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“Dr. Nano” iPhone Game Review


The main menu for Dr. Nano. Here we see the titular character’s creepy eight year old face for the first (and only) time.

A little while ago, Mission Critical Studios provided Frayed Wire with a download code for their iPhone game, Dr. Nano. The game is about an eight year old kid, somehow certified as a doctor, who is shrunken down and injected into the veins of various patients in order to solve their internal problems. Think of Fantastic Voyage, and you’ll have the general concept of the game.

While nearly all of the main missions require you to zap harmful bodily objects with the gun on your microscopic ship, what exactly you’re shooting is what makes the missions differ from each other. Each level requires you to destroy things like plaque, parasitic worms, viruses, and/or other dangerous internal things. The earliest of the 21 levels task you with ridding the patient of only one type of these toxins, but as the game progresses, the missions can only be completed once several types of them are eradicated. All the while an oxygen level is ticking down, forcing the player to hurry through the level in order to avoid a game over by suffocation. Bumping into the walls of the levels or objects littered about the veins detracts from the oxygen level as well, adding another layer of challenge to the gameplay. To my surprise however, is the fact that Dr. Nano is actually quite forgiving on the normal difficulty level. If you run out of oxygen, a “reserve tank” kicks in, bringing the meter back to 100%. Only on expert mode does the oxygen pose a real threat, as no reserve tank saves you when you run out of air and you begin the level at only 40%.

Every once in a while a bonus stage appears, and the player controls not the ship as usual, but Dr. Nano himself. Dr. Nano, the eight year old doctor (I still can’t get over that), swims freely in the bonus rounds, and his goal is to fly into objects that speed him up and send him careening through the patient’s veins. Unlike the normal levels where destroying harmful substances is key, the bonus rounds end when the player reaches the finish (in the style of an old-school arcade game like Pole Position).


Normally Dr. Nano must take out these objects with his ship’s lasers, but in this rare exception of a level, you run straight into them to destroy them.

The concept is cool (albeit not entirely original), and when everything clicks, Dr. Nano can be a decent, relaxing game. Unfortunately most of the time something gets in the way of the fun; usually the controls. The majority of the game is controlled with the accelerometer of the iPhone or iTouch, with the touch screen necessary only to shoot objects that appear in the circulatory system you’re traveling through, or to adjust a slide bar on the side of the screen that controls the speed of Dr. Nano or his ship. The touch controls work fine, but the accelerometer control is far too sensitive. Every time I turn on the game, I have to adjust the calibration multiple times to get things to work serviceably, and even then the game is still awkward to play. Mission Critical Studios should look to accelerometer control in games like Doom Resurrection for inspiration when creating games in the future, or when updating this one.

The controls are the first problem players are likely to encounter in Dr. Nano, but eventually the redundancy of the level design becomes apparent as well. Each level may require the players to zap a different number or a different type of substance, but the setting is the exact same in each of the 21 levels (with the exception of the last level). The red walls of the vein represent the boundaries of the level, and while they twist and turn a bit over the course of a stage, the fact of the matter is that you’ll see those same vein walls in nearly every level of the game. Some variety in the environments could greatly benefit the game, but as of right now, the setting gets boring after a while.


This the “heart mission”, the final and most varied level in the entire game.

Dr. Nano has full 3D environments and models, but they aren’t near the quality of other 3D iPhone games such as Hero of Sparta or the previously mentioned Doom Resurrection. Of course, Mission Critical Studios is a fairly small time developer, so the quality and detail of the graphics can be forgiven. Dr. Nano’s character model however, is too odd to go without mentioning. During the levels you control him outside of the ship, you see his body swimming through the blood stream, but it’s tough to imagine it as the body of an eight year old, or even a regular person for that matter. The head is enormous and the swimming animations are robotic. That, combined with Dr. Nano’s overall blocky shape, makes for a rather off-putting character model.

There isn’t much music in the game, but what there is isn’t bad. The tracks provoke a sense of wonder and calm discovery, which helps turn the game into a relaxing experience (even if that doesn’t quite fit the fact that Dr. Nano is racing against the clock to save a patient’s life). It’s disappointing that so few songs can be heard in the game, and that the ones that are there (three if I’m correct; one for the main menu, one for the main levels, and one for the bonus rounds) are so short. They loop well, but it doesn’t take too long before you figure out that you’re hearing the same thing over and over again. It’s possible to play songs loaded onto your iPod in the background, but without a way to turn off the in-game sound, such a feature is wasted.

The game is longer than I expected it to be. With 21 levels, Dr. Nano will probably take several sessions for the average player to beat. Each level is unlocked to play through on its own once you complete it in the main quest, and devoted players can try to beat their high score on either of the two difficulty modes. However, I don’t plan on playing Dr. Nano very much now that I’ve beaten it. I’m truly thankful that Mission Critical Studios provided Frayed Wire with a download code for the game, but the unfortunate truth is that while Dr. Nano has some decent concepts, the frustrating controls, redundant level design, and mediocre animations prevent me from recommending it. The price was recently lowered to $0.99, which is much better than the original asking price of $2.99 (and infinitely superior to the supposed “normal” price of $10), so I can see how some people might be able to justify a purchase on a whim. With updates promised in the future, perhaps Dr. Nano will one day become a contender amongst the many excellent 99 cent games on the App Store, but for now, this is a game most people will want to avoid.

Pros: Decent (although obviously borrowed) concept, lengthy, can provide a relaxing casual experience when everything works right

Cons: Frustrating accelerometer controls, in-game sound can not be turned off, robotic animations, redundant level design, small amount of music, annoying voice clips

Final Score: 5.4 out of 10

This review was written based off of version 1.0.4.

By Josh60502

  1. blissbait
    September 18, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    give that kid a hug
    spindly, green-eyed nano doc
    gamers all, beware!

    Thank You.

    May All Beings Be Happy.

  2. lostaddict1993
    September 24, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    The game itself looks pretty bad.

  3. Anonymouse
    October 3, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    “Unlike the normal levels where destroying harmful substances is key, the bonus rounds end when the player reaches the finish (in the style of an old-school arcade game like Pole Position).”

    wow isn’t that just called, you know, RACE MODE?

    No need to overwrite..

    • October 22, 2009 at 6:26 pm

      Sorry Anonymouse, but what I was referring to is very clearly titled the “Bonus Round”. Also, you aren’t actually racing anyone, so that name doesn’t quite work.

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