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Nanostray

Review posted August 2005 by Corbie Dillard

Publisher: Majesco Entertainment
Developer: Shin'En
Release Date: July, 2005
ESRB Rating: "E" for Everyone
Genre: 3D-Shooter
Price: $29.99

You have to love any company that's willing to take the chance of releasing an "old-school" shooter into today's fickle, 3-D gaming market. After having success with its Iridion series on the GameBoy Advance, German developer Shin'en has turned its efforts to the Nintendo DS with the release of their newest space shooter, Nanostray. Combining old school shooter mechanics with the graphical and touch-screen capabilities of the DS, they've come up with a shooter that's not only one of the best released in years, but also one of the best games yet for the DS system.

Gameplay

As with most shooters, the play control in Nanostray is fairly straightforward. You must pilot your ship through the intense levels laid out before you, destroying enemy fighters and avoiding their barrage of gunfire along the way. At the end of each level you're rewarded with a boss fight. Your spaceship feels extremely responsive and moves quickly, which helps you duck and dodge well-laid out enemies and obstacles throughout each level. The only area of the game that could have used a little work is the touch-screen portions of the game. It can be cumbersome to have to remove your thumb from the firing buttons in order to change weapon types and scan bosses on the touch screen. It would have been nice if the developers had included a way to cycle through the different types of firepower using one of the shoulder buttons, perhaps. Outside of that, Nanostray really shines with its fluid and intuitive play control.

Along with your ship, you're given four different types of firepower that are constantly at your disposal. Pulse Fire allows your ship to aim all of its firepower straight ahead and proves to be the most effective firepower for most situations. Side-Shot aims your ship's firepower to the left and right sides of your ship, but leaves you vulnerable from the front and back. Seeker firepower causes your laser shots to track off towards enemy ships but takes some of the control away from you as far as targeting specific enemies. Lightning firepower shoots bolts of electricity at enemy ships and binds itself to that enemy until it's destroyed. Coupled with these variations of firepower are the tried-and-true smartbombs. You're given 3 of these bombs per ship and they destroy everything on the screen when detonated. Nanostray also allows for the use of your subweapon, which is basically a much more powerful and steady stream version of whichever firepower you're currently using. You're only given a certain amount of subweapon charge and you must collect blue upgrades dropped by enemies in order to refill your subweapon gauge. All of these things manage to come together to form an extremely solid game play system.

Beating a level in Nanostray is only the beginning. Once you've beaten a level in the game, you're then presented with a set of challenges for that level. These challenges can be anything from having to reach a certain score in the level, to playing the level with only one ship or firepower limitations. Just beating a level will seem very easy compared to some of these intense challenges, and it's apparent that the developers wanted these challenge areas to be the heart and soul of the game itself, as just about anyone should be able to play through the levels in the adventure mode with a little practice. Arcade Mode allows you to play previously beaten levels in order to better your scores and rankings. Depending on how you play the level, you're given a ranking from S++ to F. Using smartbombs and subweapon decreases your rating, so it's best to try to beat each level using only your standard firepower.

Multiplayer Mode

Nanostray doesn't feature much as far as the multi-player mode of the game, other than allowing another player to take you on in trying to outscore and outrank each other in a specific level. There's actually not a lot to it other than a one-on-one through a Nanostray level to which at the end, the winning player receives a nice little trophy for their efforts. A two-player co-op mode would have been a nice addition but it's difficult to complain given all of the mode variations in the game.

Graphics

There's no denying that Nanostray is a beautiful game. The developers have managed to create some very vibrant and intense worlds for you to pilot through. Everything from gigantic space stations to molten lava spouts spewing from the ground, each and every level in Nanostray has a life of its own and coupled with the multi-directional scrolling, everything in each level just seems to come alive. Enemies are all well animated, especially the monstrous bosses at the end of each level, and the enemy fire is very easy to see and differentiate even on the small DS screen. For the most part, shooters have never made the jump to the small portable screen very smoothly, so it's nice to see a shooter of this magnitude finally pulled off successfully on a handheld system.

 

 

Screen shots:

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Sound

After RPGs, shooters have always been a video game genre that's contained some of the better game soundtracks around. Nanostray manages to carry on that tradition with some extremely catchy techno-style soundtracks with just enough rock fused into it to match the actual intensity of each level in the game. Each level not only has its own trademark look, but also its own trademark song to go along with it. The sound effects are almost as well done as the soundtrack itself. Explosions, gunfire, and even background effects sound spectacular on the DS speakers, and never once come off sounding the least bit stat icky. It's nice to see that Shin'en put as much time and effort into the sound as they did the visuals.

Conclusion

It's hard to go wrong when you take resemblances of Axelay and Ikaruga, two of the best space shooters around, and put together a cutting-edge and modern shooter that manages to look and play as good as most shooters on even the current generation home consoles, and still somehow do all of this on a small handheld system like the Nintendo DS. Intense challenge, loads of replay value, and enough to do to keep even the most tested shooter fan busy for several hours, all come together in a very surprising DS release that shows just how far along portable game systems have come over the past few years. With the release of Nanostray, it's now become quite clear that a game genre that's been mostly ignored over the past few years, can and does fit in perfectly with a portable system like the DS. Let's just hope other developers are taking notes. A definite must-have for anyone who can appreciate a good shoot -em up game!

Playing Hints and Tips

- Use your subweapon beam often, as it's extremely effective against the stronger enemies and there are plenty of power upgrades floating around to recharge it.

- Every obstacle and enemy in the game has a distinct pattern. Learn it, even memorize it if you want to have any chance of beating some of the later challenges in the game.

- If you're having trouble with a particular boss, don't be afraid to use the "scan" function on the touchscreen. It will at least give you an idea of where the boss' weakness is located.

- Although there will come times when you will need to change your type of firepower, it's best to not spend too much time switching between them as it takes your hands off of the firing buttons.

- Try to stay out of the bottom corners of the screen, as the enemies in the game tend to move diagonally a lot of the time and this lends itself to your being cornered.

- Although you can use the "R" shoulder button to pull in coins and upgrades, you lose valor points if you use this feature too much during any level. Besides it's more fun to go after them anyway.

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics

There's enough eye-candy to please even the most ardent shooter fan in this one. Extremely bright and vibrant visuals abound with even the exploding ships showing a realistic, almost-digitized look to them.

Sound

Upbeat, up-tempo techno/rock inspired music throughout the game that perfectly compliments the intensity of this hardcore shoot-em up. Crank this bad boy up just to hear the gunfire and explosions.

Fun Meter

How can you not like a game where all you basically do is blow stuff up? Nanostray is easy enough for just about anyone to play it, but offers enough hardcore challenges to satisfy veteran shooter fans. (Note to Shin'en: Add two-player co-op in the sequel!)

Addictivity

When the fun of shooting through all 8 levels wears off, you can hit the challenge mode and be humbled quickly or try to improve your ranks in the arcade mode. Although the adventure mode is a little on the short side, the challenges are where the meat of this game is at and provide a lot more game play than most people will initially see.

Total Score= 4.625 Dragons, 92.5%



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