Back in September, Canadian developer Frima invited us to an event to show off their ambitious fall lineup. The titles on display included a PlayStation Move game, apps for children and a couple of mobile offerings. Their intense fall wrapped up with Nun Attack, a goofy Nuns vs Monster title with heavy 70s influences from the humor to the music. There’s a lot to like here, but don’t expect your $.99 entrance fee to be the end of your expenditures if you truly want to enjoy this one.

The story is simple, but serviceable. Once upon a time there were five Sisters. One of them went bad, and the other four have to fight monsters and close the portals they are using to invade our world. Each of the four playable nuns has a role in battle and a special ability that makes choosing which to take into a fight a matter of balance.

Eva, Rosy, Olga and Mandy are the all-rounder, sharpshooter, tank and healer respectively. On the overworld screen, you’ll move them together from one end of the map to the other. Along the way, you’ll need to flick and tap projectiles to destroy portals. Getting hit with one of the missiles will put you at a disadvantage when going into battle at the next flag. The general stage design is clever, but it does become repetitive quickly.

You start off with two character slots, with more earned as you progress. In combat, you’ll need to move and target enemies by drawing lines from a nun to the destination or monster. On the extremes, Rosy will try to create as much distance as possible for her rifle and Olga will close the gap to use her shotgun. Eva and Mandy work from mid-range with different size handguns, so they won’t need to jockey as much.

It’s a lot to manage, especially when you throw in using special abilities and consumable miracles that cause status effects and heal. There’s great variety in the enemy types, with some using melee weapons, others firing from range and the most annoying of them exploding and inflicting ailments or freezing characters in place.

When using Mandy, the healer, it’s tempting to keep your nuns clustered since they need to be nearby to benefit from her ability. This becomes very problematic when trying to target or move with any precision. When your team gets stacked up, selecting the write member becomes an exercise in frustration. The game needs a feature that allows the nuns to fire on the next enemy when the current one is eliminated. Either that, or a some kind of slowing effect when targeting, are necessary. Right now, it’s simply too chaotic, and it severely limits the fun.

Worse, the game has some brutal difficulty spikes. There are currently four zones with 10 stages each, culminating in an extremely challenging boss battle. Miracles are almost mandatory for surviving one if you don’t want to grind levels and money (to upgrade the different armaments and ensure you are loaded up with enough miracle charges).

Of course, gold can be acquired via in-app purchase, which isn’t a huge surprise these days. I balk at it a little in this case for two reasons. First, the game isn’t free. Without getting into a lengthy discussion of the relationship between cost and value, which has been significantly mutated since free-to-play games have established a firm foothold, the $.99 entry fee is actually a bit offensive. I have absolutely no problem with in-app purchases, but the expectation I have when purchasing an app is that I will be able to progress through the content included without making another purchase.

This brings me to my second point. I happened to mention the game in conversation on Twitter and mentioned the difficulty spike. A Frima representative responded to let me know about the in-app purchases. Difficulty spikes are one thing, but with this response, I can’t help but believe they were intentionally positioned to drive people toward buying in-game currency.

For those that don’t wish to pony up, expect to double back and replay stages again and again. These bundles will get you up to 1.3 million coins (at the highest, $50 level). For those looking to spend a bit less, an extra dollar for 22,500 coins won’t even get you one upgrade level for a single gun further down the line.  According to the app, the most popular currency purchase is the $14.99 for 390,000 coin option. That’s $15.98 for this game if you go that route. Put simply, it isn’t worth it, and there is no good choice when the options are “grind” and “pay more than we led you to believe the experience would cost.”

Nun Attack is charming and goofy, and no, it’s not offensive in the way that Hitman: Absolution trailer was. There’s a distinct Blues Brothers, “We’re on a mission from God” vibe. The guns are smartly named and varied enough that choosing one to focus on is difficult. Again, the in-app purchases rear their ugly heads here. You can dump lots of in-game cash into upgrading a weapon only to unlock one that will clearly be better… after you upgrade that one, too. You can’t recoup your investment in previous weapons, so earning or buying even more currency becomes critical.

The presentation is solid, with each nun exhibiting a distinct personality on the battlefield. Olga’s a riot and definitely steals the show, but the others hold their own. The sound effects and music are great, driving home the 70s feel.

There are some strong ideas on display in Nun Attack. Personally, I would have preferred a higher up-front price tag (or in-app purchases to unlock later 10-stage zones) over the direction chosen. The free-to-play model is accepted at this point. This hybridized approach isn’t (and shouldn’t be). Frima needs to pick a direction and run with it rather than try to split the difference. The impact on design is a bit too obvious, and in conjunction with some overly-chaotic moments in battle, this otherwise enjoyable experience is dragged down.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Great aesthetic design and presentation
+ Each character has distinct personality and role in combat
+ Battle system’s core concepts are interesting…
- … but things tend to get too chaotic and hard to manage
- Stages become repetitive quickly: Move from left to right, destroy portals and take over flags, reach final portal and destroy it
- Difficulty spikes seem intentionally positioned to drive in-app currency purchases
- Miracles are important, but also drain your in-game cash

 

6 and 6.5 represent a game that doesn’t do anything spectacular or drastically fails to meet the high expectations people had for it. These scores are for games that you would only recommend to diehard fans of the series or genre, something that the average gamer wouldn’t miss very much if he/she skipped it. A game in this range has rental written all over it. 

Nun Attack was developed and published by Frima Studios. It was released on October 25, 2012 and is available for iOS and Android for $.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.