Non-stop hordes of alien baddies on the DS.
The original Nanostray was a pretty impressive-looking DS game back in 2005, so much so that I even purchased a DS just to play it, believe it or not. Developed by Shin'en, the fine folks behind other impressive-looking shooters like Iridion 3-D and Iridion II for the Game Boy Advance, Nanostray was an arcade style vertically scrolling shooter, that featured nifty-looking 3D backgrounds mixed with 2D gameplay a la Psikyo's Zero Gunner and Taito's Ray Storm.
Nanostray was definitely a game that showed tons of promise only to be marred by uninspired gameplay that really didn't do much to differentiate itself much from other shooters. But despite its lack of originality, it was just so nice to finally have a shooter on the DS that it was easy to overlook some of the game's faults and enjoy it for what it was.
Fast-forward to the present and Nanostray 2 is finally here with a host of improvements over the original.
At the start of the game players are presented with a variety of different modes to choose from. In the Adventure mode, players will be able to battle their way through all 8 levels of the game in a story mode setting. As you progress through the game the story unfolds through a variety of cutscenes shown before the start of each level. The storyline is a little convoluted and deals with the "Nanostray" virus causing the collapse of modern technology on a bunch of colonized planets. So, it's up to you to track down the origin of the virus and stop the contamination.
In order to do that, you'll have to successfully navigate your SHN-4 fighter through the dangerous trenches of all 8 planets, destroying everything in your path. The action is fast-paced and the enemies are plentiful as you'll be navigating your ship through both side-scrolling and vertically scrolling levels, ala Konami's Salamander/Life Force. A map screen of sorts allows players to attack the planets in different order, and the worlds themselves are well-designed, each with a distinctive look. Each level is filled with challenges that will force players to flex those twitch gaming skills as they wipe out waves upon waves of enemies while avoiding all sorts of environmental hazards.
There are three difficulty settings, and regardless of which one you choose, the game starts you off with the same number of lives and continues. However, enemies are more aggressive at the higher difficulty settings as there's more for you to shoot and avoid. Scoring happens in typical fashion where the more enemies you destroy, and the more coins you collect, the better your score. You also have a Nano Gauge that maxes out everytime you destroy an enemy and it works a little like a combo meter, allowing players to double their scores by consecutively shooting down enemies before the meter is quickly depleted.
While Nanostray 2 will definitely provide a good challenge to casual gamers, I'd never label it as being generally difficult. Memorization and pattern recognition goes a long way, especially against the tough mini-bosses and end bosses you'll encounter throughout the game. The bosses are pretty much your typical, giant-sized foes that litter the screen with bullets and lasers you'll have to weave in and out of while targeting their weak spots.
Thankfully the game controls well enough so that maneuvering through the hazardous mazes of enemy fire can be accomplished without much effort. You can adjust your ship's speed and the game offers a choice of three control schemes, and fortunately does away with the annoying touch screen weapon select feature from the original Nanostray. The default control scheme is pretty standard stuff with the d-pad controlling ship movement, the A button firing your main weapon, and the B button used for your sub-weapon. The game starts you off with a choice of three sub-weapons to choose from, with additional sub-weapons becoming available to you as you progress through the game. The sub-weapons vary in power and are all limited by an energy gauge that gets depleted with each use. The more powerful the sub-weapon the more energy it sucks up. Fortunately, replenishing the meter is easily accomplished by destroying enemy attack waves and collecting the blue coins they leave behind.
In addition to the various sub-weapons at your disposal, perhaps the greatest ally you have are a pair of twin satellites you can arm your ship with for added firepower. Since the game doesn't offer any additional power-ups, the twin satellites are an effective means of making short work of enemies as they enhance your fire power, and once obtained, always remain with your ship regardless of how many times you die or continue. What's more, pressing the L or R buttons allows you to change the position and firing direction of your satellites and you can further customize them at the weapon select screen before the start of each level.
In addition to the standard control scheme there are two touch screen-based alternatives available for left-handed and right-handed players. When using the touch screen controls the action is displayed on the bottom screen instead of the top screen and you can use the stylus to control the ship's movement while pressing the d-pad or face buttons to fire your weapons. For the most part, the touch screen controls are gimmicky at best and are pretty much rendered ineffective once the action starts to really heat up.
While Nanostray 2 isn't a terribly long game, with the Adventure mode taking a little under an hour to complete, it does possess a decent amount of replay value to keep you playing even after completing your main quest. There's an Arcade mode where you can play through any of the levels you've unlocked in the Adventure mode. Additionally, the arcade mode is where you can work on building up your high-scores for each individual level and then upload them to the web and compare them with other player scores via the Online Ranking mode.
There's also a wireless multiplayer mode where 2 players can compete in the game's Duel Mode using a single-card or multi-card setup. In the Duel Mode, the first player to score 50,000 points or outlast the other player, wins. The multi-card setup also allows for 2-player co-op play in the Adventure Mode, with the only catch being that each ship can only acquire one satellite instead of two. But all in all, it's certainly an improvement over the multiplayer feature utilized in the original Nanostray.
Rounding out the remaining game modes in Nanostray 2 are both the Simulator and Challenge modes. The Challenge mode is a nice bit of distraction that tasks players to complete a bunch of different challenges that, for the most part, are tougher than what you'll encounter in the Arcade and Adventure modes. The Challenge mode is divided into 4 groups, each group contains 8 challenges for a total of 32 challenges. The challenges vary from surviving an onslaught while the clock ticks down, to collecting a required amount of gold coins, achieving a certain score, and killing a certain amount of enemies within the remaining time limit. Completing each group of challenges unlocks a simulation in the Simulator mode. A total of 4 of these simulations/mini-games can be unlocked and all of the offerings are pretty simplistic, but fun. Stuff like Nanobreak plays like a 3D, touch screen version of Taito's Arkanoid. Nanorush is a simple-looking 3D shooter on rails, and Nanotorque is sort of like a puzzle-based version of Asteroids.
While Nanostray 2 doesn't venture out of the norm to bring anything new to the table, it does have a nice, solid presentation complete with smooth scrolling, colorfully detailed 3D graphics that are a little impressive for a DS title. The audio aspect of the game is handled quite well too with some pretty decent tunes and great sound effects complete with voice-acting.
All in all, Nanostray 2 is a significant improvement over its predecessor. The game looks pretty good, plays well, and has enough content to occupy your time for at least a little while.