Let’s… Sorta… Talk About Nanotek Warrior

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Games are weird, no? I mean, sitting in front of the TV moving around a little box for hours on end and then getting barely any plaudits at the result of your skills… these days, past the thrill of watching the story unfold, conclude and resolve before your eyes is set in stone merely by a digital representation of a trophy, a high-five to you that says “well done for being able to press some buttons.”

Not that I’m denouncing the point of games but when it’s broken down like that, it does somewhat feel a bit… odd to have built up such a huge industry in the way it has done. Press button to not die is essentially the name of the game.

I say all of this because as I was playing Nanotek Warrior on the PS1, I was absorbed into the idea that that’s really what ought to be happening instead of the generic ‘shove shooter game in space’ storyline we end up getting. This game is crying out to be set in the body and it actually OUGHT to be “press x to not die” given you’d be travelling inside a person’s body trying to not kill them.

A bit like the film Innerspace only with less of Martin Short’s wobbly face.

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So Nintendo Warrior builds itself up as a tunnel shooter in a very similar vein to early vector-graphic shooter Tempest from back in the 80s. Your craft straddles itself on top of and inside of tunnels, trying to avoid the obstacles in his way, traversing the 3D cylinders from all angles as you make your way through to the boss of each stage. Essentially, what we’re dealing with here is an on-rails shooters in space with all of its story written on a post-it note given that all you’re doing, apparently, is shooting everything in the way or getting out of everything in the way.

It is as basic as that. It’s actually more complex than a platform game in that you have to press left OR right (as opposed to just pressing right and getting to the end of the level) and you jump about and shoot a bit.

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But actually… it’s not really as good as most platformers because everything starts to look very samey and blah after a while. In fact, the majority of the game looks as though it’s been through a rave filter of some sort. It’s a weird combination of murky browns and greys, and purples and greens. The colours dance about so much that the concept of actually watching the game is fairly vomit-inducing. Stare at it long enough and you might end up getting motion sickness as your space craft rattles across the tunnel at high speeds, drifting left and right, rotating the tunnel and everything on it to try and move obstacles out of your path. In much the same way as Street Racer felt like you were moving the track around your car, this also feels as though you’re moving the tunnel around your space craft so the overall feeling is disconcerting and leaves you with that feeling of sickness that you might only be able to stand for about half an hour at best without rushing for the sink.

I had to play it in twenty minute bursts the first time as I began to genuinely feel rather queasy but given that I suffer from fairly bad travel sickness, that isn’t too big a surprise to me. I overcame the ordeal by realising I was sat too close to the TV in the first place and that I didn’t have anything else to focus on. This is why having me a back-seat passenger in your car is not the best idea unless I’m asleep.

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So aside from being graphically a bit of a mixed-bag and a motion-heavy mess of explosions, neon bullet-hailing and pop-up central, Ninetrack Warrior runs well enough, despite being slightly choppy in frame rate at times (but only very sporadically). However, there’s a real lack of style to the game given the horrendous colour scheme being used. The textures blur into nothingness and because most things are dark and difficult to see implanted onto tunnels that are… dark and difficult to see, the game is given a difficulty curve that is totally superficial. It has been inflated to a level that is frustrating because you could probably just jump over everything and still get to the end of the level… but what would be the fun in that?

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UH-OH.

We’ve had this type of game before: a game where there feels like almost no purpose to it insomuch that you COULD just bypass EVERYTHING and not actually lose out on anything. You would get no penalties, no loss on content, you would basically get through the game by pressing X to not die (being that X is the jump button). But yeah, what would be the fun in that? None at all. Which is why it all feels like a waste of time. You COULD do that. You wouldn’t, of course, but it ruins the feel of accomplishment behind even wanting to complete the game. If someone else can complete the game without even implementing any major skill… why would you want to by trying as hard as you could?

To say: “HEY, YEAH, I COMPLETED THIS GAME WITH A 100% SUCCESS RATE OF KILLING EVERYTHING IN THE LEVEL!”
as opposed to
“OH COOL! I JUST BEAT THE GAME IN HALF AN HOUR BY JUMPING OVER EVERYTHING!”
doesn’t really make a blind bit of difference in the grand scheme of things when the result of the hard work or monotonous X button bashing is a results page.

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Oh shit. It’s an arcade game.

At least… that’s how it feels in the end. Now there’s nothing wrong with arcade games and I have much respect for any game that manages to get by based on pulling that ONE MORE GO feel from your wallet… but… er… Nunchucks Warrior isn’t that sort of game really. Because it’s so frustrating to play and so lacking in purpose, it doesn’t really grab the player in any way. The colour palette is entirely unappealing and textureless and there’s no real reason to be doing any of this. There’s a vague story being hinted at within the manual but none of it really matters. You’re basically rattling round a tube holding the square button to shoot everything and hoping not to bump into anything.

The way the buttons are affixed to the controller sometimes feels a bit clunky – perhaps a better use of the shoulder buttons would have been a wiser idea, I’m-a-jus’ sayin’ – but on the plus side, the game runs smoothly and is perfectly responsive to your commands. In anything… that might just be part of why this isn’t a game that fits into my NOT TALK ABOUT category… because it’s not broken or awful. If anything… it’s actually more fun than it has any right to be.

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I mean, fuck it, I had fun with it. Despite feeling queasy at times, Nightlight Warrior was actually a good experience. I didn’t instantly get bored, only frustrated, and realised that part of that was down to my gung-ho “FUCKING KILL EVERYTHING ON SCREEN” manner of approaching the game. I didn’t realise that I could even slow the ship down or glide in the air after jumping by holding the jump button. I kept forgetting that there was a whole 360 degrees of tunnel to wrap my craft around and missing power-ups… basically, I played the game like a twat and I deserved to be frustrated.

But eventually… I had fun with it. I actually quite liked the game.

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But it is heavily, HEAVILY flawed. It’s way too short, it’s murky-looking, the levels are very repetitive and the bosses are atrociously simple to defeat. So it’s never going to be a classic game, particularly with no rhyme or reason to it, and it’s not exactly the most stunning game in the world to look at it… but it’s harmless and inoffensive enough… ish.

But there is something very off-putting about it all. The overall presentation isn’t particularly polished by any means.

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I mean, from that opening title screen to the lack of any real ending… it is monstrously bland from the off. It does not set up its stall very well at all. It’s all about being flashy and grabbing the player’s attention. The flashiest thing we get is the opening cinematic from Virgin Games! VIRGIN BLOODY GAMES.

No pop, no pizazz, no jazz hands… nothing. You get a bland screen with some featureless props from in-game and then a few ominous-sounding sound effects like the whole world will end if you don’t press the X button soon or something. You know… the sort of sound effect that signals doom and yet has shows no such thing at all?

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In fact, there is an odd non-feeling with the atmosphere in the game in that there’s this constant feeling of mock-foreboding about it. It wants to be and feel scarier than it is. It puffs up its chest a bit by accompanying the game with a soundtrack that comes straight out of the Mortal Kombat synth-stab handbook. Every single track feels distinctly like several fans remixed the main MK theme and then arranged them to some sense of drama like a rabid alien ship would spring out of nowhere, yank you out of your own craft and pull you apart, fatality-style, only to remember that this game isn’t actually Mortal Kombat. The music isn’t quite as fitting as it feels it ought to be and there isn’t really much going for it otherwise. If anything, these tracks might have made better boss tracks but instead, we’re constantly treated to stabby, stabby synths beneath a loud plethora of explosions in the background.

And even more of a crime? Going inside a tunnel would have been the perfect opportunity to add an echo-y layer to the music or at least throw some bass in. Perhaps this is a bit forward thinking but you give us inside and outside tunnels and you don’t change the music accordingly? Are these special tunnels with no echoes in them? Am I asking for too much? IS IT ASKING TOO MUCH TO WANT ECHOES IN MY TUNNEL-BASED ACTION GAMES?

Probably. But I digress.

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Essentially, Nonchalant Warrior is passable at best, even though there is fun to be had. The fun you have can wane quickly, depending on your mood, and the fact you could bypass the GAME by jumping over everything is a massive disservice… but on-rails games rarely gave you that opportunity or freedom so I’m not entirely sure what I’m complaining about apart from MAKE ME SHOOT THINGS TO REACH A GOAL OR SOMETHING, GAME. FUCK’S SAKE.

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Now, N00btech Warrior isn’t the only tunnel-based game that came out on the PS1 in this era. In fact, a year later, we were treated to N2O, another similarly tunnel-like game that based itself in space because apparently there are nothing but tunnels in space (specifically Neptune but that another review), and there are no other places in the world where you could have tunnels.

I mean, seriously, the game writes itself, people. Have the space craft traversing veins and arteries, avoiding cartilage and nerves and electric signals and all that gubbins… it is literally right there for you on a plate. I’m giving that to you. In fact, I bet someone else made a game like that for another system that I’ve never heard of. And let’s have our little bio-crafts shooting germs and parasites and all that stuff – it’s like the tunnel-based shooter that Trauma Center never was.

And never will be.

More’s the pity.

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