I tend to gravitate more towards fantasy than military when it comes to strategy games, but I was quite blown away when I first played Advance Wars for the Gameboy Advance back in the day.
As a result, and probably to the detriment of many efforts, I always tend to compare “tank and plane” mobile strategy games to Advance Wars. Some have come close, others completely miss the mark. For me, Neo Nectaris is somewhere in between. In has some of the feel of the Gameboy game I loved so much, but ultimately it just hasn’t captured my attention.
The graphics and sound also feel outdated, which I’m sure has to do with the fact that this is a port from a different platform. Ultimately, I just couldn’t sink my teeth into this game.
The visuals are okay. I’m not sure what system the game was ported from, but apparently the graphical assets were borrowed from the source without much cleanup work. The backgrounds have a weird, almost photo-realistic look to them, though photos of what I’m not quite sure. The tones of black and grey make the backgrounds rather drab. In sharp contrast the units look more like something out of Advance Wars, though not quite as cartoony. Animation is limited to the fight sequences, and pretty much consists of a set of vehicles or troops on each side moving together in complete unison and then firing. It’s really all pretty lifeless.
The sound effects are basically what you’d expect from a turn based strategy game. There aren’t even any voiceovers of allied commanders giving you orders or evil leaders giving you threats or anything like that. As for the music, I don’t really care for it. It actually has the potential to be good, but rather than actual songs it’s really just short musical snippets that cut off before they really get good and are looped in such a way that the transition from end to beginning is abrupt and awful.
I’m not real keen on the controls. Don’t get me wrong, everything is easy to use and responsive. The problem is that almost every action requires two taps to perform. Other than attacking, which once it’s done there should be no turning back, why not just have an undo button if you really want to back off on an action? The biggest problem comes when moving, because the object you’re commanding moves with the first tap, but isn’t committed to that move until the second tap.
If you forget and go on to something else, you have to issue that move command all over again. Ironically enough, other than Abort the only action that is a simple one tap affair is End Turn, which is potentially the most disastrous action in a round. The only non-tap action is scrolling the playing field, which is accomplished with a single finger drag across the screen.
Neo Nectaris is fairly straightforward in terms of objectives. On each map you have a base and so does your opponent. You must either capture your opponent’s base or destroy all of their troops, and they will attempt to destroy you in return. Whoever accomplishes their goals first is the victor. If you win you move on to the next campaign. If you lose you try the one you’re on all over again. Should you need to leave the game in between campaigns you can pick up at the end of the last campaign you completed. You can also save your game during a campaign by pausing the game and selecting the “Save Game” option.
Actually playing the game is mostly a matter of tapping. You tap twice to select a unit, at which point a bunch of hexagons will show up. White hexagons are spaces where you can move, and red hexagons are spaces where you can attack. To move, tap the desired hexagon twice. The same goes for attacking. If you choose to attack and you have animations turned on as an option you’ll see a quick fight scene played out. If you move a unit next to an enemy that it can attack, you’ll have the opportunity to attack that enemy. You cannot attack and then move, however, with the exception of a couple of special units. You get the opportunity to work with all of your units, and then the computer gets to move all of its units. This continues until someone wins the campaign.
All the typical strategy paradigms apply here. Units vary in attack, defense and movement capabilities. Some can only attack from long range. Some units can actually carry other units so that they can move faster. Terrain effects both a unit’s movement and defense. One thing I liked was the fact that attacking units can be “supported” if other allied units are bordering the enemy that you’re attacking. One thing that’s sadly missing is the ability to construct anything. Neo Nectaris is strictly a “here’s what you get, now deal with it” type of strategy game. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I like to build things.
First of all, get rid of the two-tap requirement for activities. It just seems like overkill. There’s got to be a better way to accomplish the interface that they want to have. Second, put a confirmation the one place it’s needed – the End Turn button. Of course, if all units have moved it’s not necessary, but otherwise the game should make sure you really meant to hit End Turn.
Third, the game really needs a better balance between AI, level design and challenge. Part of my frustration (and hence the driver for my opening paragraph) was the fact that I got trounced on the second campaign. To me there should be a better progression of difficulty than that in a strategy game. Turns out after playing through campaign two a second time (and just narrowly beating it) that there was actually probably a simple way to beat the campaign. It just wasn’t obvious for someone new to the game.
As happens quite often when reviewing a game, I ended up with a better appreciation for Neo Nectaris by the time I got to the conclusion than when I started the review. That’s why I continue to play a game throughout the writing process. I’m still not 100% sure I’m sold on the game, but I feel more willing to give it a chance now.
I really do think it could use an upgrade in the audio / visual department, and the levels need a bit more balancing in my opinion, but there’s probably something here for those who are missing their Nintendo handhelds and the thrill of Advance Wars. Unfortunately there is no lite version of this game, so I’d consider it really carefully before taking the plunge.