Review: Nanostray 2 (Nintendo DS)

Nanostray 2
Genre: Shoot “Ëœem Up
Developer: Shin’en
Publisher: Majesco
Release Date: 03/11/2008

Full disclosure here folks…I can’t say I was a fan of shoot “Ëœem ups when I was younger. I’d like to say it’s because I was a vigorous young go-getter who couldn’t devote the time required to master games in this genre, but the reality was my fragile young ego couldn’t stand my poor little ship exploding in a hail of fire and shrapnel every 30 seconds. Now that I’ve grown into a barrel-chested testosterone drenched man’s man though I’ve rediscovered the genre. The excellent Ikaruga for the Gamecube was my re-entry point and I’ve since tried to sample more games from the genre when I can. I thought the original Nanostray for the DS was worthy of note in that a) it was a game in a genre that oddly rarely appears in handheld form and b) unlike most 3rd party DS games it was clear the developers actually put a bit of effort into it’s development. Of course that effort was rewarded with sales so low I’d have to assume people thought “Nanostray” referred to a strain of herpes. Nevertheless economics matter not to the plucky crew at Shin’en who have whipped up a 2nd Nanostray for our enjoyment, but is this game worth tracking down or are you safe leaving it to collect dust on the shelves?

1) Story/Modes

Does anyone actually care about stories when it comes to shumps? I can’t imagine they do. Criticizing the story in a shoot “Ëœem up seems like the equivalent of disliking a movie because you thought the tie a guy wore in one scene was ugly or hating football because they don’t paint the goalposts your favorite colour. In other words, it’s entirely beside the point. If you must know, “Nanostray” actually does refer to a virus that’s ravaging mankind and uh, somehow you have to stop it by blowing up a bunch of shit with a spaceship…or something. Can we move onto the modes now? Thanks.

Okay, this game actually serves up a pretty decent array of modes and options. There is of course the main adventure mode, which consists of 8 stages you can play either on your own, or in a welcome option, locally with a friend co-op style. After you beat a stage in Adventure you can then play it in Arcade mode for high scores, which can be uploaded to online leaderboards via Wi-fi (unfortunately this is as far as online goes with this game).

There’s also a Challenge mode where you’ll be asked to meet specific conditions while replaying certain stages (or parts of stages). I’m not a big fan of the “challenge modes” that seem to be appearing in more and more games these days. They tend to feel like busy-work to me, but I guess it’s something to do other than gun for high scores after you beat the game, which is more than a lot of shumps offer.

Finally there’s “Simulator mode”, which is the developer’s code for “Rip-offs of Other Popular Shooter styles Mode”. You get an Asteroids rip-off, a Breakout rip-off and more! If there was an old game where you flew around shooting stuff, there’s a good chance it’s ripped off here.

All in all, there’s quite an impressive selection of stuff to plow through here, even if none of it is particularly original.

Story/Modes Rating: Very Good

2) Graphics

While the gameplay itself is strictly 2D, the graphics are polygonal 3D. This gives a nice sensation of depth and is a welcome departure from your average DS title, which tends to look like a Gameboy Advance game with a few more colours added. There’s usually a ton of stuff flying around the screen at any one time and some of the bosses are quite impressive, yet the frame rate stays nice and solid. On a technical level Nanostray 2’s graphics are definitely in the top 10% or so of what’s available on the DS.

Artistically the game is a bit bland though. For a shoot “Ëœem up to sell these days it seems they need graphics designed for people tripping on mushrooms (look at Geometry Wars or Everyday Shooter for example). By comparison the visuals in this game are technically impressive but somewhat generic and subdued colour-wise. Overall though Nanostray 2’s graphics are one of it’s strongest suits.

Graphics Rating: Great

Bla-zap! Boomboomboom!

3) Sound

This game serves up your standard-issue shump soundtrack. Slightly trippy electronica with occasional cheesy guitar riffs. I’d never listen to anything like this in real life lest I endanger my precious indy cred, but it suits the gameplay perfectly well. Other than that things go boom in a satisfying manner when they blow up, so there’s nothing really to complain about here.

Sound Rating: Good

4) Control and Gameplay

Control-wise you can choose to either play with classic button controls in which you move with the d-pad and shoot stuff with the A, B and shoulder buttons, or you can go with touch controls where you maneuver your ship around with the stylus. The touch controls actually work okay, but you’ll find your own hand will too often obscure the action and during particularly frantic sections you’re liable to grind your touchscreen into a scratched and tattered mess, so it’s probably best to just use the classic button controls, which are nice and responsive.

Your ship has a standard forward shot as well as two satellites you can position around yourself using the L and R buttons, so you can essentially fire in 3 directions at once most of the time. Before each stage you can also choose one of 6 secondary weapons (Pulse, Seeker, Raydion, Ion Strike, Shock Mines or Spin). These weapons are generally pretty powerful, but their use is also limited as they drain a power meter each time you unleash them. So you have plenty of options for obliterating your enemies. Almost too many honestly. I kind of prefer the elegant simplicity of an Ikaruga to having a 100 bullets flying out of my ship in all directions at any one time, but you get used to it.

The stages take a best of both worlds approach as half of them scroll vertically and the other half scroll horizontally. I generally preferred the vertical stages as they were faster and the level designs generally seemed to be tighter, although your preference may be different.

The game is very boss-oriented as every stage follows a standard pattern…blast past some grunts, fight a small yet speedy mid-stage boss, blast a few more grunts then fight a giant screen-filling final boss that’s slow yet can absorb more bullets than the Terminator. The bosses are generally quite entertaining and well designed, but they perhaps overly dominate the game. Most of your time will be spent against them and they will cause the majority of your deaths to the point where the non-boss sections of the game start to feel like mere filler. Eventually you may even start to resent the non-boss sections a little as you continually fly through them to get to a boss that keeps destroying you. Bottom-line the boss fights could have been toned down a bit, but aside from that this is a fun if somewhat standard shooter.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

5) Replayability

As in all games of this type, if you know what you’re doing you can zip through the game very quickly, but the high level of challenge will significantly extend the time it will take you to beat Adventure mode. It took yours truly around 7 hours to get through the 8 stages on the standard difficulty level (and yes, I realize I’m probably opening myself up to mockery by guys with bedrooms full of imported shooters and anime figurines by admitting it took me that long). Once you’ve beat the game there’s multiple difficulty levels, high scores, challenges and Simulation mode mini-games to play.

There’s quite a bit of meat on Nanostray 2’s bones, although your mileage may vary depending on how many times you’re willing to play and replay the game. If you’re willing to play each section of the game until every bullet pattern is seared into your synapses then you’ll get a lot out of it, while if you’re just looking to beat the Adventure mode’s 8 stages and see the end credits it will be over a lot faster. By shump standards though, there’s definitely a lot here.

Replayability Rating: Good

6) Balance

Hitting the right balance with this genre is tough. Hardcore fans of the genre most likely to buy the game want to be punished with ridiculous difficulty, while the average gamer the title needs to appeal to be a breakout success want a level of difficulty hardcore fans would find a bore. Considering these challenges the makers of Nanostray 2 manage to hit a decent balance.

On the standard difficulty shump fanatics who see glowing bullet patterns whenever they close their eyes will find this game a bit on the easy side, but for the average serious gamer it should provide a stiff, yet not insurmountable, challenge. There are also varying difficulty settings so the game should be able to keep everyone but the most casual gamers relatively happy.

Balance Rating: Good

Pink = Evil! Old man nose rays! Argh!

7) Originality

There’s intentionally nothing original about this game. Nanostray 2 is made by people who love shoot “Ëœem ups for people who love shoot “Ëœem ups. The goal was obviously to try and take everything that was great about old shooters, collect it together and stuff it on a single game card. Adding in a bunch of new dangerous ideas to the mix would divert them from their stroll down memory lane. I can’t give Nanostray 2 a good rating for originality, but considering the nature of the game it’s not a major detriment.

Originality Rating: Bad

8) Addictiveness

Are you a bit of a masochistic type? Does dying repeatedly in a videogame give you a strange thrill you’d only confess to your therapist or in a whisper to a lover in the dark of night? Well then this game might grab you as the developers do a fairly good job of capturing the classic addictive shump appeal. It certainly isn’t as infuriatingly enchanting as the best games in the genre, but it should keep you coming back.

A lot of gamers will immediately be turned off though. Particularly younger gamers not accustomed to this level of challenge, most of whom will give up on the game after a few deaths so they can go listen to rap music in their meth lab while wearing oversized pants or whatever the kids are doing today. For the people this game is actually aimed at though, it should prove fairly addictive.

Addictiveness Rating: Above Average

9) Appeal Factor

Nanostray 2 is a fairly difficult hardcore game in a largely dormant genre with generic box art, no appealing characters to sell it and is published by a smallish company without the money or inclination to do much advertising for it. Add a dash of salt and you’re looking at the perfect recipe for profoundly lousy sales right there. On the up side maybe Majesco will send me a plaque or something if I’m the only person on the planet who ends up buying the game.

Appeal Factor Rating: Bad

10) Miscellaneous

I like the DS, but it’s really quite depressing sometimes the crushing lack of passion or effort that goes into the average DS game. The boredom of the developers flows out of the touchscreen, up your stylus and into your very soul when you’re playing the latest lifeless Brain Training or Virtual Pet clone on the system. So it’s nice to play a game on the DS, particularly a 3rd party game, where the developers obviously had a love for the subject matter and put some real effort into creating something of quality. Whether they completely succeeded or not doesn’t matter…at least they friggin’ tried.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores
Story/Modes: Very Good
Graphics: Great
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Good
Balance: Good
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Good

Final Score: Enjoyable Game

Short Attention Span Summary
Like shoot “Ëœem ups? Well good news, so do the guys at Shin’en and they’ve cooked a good little tribute to the genre in Nanostray 2. It doesn’t do anything radically new or different, and it has some gameplay balance issues but it was clearly made with the kind of care DS games are rarely afforded. If you’re a shooter fan who finds the idea of not being able to blast at things when you’re out of the house chilling, you should definitely check this game out. If you’re an average gamer just looking for something a little more challenging on the DS, you should also give this game a look. Casual gamers can safely skip it though as the game probably isn’t quite good enough to make a convert of you.



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