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iPhone ‘Game’ Review: Nano

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Imagine sitting on the bus, your eyes focused on a small device in front of you. Soothing music is playing out of your headphones, and your hand casually is moving around the device's screen. Keep that image in your head, but alter it a little. Now you are playing a game. The music, though still soothing, changes based on how you play, and all you are trying to do is get small bits of light into circles. Interesting image, isn’t it? Well, that is exactly what you get when you play Nano, a game that is currently available in the app store for only $.99.

Nano is a piece of software that is perfect for meditation, calming kids down, or just getting some personal time on the bus. The game is slow paced, enjoyable, and, quite frankly, easy to learn and use. In its entirety, Nano is one of the simplest things you will ever use. Use your touch to manipulate ‘magnetic’ arrows, which direct balls of light around the screen. Aim the cool colored balls (blues, greens, whites) into floating circles. Meanwhile, warm colored balls (reds, oranges, yellows) you want to direct away. That is all that Nano is, and that is why it is so peaceful.

Take a look at the this video and think about what you just saw. Notice how simple, soothing, and unique it is. Now, if the game looked at all interesting to you (even if it just barely piqued your interest), then odds are that you will enjoy it. However, if the video of Nano looked boring or dull, then don’t bother downloading it at all.

Nano is a polarizing game, with people loving it and people hating it, very few are neutral on the game (at least, that is what the reviews and ratings in the app store seem to say). Though I believe that the video test (as indicated above) is a good way of telling how you would perceive the game, I still see some problems with it. This probably stems from the fact that Nano is labeled and categorized as a game, though most people wouldn’t consider it one. To be a game, or to not be a game, that is the question.

For most, a game is something where there is an objective, fast-paced gameplay, and actual challenges you must face. None of these are present in Nano, so it must not be a game. I actually agree with this argument. I feel that Nano is more of a meditation device and a cool, music-based piece of software, rather than a game. I believe that people looking for a game are going to be disappointed, and that might be why there is such a wide gap in the perceptions of the application. However, this is probably up to each person so take a look at the video, and decide for yourself.

My favorite feature in Nano would be the fact that it allows me to meditate. I love the simplicity of the game, and how all I have to do is slowly change the various magnetic currents to either target or avoid certain colors. To me, this is so unique in the app store, and as unique in the software world as a whole, that it is a fun and interesting concept. I really like that I can just sit there and watch the balls move around, alter their course as I please, and just let the music take me in. Heck, I don’t even need to try to stop the hot balls from entering (it does cause a ‘bad’ musical change, however), as I can just sit there and let a steady stream enter the floating circle. To me, the ability to meditate in Nano is essential, and really nice.

Another nice feature about Nano is how the music changes based on what you do. When using the application at first, I thought that the music was just naturally changing as part of the game, not as part of my actions. However, after playing for an extended period of time, I started to notice that the pitches and tones changed based on what I did. This drew me further into my meditative state and made me enjoy Nano even more.

Though these do not detract from the overall experience of using Nano, I would like to point out two problems with this application. For starters, the load time of Nano is exceptionally long, and it will sometimes freeze. This is probably due to the iPhone keeping many things running even though they are 'closed'; thus Nano has to clear memory for itself. Depending on how bad it is, you might freeze the phone by hitting either two physical buttons on it. I suggest that you hard reset your iPhone if this happens. The other issue is that I would like to see the magnetic currents of Nano reset themselves at each level. Currently, they stay facing the same way that they did when the last level finished, and that annoys me. However, neither of these issue detract from the overall Nano experience.

Nano is an application that is easily worth the $.99 investment to buy. I really liked the application, enjoyed the music, and loved to be lost in it. However, I know that not everybody will like, get, or enjoy the game. With this in mind, I urge you to view the video, and then decide from there. The simple ability to meditate, while in a crowded city bus, showed me how much Nano was truly worth. Due to that, as well as how much I actually liked the game, I am giving Nano five-out-of-five stars. Congrats.

For the record, Nano placed 5th in my top-10 iPhone Apps of February 2009 article.

Nano has not been rated by the ESRB. The game is currently available on the iPhone and iPod Touch

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About Robert M. Barga