Straight blonde hair and straight human males have never made a fortunate pair. From the brothers Hanson
to Metal Gear Solid 2's Raiden
, the flaxen-haired fellows have always had it rough in the popular imagination. I think it really all began with Shakespeare's Sir Andrew Ague-Cheek
, the blonde imbecile to whom the bard gave one of the greatest lines written in the English language: "But I am a great eater of beef and I believe that does harm to my wit." Oh, Sir Andrew, you kidder.
Unfortunately, the protagonist of Konami's Nanobreaker cannot plead the Atkins diet defense for his pathetic dialogue. Not only does he sport a straight blonde "do, he's also got a waistline that would make Paris Hilton jealous. Yes, there's a lot working against the Nanobreaker even before he breaks his first nano, but can the game overcome the haircut?
That would take innovative gameplay, strong artificial intelligence, revolutionary graphics, and a compelling storyline all of which Nanobreaker eschews with the same haughty disinterest that Carson Kessely might indiscriminately bestow upon either the Swedish Bikini Team or your favorite pair of pleated pants. Which is to say, the unfortunate haircut might be the most distinctive element of this repetitive, derivative, and senseless game.
The story is set on a remote island where a government nanotechnology experiment has gone horribly wrong and morphed the resident human population into giant mechanical monsters. You play as the golden-locked Jake Warren, a half-human, half-robot warrior sent to destroy the "brain" of the robots. Although the plot is reminiscent of the well-developed Parasite Eve, it quickly devolves into an excuse to include lots and lots of blood in a bad videogame.
Your plasma sword slices and dices the robots, unleashing torrents of red "oil" that stains everything it touches except your own immaculate white coiffure. The game's score is counted in gallons, and in every battle you will spill more blood than a one-legged vampire at a Transylvania U. keg party. Since power-ups depend upon how much blood you can milk out of a monster, you end up doing absurd things like chopping robots in half, then chopping up each completely harmless quivering remainder. Nanobreaker? Not any more. From now on call him Robot Juicer.
However, for a game so committed to satiating bloodlust, it doesn't quite get the liquid physics down. Rather than streaking across the ground or flying from the tip of your blade, the blood limply fountains from each baddie identically. It looks a little like you're simply puncturing balloons "which is more icky than ruthless. The game also slows down quite a bit when many things are bleeding at once, breaking up the fluidity (no pun intended) of the more difficult combos.
Nanobreaker seems to trot out a new kind of combo system, allowing you to use obtainable "chips" to build new combo moves. But rather than customizing combos, the chips merely unlock pre-set combos. In a neat touch, Robot Juicer's plasma blade can "morph" into giant melee weapons during these combos, and the effect is satisfying, especially when pounding on monsters with a giant glowing hammer. It's too bad that the environments are largely non-interactive, because your giant tools of destruction are useless against furniture or other non-juicy matter.
This is not a big drawback since the environments are devoid of any interesting details. The varieties of areas include the straight alley, the straight hallway, and the empty sterile arena. Compounding the tedium is the fact that Robot Juicer has to frequently retread his steps, dispatching the exact same enemies repetedly. Any satisfaction that comes from dismembering an orgamech goes out the window when the orgamech keeps respawning at the same location. But Nanobreaker provides you with an increasingly attractive option out of the repetition: whenever things get really bad you can trip a special lever that ends the pain. [Exclusive GR Special Hint: it's on the back of your Playstation 2 console.]
And I haven't even gotten to the worst element of it. Nanobreaker's infuriatingly poor camera mechanics make everything that might simply be mediocre much, much worse. Within two seconds of playing Nanobreaker, one notices that the right-thumb-stick adjusted camera is both slow and severely limited. It never gets as low as Robot Juicer's shoulder, which means you will always be looking down on him, and there's no first-person view mode. This prevents you from seeing what's in front of you and behind you'all you get a really good view of is the ground.
And Robot Juicer cannot look up, so navigating some of the game's platforming segments is frustratingly difficult. The camera also has a tendency to move independently when there are shifting platforms in an area, a kind of artificial difficulty that will make you want to hit the "special" lever immediately. The jumping puzzles are made even more difficult by R. J.'s ridiculous lack of dexterity. I don't know which is worse, the inability to look up or the inability to walk.
The boss battles, to their credit, are long and involved'usually with at least two or three "mutations" before their nano is broke for good. But in some cases, the closest save point will come 10 minutes before a boss battle, making an already repetitive game even worse. Also, in many of the battles timing is absolutely crucial, making Nanobreaker's frequent framerate dips potentially lethal. When you've already got millions of gallons of juice and thirty minutes of your life on the line, you won't be inclined to forgive a framerate death.
The music might escape mention, but because it is my job to consider such things I must report a thoroughly mediocre performance. Although non-obtrusive, many of the tracks sound strangely whimsical, as if your whole "save-the-world" project and your insatiable bloodlust are really kind of cute.
But Nanobreaker isn't very cute, and it isn't very much fun at all. It can be difficult, but usually this difficulty stems from horrible camera angles, slow animations, and ill-positioned save points. In the end, although a robot juicer might be a good thing to have in a cyborg kitchen, it still suffers from a crappy haircut, poor posture, and, judging by the uncomfortable dialogues it has with other characters in the story, bad breath too.