Reviewed: August 2, 2005
Released: July 19, 2005
View Gameplay Footage (5.3mb MPEG)
Majesco certainly has the Midas touch as of late. With one smash hit after another I guess I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was when I sat down to play Nanostray, their latest 3D shooter recently released for the Nintendo DS.
From the main menu your choices are few, but they all lead to insane non-stop action. You can dive into the Adventure mode, traveling to three sectors and battling through eight stage in each. The levels are presented as a galaxy map with orbiting waypoints that you select with the touch screen, bringing up a data sheet on the planet or system.
Arcade mode lets you pick the stage and try to achieve the highest score possible. At the end of the game you are given a “nanocode” that you can plug into the official Nanostray website (www.nanostray.com) and see how you rank among other players from around the world.
There are also 22 Challenges that must first be unlocked in Arcade mode, then you can choose your challenge, usually a skill-based challenge like trying to finish a level with certain restrictions or obtaining a certain high score.
Multiplayer support is available for two players via the wireless link. There are a few modes to choose from in multiplayer that include time battles, score battles, and even a race mode to see who can collect as many coins as possible. There are also a few options for each of the modes to further challenge the players like Time Out and Sudden Death.
Gameplay boils down to shooting wave after wave of enemies, sub-bosses, and ultimately a big boss as the end of the level. Along the way you will collect hundreds of coins. Gold coins add to your score while blue coins fuel your alternate fire for each of the four weapons on your ship. Once filled, additional blue coins score big bonus points.
You have four very unique and powerful weapons on your ship. The Pulse fires forward with short bursts in primary mode or a sustained beam weapon in secondary. Side-Shot is similar to Pulse only the shots fire from the sides of the ship; most useful for enemies that try to flank you.
Seeker is perhaps my favorite weapon and will actively seek out a target, which makes it great for swarms of enemies. Its secondary fire is a massive heat-seeking starburst that can take down larger ships with a single shot.
Lighting is the final weapon and it will attach to an enemy and blast them until they are vaporized. The secondary fire creates a massive lightning storm around the player’s ship destroying anything it touches. Some enemies can actually deflect this energy back at you so be careful.
Your SHN-2K5 is also equipped with three screen-clearing Smart Bombs. The trick here is balancing their early use with the potential for dying and losing them all together. Of course, if you manage not to use any you can earn big scoring bonuses at the end of the mission.
The game levels and the variety of enemies will constantly challenge your ability to know which weapon to use and switch to it when necessary. This leads to my one and only issue with the game. The only way to switch weapons is with the touch screen and quite frankly, the game is so blazingly fast that it’s hard to look down, even for a millisecond, to touch the small circle next to the weapon you want and not take damage or die.
I would have much more preferred the L trigger be used for cycling weapons rather than doubling up as a primary fire button, and a button I never use. Or even better, how about using that integrated microphone and let me switch weapons with voice commands.
Other than that, the lower screen offers a nice radar display that shows weapons and incoming projectiles, but again, you can’t really take your eyes off the upper screen. And during boss fights you will get a nifty scanning screen that shows the boss and potential weak zones you should be attacking. There is also an blue meter for secondary fire energy as well as remaining lives and smart bombs. It’s a great layout, but the game just never eases up long enough to enjoy or use it.
Whether you are playing the Adventure, Arcade, or any of the numerous Challenges, Nanostray is almost always about scoring big. To make the big points you will want to blast as many enemies as possible, and clearing waves of ships will earn you points and often blue coins. You’ll want to collect as many yellow and blue coins as possible, and you’ll also earn bonuses for each ship and smart bomb you have at the end of the level.
There is also a Valor bonus, which rewards the highly skilled player by giving them bonus points for not using any of the features in the game that are ultimately the most fun. Holding down the fire button (also knows as auto-fire) will deduct from your valor as will using the R trigger to magnetically attract coins to your ship. Basically, the harder you make the game on yourself the more valor you can win at the end.
There are also three difficulty settings; Normal, Advanced, and Super. These all change multiple factors in the game making it difficult to nearly impossible. Even on Normal difficulty I was able to finish the game with relative ease, but I never got higher than an “F” ranking until my second trip through the adventure and several hours of practice.
Graphically, it doesn’t get any better than Nanostray when it comes to flawless 3D visuals on the DS. For those that have played Ikaruga on the GameCube, you will likely see some similarities in visual style, both in the ship and levels, as well as the overall presentation that transitions between side and vertical scrolling with slick 3D camera moves.
The ships and imaginative boss designs are excellent and the variety of levels just blew me away for a handheld game. One level you’ll be fighting through a jungle then the next you are dodging and blasting rocks in an asteroid field or skimming over bubbling lava trying to avoid plumes of magma. There is also a refreshing distinction between what you can and cannot hit in the levels.
The weapon effects are blazingly cool and totally original, especially the lightning storm effect and the massive seeking fireball. Explosions are multi-layered and massive, often dominating the entire screen. Nanostray is just a special effects-lovers dream come true with enough eye candy to send you into a diabetic coma.
Even the simple screens like the static cockpit interface and galaxy map on the bottom and the planetary and system info screens on the top are extremely well done. Nanostray just oozes with high-tech style.
Nanostray has a rocking soundtrack that fits perfectly with the energetic action of the gameplay. The up-beat techno and rock tracks nearly synch with the rhythmic tapping of the fire button and you’ll easily find your groove.
Sound effects are fantastic with rich and vibrant sounds for the various weapons and powerful explosions. There are blaring klaxons for boss fights and swooshing engine noises. The game sounds great with the built-in speakers, but it will blow you away with a good set of headphones.
Varying skill levels aside, most gamers can finish Nanostray in a few hours. I played for an hour, saved my game and when I came back was surprised to see I was 58% through the Adventure mode. Of course, the ranking system will challenge the dedicated gamers out there to get those coveted A and S rankings. And don’t forget about tracking your high scores and rankings online in the Arcade mode.
The 22 Challenges will also keep you playing long after you have mastered (or tired of) the Adventure and Arcade modes. Some of those challenges are insanely difficult and could takes hours each.
The multiplayer mode is a nice touch, especially since it only requires a single copy of the game, but the modes are pretty basic and not that engaging. At best, it will likely encourage others to purchase their own copy of the game.
Nanostray is one of those games that would have benefited from the dual screen more if the both screens had been used for actual gameplay. This is a vertical-scrolling shooter on a horizontal format, and while I appreciated the clean style of the cockpit on the bottom, it was nearly impossible to use it without hampering the gameplay.
Even so, once your thumb learns the locations of those four weapon-select spots, you’ll be able to tear through wave after wave of enemy ships in what is easily the best looking and intensely challenging game on the DS to date.