Review: NanoBreaker (PS2)

NanoBreaker
Platform: PS2
Genre: 3rd Person Action
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Rating: Mature
Release Date: 2/15/05

I haven’t played many games that I thought were completely, utterly worthless. Hell, I enjoyed Quest 64, and at least found one or two redeeming qualities in Bomberman Generations. NanoBreaker is one of the few games I can ever remember playing, aside from Where’s Waldo? for the NES, that was so unredeemably bad that I couldn’t find a single compelling reason to play it. The only possible explanation for this is that somebody had new ideas for the next PS2 Castlevania, and needed a testing ground. Either that, or they wanted to see how many people would buy it just by the publisher, no matter how crappy it was. Because no one should play this. Ever. You people wonder why IP comes off bitter sometimes? Because of games like this. Behold as the Cuddly Battleship of Inside Pulse, who could even give praise to Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel, encounters a game so crappy, even he can’t help but degrade it.


Story:

Thankfully, NanoBreaker doesn’t let the action get in the way of its epic story.

Had you going for a second, didn’t I?

NanoBreaker’s story is the biggest pile of cliche crap I’ve seen in a long time. In the near future, scientists will be gathered on a seculded island to develop nanotechnology. Of course, they’ll all be injected with it, because this can’t be a bad idea. But something goes wrong, horribly wrong! The main computer malfunctions and sends the nanos into a violent frenzy, devouring their hosts from the inside, changing people and animals into crazed morons, tearing the island apart, turning everything gray and brown, leaving the toilet seat up, drunk-dialing your sister, and just generally being little electronic assholes. So the government sends in a crack squadron of soldiers with enough firepower to blow up the earth, and fix the central computer. No, wait! That would make SENSE. Instead, they send a scientist who couldn’t fight her way out of a wet paper bag, and shortly after send Jake, a cyborg ninja who looks like a ripoff of MGS2’s Raiden to protect her. Throw in the hero’s dark past, a barely-explained nemesis figure, and uninspired plot twists, and you’ve got the pile of crap that is NanoBreaker’s plot. The entire story is told through cutscenes that, although well-animated, appear to have been written by 12-year-olds. The dialogue is cliche and overly dramatic to the point of silliness, and is far too earnest to be passed off as satire. Beyond the opening cinema, the story seems completely arbitrary, as though the writers didn’t care about it any more than the player will. It’s just laughably bad. And honestly, how do they expect to make believable badass cyborg ninjas out of guys named Jake and Keith?

Story/Modes Rating: 1/10


Graphics:

The cutscenes in NanoBreaker are easily the high point of the game. Don’t get too excited; they’re technically decent, but nothing revolutionary. The graphics everywhere else, however, are simply lazy. We have seen the future, and it is bland. This game has, bar none, the ugliest backgrounds I’ve ever played through. Apparently, the designers on this island decided to get an early start on the Apocalypse, because the closest you’ll come to any bright colors here will be the copious amounts of blood you spill. Environments are hazy, poorly lit, and seem to consist of only two colors: brown and gray. In a different game, this could possibly have been a starting point for a very stark survival horror mood, but it’s simply ugly and disengaging here. The environments are sparsely detailed, and offer almost nothing in the way of explorability or interactivity. Jake’s character model is pretty decent, and he’s moderately well-animated (aside from his silly, exaggerated jump), but he is very much alone. Enemies are uninspired and lacking in any real detail, fitting perfectly with the rest of the game’s strict policy of blandness. The fact that someone got paid to direct the “art” for this game is just depressing.

Graphics Rating: 3/10


Sound:

The sound effects are sparse, and only noticeable because Jake’s grunts as he plows through the hordes of Orgamechs are so regular and repetative. It’s an unusually quiet game; not in a Resident Evil, building tension way, but in a “this is boring and mysteriously devoid of content” way. Voiceovers, which are thankfully rare, are irritatingly over-the-top and poorly delivered. The scientist in particular is the most irritating character I’ve seen in some time, as she reaches levels of whininess I never knew existed. The music is not necessarily bad, just generic. We have seen the future, and it is a driving techno-industrial beat. The music occasionally wanders into inexplicably upbeat piano tunes that don’t even come close to being appropriate for the game. I’m too disheartened to even hit them with a newspaper.

Sound Rating: 2.5/10


Gameplay and Control:

Try this: imagine a hack’n’slasher. Any one. Devil May Cry, Bloodrayne, Fullmetal Alchemist, Onimusha, whatever you like. Now, remove everything that made it entertaining. You’ve got a pretty good idea of what NanoBreaker is like. You’re a cyborg ninja with a plasma blade that can be transformed into new weapon to deliver finishing moves in combos. The “Orgamechs,” people and creatures taken over by the rogue nanomachines, come at you in mobs, and you cut them down. While many other games can make this mindless task range from bearable to fun, NanoBreaker fails. Mobs have far, far too much health, and your weapons do far too little damage. You have to hack away at enemies for extended periods of time to kill them, and rooms with huge numbers of enemies take so long to clear that you forget what menial task you were trying to accomplish. The much-touted weapon transformations are temporarily amusing, but the transforming combos slow you down a ridiculous degree; these attacks do more to leave you vulnerable and get you killed than anything else. Making it even worse, the enemies have zero AI; you can usually turn on your turbo controller and leave the room, and be in little to no danger of getting killed. Also, you can usually just run through rooms and completely ignore the enemies, which makes the game even more pointless.

Occasionally, the action comes grinding to a halt as the game struggles to live out its dreams of being a crappy platformer. Just when I thought this game couldn’t get any worse, I’m thrown into a simple platforming “puzzle” (hit a switch which opens the ceiling and use platforms to jump through before it closes) that showcases just how clunky the jumping is in this game, as well as the camera. Control is passable, aside from jumping. NanoBreaker’s combos resemble those in the Mortal Kombat series, in terms of rigidity of execution; the action doesn’t really flow, as you basically just dial in your combos and hope for the best.

The big selling point is supposedly the epic amounts of blood-like oil that you shed as you annihilate these enemies. The game keeps track of how much you spill, and gives you upgrades at regular intervals. Were the amounts of blood less ridiculous (you’ll shed thousands upon thousands of gallons within the first level) this might be sinister and interesting, but it’s just silly here. Making it even sillier is the fact that you can change the color from the options menu to basically anything, including “mixed,” which looks like a Skittle massacre. While some players will find this riotously entertaining, the novelty wears off after about 10 seconds for most. It’s just stupid, and even hinders the game’s performance; a particularly bloody battle will leave the game with horrible slowdown as all the blood is processed.

There’s absolutely nothing here to give you any reason to NanoBreaker. I literally cannot come up with a single defense for this game.

Gameplay and Control: 2/10


Balance:

No. Just… no. The game is irritatingly time-consuming, yet rather broken once you master the Capture Critical attack. It seems ridiculously hard at first; I spent hours on the end of the first level, getting my ass handed to me by the gauntlet of baddies and a boss, since the game has a staunch refusal to provide healing items. Then, I stopped trying to perform the elaborate weapon-changing combos and trying to be strategic, and just hammered away on the Triangle button. Once you realize that attempting to do anything besides the Capture Critical combo or simply wailing on the attack button is futile, the game is a cakewalk. There’s Hard mode if you want more of a challenge, but that requires completing the game and starting anew, which is just a bad idea. The difficulty is more a result of the game’s stinginess with items and the clunky controls than any actual challenge. The enemies get progressively harder, but that’s because the game gives them extra defense and more damaging attacks in later forms rather than actually having new enemies. If they can’t be killed by mindless slicing, they’re defeated by simple, obvious strategies, like waiting until the plants open their mouths before striking, or knocking the bipedal phallus monsters onto their backs before the mindless slicing. The puzzles aren’t all horrible, but they’re irritating and give little or nothing in the way of hints. Only the boss battles seem to require any real progressive reasoning. Other than these, mindless hacking and slashing will get you through.

Balance Rating: 2/10


Replayability:

The game is less than 10 hours, it just feels like much, much, much longer. NanoBreaker has a few unlockables to encourage replay, as though quantity will make up for lack of quality. Hard Mode and Splatter Mode are unlocked after finishing the game, as well as the option to play through as Keith and a New Game + mode, so you can start over with your end-game stats and combos. Play through as Keith and you unlock Jaguar from Neo Contra. Hard Mode is self-explanatory: play through on a harder difficulty, if the enemies weren’t irritating enough before. Splatter Mode has you (wait for it) hacking and slashing the hell out of opponents in order to collect as much blood as possible; at the end of each level, you’ll be given a website address and a code to rank yourself online against other players, as in Metal Gear Solid. The fact that they chose to include unlockables for replay value is nice, but the actual bonuses themselves do nothing to make the game any more entertaining.

Replayability Rating: 2.5/10


Originality:

Originality? Nope. Sorry. We’ve seen hack ‘n’ slashers a million times before, and usually done a hell of a lot better. The main selling points, excessive blood and a transforming weapon, don’t do anything to make this any better. On the contrary, the blood is just silly, especially when you change its colors, and the weapon is gimmicky and the much-touted transformations do more to get you killed than to actually help you. The only thing NanoBreaker does in new and exciting ways is fail at entertainment.

Originality Rating: 1.5/10


Appeal:

Unentertaining gameplay, generic music, horrible story, crappy graphics… who would actually find this game appealing? Masochists and people who refuse to play anything requiring thought. Honestly, this isn’t me trying to play up the IP attitude many people accuse us of having; there’s literally no compelling reason to even consider playing this game. Maybe if you want to remind yourself of everything that could’ve gone wrong with Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (as if Castlevania 64 didn’t outline that already), or how impressive Devil May Cry 3 is, you could play this game. Or you could pick this up if you’re an 11-year-old who wants fountains of gore. Either way… no. Don’t. Put it down. NO.

Appeal Rating: 1/10


Addictiveness:

Attention developers: if you want to base your game around mindlessly comboing people, make it fun. There’s nothing here, gameplay- or story-wise, that gives one any desire to play at all, let alone for extended periods of time. And since any sane player will get frustrated very quickly, it becomes an incredibly irritating chore to try to figure out where to go, especially when all the environments are the same dull, sickly shade of brown and the poor level design makes exploration a confusing hassle. There’s no desire to play this at all, let alone for extended periods of time.

Addictiveness Rating: 0.5/10


Miscellaneous:

The only real bonus touch here is the inclusion of the famous Konami code, which changes the mini-map to a simplistic space shooter into an Asteroids-ish game which basically just seems like a way to say “yes, we have the Konami code!” It’s about as entertaining and well-thought-out as the rest of the game. I suppose the true miscellaneous gimmick would really be the blood splatters, but these are silly and stupid. The ridiculous gore is going to land it on next year’s MediaWise list of games most likely to damage the moral fiber of your children. I fully agree that this game will irrepairably warp your children, but that’s less from its violence and more from its worthlessness.

Miscellaneous Rating: 1/10


Final Scores:

Story: 1/10
Graphics: 3/10
Sound: 2.5/10
Gameplay and Control: 2/10
Balance: 2/10
Replayability: 2.5/10
Originality: 1.5/10
Appeal: 1/10
Addictiveness: .5/10
Miscellaneous: 1/10

Overall Score: 17/100
Final Score: 1.5/10 (ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE)