Posted by James Freeman.
While the shoot em' up genre has always been alive and flourishing in Japan, American audiences have had to settle through the years for a precious few imports, and even fewer domestically developed titles. So naturally, when I heard about a completely new shooter coming to the DS earlier this year, I became psyched. When I learned it was being developed by Shin'en Entertainment (the developers who made the brilliant Iridion and Iridion II games for GBA), I set my expectations high for a quality shooter. And, for the most part, Shin'en has not let me down.
Nanostray is a classic vertical-scrolling shooter in every sense of the term. The graphics, presentation, and music have been substantially upgraded (more on those later) but at its heart lies a true blue shooter. Unfortunately, as with most games in this genre, no real plot exists to drive gameplay (Nanostray literally just starts with your ship, the SHN-2k5, twirling down to the first level to begin blasting) but rather all attention is deflected to the frantic on-screen action. It's worth noting that the "level introduction" scenes that take place in the 4-5 seconds before one of the eight levels begins are gorgeous and honestly quite impressive for the DS.
Once dropped into a level, there are a few ammunition options at your disposal. In addition to a blue straight spray fire, there is a horizontal spray (which is actually rather useful), a purple spray that slightly homes into targets, and a lightning beam. Each weapon has a limited and stronger secondary fire that can be replenished throughout the level. While the selection certainly is not expansive by any means, it gets the job done. All four guns are available throughout any level with a tap of the touchscreen. This tap, which unfortunately requires diverted attention from the action on the top screen, is one of my only complaints with Nanostray. Just because the touchscreen is there does not mean that the unused and more easily accessible X button should be ignored or at least offered as an alternative control configuration. The problem is not as huge as some other reviewers and gamers make it out to be, though, but it's there.
As with any shooter, enemies appear in a constant and dizzying onslaught until a boss fight commences at the end of each level. The mechanized flying, crawling, and floating enemies in Nanostray are varied both in design and firing/movement patterns, but they're also rather unoriginal and hum-drum. At least the showers of bullets attacking your ship are gorgeous and varied, and the levels alone completely compensate for any shortcomings in enemy design. Each one is fully rendered in 3D and looks stunning. Oceans and landscapes swoop beneath your ship while interactive elements such as volcanic eruptions and lasers provide interesting paths to weave through. Boss battles are a bit of a letdown since the majority are disproportionately easy compared to the insane amount of obstacles you have to blast through to reach them. The bosses themselves, while all unique compared to each other, aren't anything particularly innovative within the genre.
With "Story Mode" under your belt where you play through all eight levels on whatever difficulty you choose (Normal, Hard, and Kill Yourself, which disappointingly only alters your lives and bomb amounts and not actual gameplay), Shin'en Entertainment offers Arcade, Challenge, and Multiplayer modes for replay. The most satisfying of the three is Arcade, where you can turn your high scores for each level into a "nanocode" to enter at www.nanostray.com and compare yourself with everyone else in the world. Inevitably your score won't hold a candle to some of the nut jobs posting scores near or over 1,000,000 points for each level (I'm always somewhere around 250k-400k). While it would have been great to simply make use of the DS Wi-Fi to upload scores to a global database, entering codes is no big hassle and the end result is just as satisfying.
Challenge mode is without a doubt some of the most frustrating gaming of my life, but incredibly rewarding. Most of the challenges consist of "score x points" or "beat this level without any secondary weapons" as opposed to something more engaging such as "make it through the level only shooting x type enemies" or "use x amount of ammo". Almost all twenty-two challenges are worth the time and effort, though. Multiplayer consists of download-play only between two people and is rather boring. You choose a level and a time limit then compete simultaneously on screen for points. Co-Op play (which was highly anticipated) as well as other multiplayer game modes were dropped due to time constraints, which is a real shame. At least enough replay value lies in the challenges and Arcade mode to obscure most of the disappointment in Multiplay.
As I mentioned before, Nanostray is simply stunning both aurally and visually. Shoot em' ups always seem to have memorable music (I still can hum every level theme from Axelay on SNES) and Nanostray is no exception. Somehow epic orchestrated tunes work quite will with the genre. If you are looking for the one DS game to show your friends who are on the fence about the graphical power of the system, Nanostray is easily the best option you have available right now. It's enjoyable to see developers taking full advantage of the DS' graphical and audio power.
This game gets an N-Philes score of B.
Nanostray is a wonderful example of an unfortunately often-ignored gaming genre and a great DS purchase if you have ever enjoyed shooters and want to experience one on Nintendo's newest handheld. While there are only eight levels and gameplay could be more polished (such as improved enemies and a worthwhile Multiplayer mode), Nanostray still offers everything you could expect from a shooter. If you want a copy I would hurry up and order one, as Majesco's financial situation only allotted 39,000 copies to be produced worldwide, and it doesn't seem like any more copies are planned for production. If you ever think you will enjoy a shooter on the DS, then hurry and pick up a copy before you regret it
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