I consider myself to be a pretty big fan of lightgun shooters; it's quite possibly my favorite genre of arcade games. The last couple of years have seen arcade ports make their way almost entirely to the Sony systems, with stuff like Ninja Assault and the Time Crisis series being made for the PS2 and PS3 systems, with the occasional title, like House of the Dead, making its way to the Xbox. At least the GameCube was ignored in this area, but the Nintendo Wii is certainly picking up the slack this generation. This title, Nerf N-Strike Elite, fits the mold of a lightgun shooter that's intended for kids rather than adults. It's also a follow-up to the previous Nerf title on the Wii, and once again, it comes packed in with its own Nerf gun. It's a little gimmicky, but you'd be surprised at how well it functions for a lightgun accessory, especially when compared to Nintendo's Zapper peripheral. It's not going to replace the Nyko Perfect Shot as my light gun shell of choice for the Wii Remote, but it makes a pretty unique alternative nonetheless.
It's a shame when I found the game to be far less interesting than the actual Nerf gun with which it was packaged. The basics of the story involve four kids, all of whom are selectable characters, battling it out against a menace known as B.O.B. and an army of futuristic-looking robots. The majority of the gunplay is against these robotic menaces, and while it certainly acts and feels like a lightgun shooter, it's also ridiculously repetitive, with long, drawn-out battles against robots that take far more hits than I'd ever expect an enemy in a lightgun game to take. This is a little harder to explain if you've never played a House of the Dead or Time Crisis title before, but I'll try my best. In most of these titles, when you're faced with an oncoming horde of zombies or soldiers, you can typically pop off one or two shots to take them down, and rarely does it ever require you to unload an entire clip of bullets to finish off a single enemy (aside from a boss). However, in N-Strike Elite, just about every single enemy you fight, even the most mundane robot, will require you to unload an entire clip or two to destroy it. It's not even that challenging, as the robots barely move around the screen, and most tend to stay in place and absorb the massive amount of hits. They pose little to no danger to your own health, and while it looks like they're also firing off quite a few rounds, they cause little damage in the long run.
The game is pretty short, divided up into a series of levels with some interesting design. You'll typically run around on foot, but there are also some cool vehicular sections that have you either chasing or being chased by robot enemies. Certain enemies, mostly bosses or bigger robots, will also make use of the Red Reveal plastic device that attaches to the included Nerf gun. This is basically the red part of 3-D glasses, and it attaches to the back end of the gun with a flip-up screen that you can use. It'll highlight an enemy's weak points or allow you to read code words scrawled in certain sections of a level, which you can then use to unlock additional weapons in the selection screen prior to a stage. There are also some door locks that require you to shoot the locked parts in a particular order, so you'll get plenty of use out of that function. It's also pretty easy to tell what you're looking for without the red piece of plastic, as the areas are typically highlighted in a lighter color than everything else on the screen, but it's still a neat functionality that's tied to the gun, and it's pretty cool to see.
As you play through the stages, you'll also be able to shoot a number of power-ups; it's mostly additional ammo and health, but you can also collect little icons that can then be spent on new weapons. I thought it was a tad annoying that these are the same weapons that hidden codes will unlock, and on more than one occasion, I spent points to unlock a weapon only to find the code in the next stage that would have unlocked it for free. There's a pretty large variety of weapons that you can unlock, and each kid also has his own particular starting weapon. Since the game is really kid-friendly and non-violent as far as lightgun shooters go, all of the guns are also virtual Nerf guns. This means that when you shoot on the screen, it's actually firing off little Nerf darts, and the in-game physics work much like they do in real life. Basically, there's a small arc to every shot, so if you're trying to hit something that's farther away, you'll want to acclimate yourself to how the guns fire. If you've ever shot a Nerf gun before, this won't be an issue, but it takes a little bit of getting used to in video game form.
There is support for two players in the game, which in turn unlocks additional stages that you won't be able to check out if you're playing by yourself. With the Nerf gun not being absolutely necessary for both players, the additional guy can just be a Wiimote without any problems. The game doesn't require that you use two Nerf guns, so if you enjoy using the Red Reveal, I suppose you could have one person who calls out the hidden shots. Unfortunately, there's not much in the way of additional modes outside of the campaign; the only other thing worth checking out is the shooting range, but that stays identical regardless of which gun you choose to play with. In the shooting range mode, you try to hit all the targets that you can, but there's no variation, so the gameplay quickly gets stale.
For the actual Nerf gun that comes attached, it's a fully functional gun outside of the game. It only came equipped with four darts, which is a little disappointing, but when you want to use it outside of the game, simply replace the Wiimote with the actual shooter that pops into place. It's easy to take it apart and put it back again, making it very kid-friendly to use. With the Wiimote in place, the gun gains a little weight, but it's not so heavy that your arms will get tired after extended use.
Visually, N-Strike Elite fails to impress, but the prior Nerf game wasn't exactly a looker either. The environment and details are really simple; there's little in the way of complex textures or detailed character models, and the robot enemies are really repetitive. Granted, lightgun shooters aren't necessarily the most complex-looking games on the market, but it's a shame that this needs to be outdone by an older title like Ghost Squad just because it's geared toward kids. It's a little more interesting to look at when you have the group of children playing the game, but in-game, it's definitely not that appealing. The same goes for the sound and music, which feel awfully generic and fail to stay with you after extended plays.
Even if you're a big fan of lightgun shooters, there's little appeal to be had in checking out Nerf N-Strike Elite. It's a very run-of-the-mill take on the genre, and gearing the game toward kids means that it's been dumbed down a bit, which, in my opinion, isn't really necessary for children's titles. It's a chore to play, it becomes quite boring, and there's not enough reason to go back and play the short campaign more than once, even if you're bringing along a friend. The biggest draw is the Nerf gun that comes packaged with it, but surely you can find a nice Nerf gun for the $60 that this game is going to cost you. I'd advise parents and gamers to avoid this one, as you could spend your money on far better Nerf products than this amalgamation.
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