Version Reviewed: 1.2
Device Reviewed On: iPad 2
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When I initially downloaded Node.Hack, I was not really expecting what I got from the game. This is essentially a modernized take on Pac-Man with additional strategic elements. The conceit is that players control a hacker who's attacking various nodes worth different amounts of money. The player stays at the node long enough to capture it, and the money is added to their account. There are defense AIs in play, who try to chase down the player and kill them. There are weapons that will chase down the enemies, or attack anything in straight lines connecting to the nodes. The goal is ultimately to collect enough money to open up the exit and to get out of there. Now, when the goal is reached, a timer activates for the player to try and escape. Now what happens is that the money values multiply, but nodes start to disintegrate, making it harder to escape if the player dawdles too long collecting money.
That tradeoff is emblematic of what Node.Hack does so well. It's all about risk & reward management because of the fact that there's so much waiting around. Is it worth collecting this high-value cash node if there are enemies about? Some weapons block off the path to other cash nodes, is it worth activating that weapon when it is unnecessary to collect those nodes? Balancing these factors is the key, and there's nothing quite like that moment of anticipation, waiting to see if that enemy AI will come in contact before or after that high-value cash node will be collected. The game works well as both a high score game and as a progression piece. A solid high score can be racked up by beating more challenging levels, but players who have endurance, or wish to repeat earlier levels, will find themselves shooting up the Game Center leaderboard.
The enemy AI patterns are extremely random – it's part of the suspense, but there's no way to predict whether an enemy is going to turn one direction or the other at all, and it just makes no sense. Still, AIs who are always chasing down the player would be frustrating. The game's art assets really need some smoothing out on the iPad, which has some noticeable upscaling of low-res art assets. The path-finding controls can make it difficult to plan out a set route, as it's possible to tap from one node to another, but it also always tries to find the shortest path to a node, which can be jarring when trying to make a specific path to activate a weapon node or avoid enemies.
Node.Hack is an inventive take on that Pac-Man style of maze gameplay, which pleasantly surprised me. There's some challenging fun to be had here.