a lot of time fighting the camera instead of fighting the enemies... few that there are.
When he's not fiddling with bad camera controls, Jake spends a lot of time talking about how he "must believe in humanity's ability to responsibly handle great power" because "that's the last human quality a living weapon can possess". Then he stops talking and kills a bunch of innocent people who were transformed into mutants against their will.
When Jake locates the secret serum that cures the nanomite mutation, he uses some of it to save a person. Then he keeps killing everyone else. And drinking their blood.
All of this happens on Nanotechnology Island.
Push the red button.
[Review by Zigfried. Nefarious plan by Tachibana Ukyo.]
Staff review by Zigfried (February 27, 2005)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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