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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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):
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.
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.
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!)
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.