Reviewed: March 20, 2008
Released: March 11, 2008
Itís been almost three years since the original Nanostray game dazzled me on the NDS, but the sequel has finally arrived and itís time to find out if Majesco can strike gold twice. Nanostray 2 is the follow-up to the 2005 scrolling shooter that had my fingers aching back in the day. Thankfully, theyíve had a few years to heal because Nanostray 2 offers up one of the most seriously challenging games this reviewer has ever played on his DS. In fact, the game is so hard that I fear most casual (and even some serious) gamers will likely be turned off before they ever find their groove and get into the actual game.
Nanostray 2 comes loaded with blistering visuals and amazing sound and music and gameplay features including 6 game modes, wireless multiplayer, and even download single-card play. There are huge bosses, a hundred enemy types, and a much wider variety of gameplay orientations and quasi-3D visual effects that would be impressive on any system. The fact that this game is on the NDS just blows me away.
Nanostray begins with a gorgeous menu screen that hovers over a 3D background of your ship flying over an ocean. The menu offers Adventure, Arcade, Challenge, Two-Player, and Simulator modes. Youíll need to play Adventure mode to unlock the game levels for Arcade, which could prove frustrating if not downright impossible, even on the easier skill levels. I typically jump into these games on at least the Normal skill setting, but it only took about 20 failed attempts to reach the first boss that had me running for the Easy skill setting. So much for my ego.
Admittedly, this game is all about pattern memorization, not only for the incoming waves of fighters, but the movement patterns of sub-bosses and final bosses. As the adventure progresses you will unlock new sub-weapons, and these play an important role depending on the types of enemies youíll be facing, so choose wisely. The limited view offered by the DS screen as well as the sheer number of incoming enemies, flying bullets, deadly terrain and shifting environmental structures offers little room for error. Your path must be as precise as your reflexes.
The original Nanostray offered a traditional shooter experience along the lines of Xevious, whereas the sequel mixes things up with horizontal and vertical shooting levels. They even do a bit of quasi-3D isometric intros into some of the levels giving the illusion of a 3D game in a 2D space. Some levels even rotate around during gameplay forcing you to fly at odd angles between structures.
There are three ways to control the game. The default mode relies solely on buttons, with a rapid continuous fire while holding down the fire button. The other modes offer minor uses for the touchscreen including weapon cycling and ship movement, but youíll likely find these control schemes too awkward and unpredictable given the precision required to play this game successfully.
Youíll collect weapon pods (satellites) that attach to your ship and act as side or rear firing nodes and you get to toggle the direction of fire, which is usually pretty important based on both the level design and incoming enemy wave patterns. You also have a powerful secondary weapon that you get to choose from a menu before each mission. This weapon has limited power based on the Nanogauge meter, and each weapon has its own unique power requirements dictating the number of times you can fire it. To refill the Nanogauge simply destroy waves of enemies and collect the spinning coins they leave behind.
Once you beat a chapter you can access that level in the Arcade menu and compete for high scores. The difficulty and number of lives are fixed so the playing field is even. Like the first game, you can upload your scores to the official Nanostray website, only this time that support is handled with the Nintendo WiFi connection rather than having to go through a computer and web browser. Scores are tallied leaderboard style for the N2 Championship.
The Challenge mode offers 32 challenges, each located in a unique setting. For every 8 challenges (one group) you complete you can unlock one of the four Simulator games including Nanobreak, Nanogrid, Nanotorque, and Nanoruish. Each game has its own control scheme, rules, and objectives.
Multiplayer options include a downloadable single-card mode where you face off against another player in a race to score 50,000 points or be the last to die. Multi-card options are a bit more robust and offer the duel mode as well as a cooperative adventure mode, but each player is only allowed one satellite.
Nanostray 2 is visually stunning with quality cutscenes telling the story during the Adventure mode, concise and easy-to-navigate menus, and gorgeous gameplay. Each chapter takes place on its own planet offering a unique theme to the backgrounds and architecture as well as each of the 16 giant bosses and more than 100 distinct enemies. Despite the 2D nature of the game design and scrolling presentation the designers have used all the tricks in the book to make this game look very 3D, with multiple levels of scrolling detail.
All of this detail also leads to my main complaint with the game Ė itís simply too hard and confusing to play. At least on the Easy skill level the enemies pretty much stop shooting so you donít have to dodge bullets, but on many levels the sheer number of enemies is overwhelming and they are coming in from every side of the screen, and the architecture or environments get narrow leaving no room for evasive action. Even with five lives and multiple continues it can be hard to finish a level, let alone all eight chapters.
Gameplay issues aside, this is still one of the most visually stunning games Iíve played on the DS in a long time, and it really pushes some technology boundaries I never thought weíd see on a handheld system. It wouldn't take much to amp this game to the quality necessary for an Xbox Live Arcade title.
The sound design for Nanostray 2 is excellent with more than 200 sound effects and 30 songs that range from techno to futuristic trance. It really sets the right mood for an energetic shooter such as this, and the music cues to the onscreen action, especially the boss fights.
There is some limited voice work for the female character who guides you through the menus and location select screens. I would have enjoyed support for the DS rumble pack to enhance the sound effects and explosions. So many games are using it now that it starts to stand out when one doesnít.
Given the difficult nature of Nanostray 2 I would have a hard time estimating a completion time. Iíve logged nearly 12 hours and have only managed to complete the first four chapters on Easy. The Challenges are just as difficult but also quite addictive, so you donít mind replaying them as much. Iíve yet to unlock a Simulator game yet, but judging from the names and screens; they should prove entertaining if I can ever earn the right to play them.
If you have unwavering patience and a lot of time then I canít think of a better challenge than Nanostray 2. This game will test your reflexes, memorization ability, as well as your patience for a long time to come. The ongoing N2 Championship is also a nice touch that will keep competitive gamers playing longer than they might otherwise.
I used to think I was a pretty good (if not amazing) gamer when it came to scrolling shooters. Iím a huge fan of Zaxxon, Scramble, R-Type, Silpheed, heck, I even finished Ikaruga on the GameCube and thatís the hardest shooter in existence...at least so I thought.
Nanostray 2 has shattered my ego and destroyed my confidence as a gamer, at least on the DS and in this genre. The staggering difficulty and blazing visuals may overwhelm the casual gamer, but anyone who takes the time to master the frantic gameplay model and memorize every level and every enemy wave and boss pattern will find a deep, strategic, and somewhat oppressive shooter.