Nanostray (DS) review
"Some games are fond of throwing oceans of bullets your way and calling it thrilling. Thereís none of that here. You actually have room to move. Not only that, but one collision with a stray bullet isnít your end. You still need to avoid shield-draining projectiles, but losing sight of them amidst the gorgeous backgrounds isnít fatal."
Nanostray is one of the prettiest vertical shooters Iíve ever seen. Thatís probably the first thing youíll notice, from the moment you glimpse the logo drifting through a churning space station to the first time your craft soars over the verdant jungle sprawl in the opening stage. The question youíll be asking yourself each second you play is this: ďHow in the world did they manage this on the DS?Ē Then youíll die because youíve just crashed into an enemy.
It really is hard to put this gameís beauty into words. Each stage is a special treat, even if youíve seen it all before. Whatís so surprising is that no matter what youíve played, youíve seldom seen something so aesthetically pleasing. That jungle I mentioned isnít just a mass of trees. Mountain crags peak from the foliage and misty clouds swirl to the side as lasers flood the screen and you weave like a madman. Other stages include a trip over a volcanic river, complete with ship-destroying bursts of lava, as well as a trip through the skies as islands and metal beams float beneath you. There are eight stages in all, and none of them find you zipping through a lifeless hallway. Instead, itís youíre negotiating truly interactive environments. This is definitely a 2D game, but the backgrounds roll, dip and soar like thereís no tomorrow. The on-screen action doesnít let up until you turn off the system and peel your eyes from the screen.
Fortunately, that doesnít mean that the playing field is just a wriggling mass of shrapnel. Some games are fond of throwing oceans of bullets your way and calling it thrilling. Thereís none of that here. You actually have room to move. Not only that, but one collision with a stray bullet isnít your end. You still need to avoid shield-draining projectiles, but losing sight of them amidst the gorgeous backgrounds isnít fatal. Instead, youíre toast if you crash into your opponents.
There are lots of them you must avoid, too. They come at you from the top, swooping down in ĎVí formation or just floating into sight, hulking battleships capable of taking quite a bit more punishment than any of your four available weapons can easily deal. Then, when youíre distracted with that, they pelt you from the side, kamikaze-style. The first few times you play, you will fall victim to these surprise attacks. Itís just that simple. Then youíll re-adjust your strategy and suddenly the same stage that seemed impossible moments before is a piece of cake.
Part of that has to do with your offensive configuration. The ship you pilot is capable of firing four main bullet types: a standard forward shot; a protector for your sides; a homing device; and a lightning beam that locks onto a target and fries it until itís crispy. They all have secondary functions you can use if your special meter is full, and each style is available whenever you like. You can switch styles on the fly with the touch of your finger on the bottom screen. Youíll also view your remaining shield strength there, and a panel that lets you detect approaching enemies. You can even view your score.
Score plays a big role in Nanostrayís longevity. Long after youíve completed the main adventure, youíll find reasons to keep playing. For example, the game might ask you to blast your way through the first stage in a manner that allows you to get more than a set number of points. If youíre like me, your first play through the game wonít be about points at all; itíll be about survival. Subsequent trips allow you to experience the joys of getting in close to your opponents and drilling them with bullets, or scooping up score multipliers and the like. Not only that, but you can even take your scores online (by way of codes the game doles out) to see how you compare to other players.
The system is truly rich, and it keeps on giving long after some games would have earned a position in your rejects bin, or on some dusty shelf in your shooter graveyard. Nanostray neednít experience that. Itís clear that the developer really likes this sort of game. Not only that, but the people involved here are good at getting the most out of the hardware. I honestly felt like I was playing a Dreamcast or Playstation 2 game. Sure, I wouldnít have minded seeing the game put the systemís dual screens to better use, but that just doesnít matter in the end. Nanostray is beautiful, itís fun and it has depth. You owe it to yourself to give it a go.
Staff review by Jason Venter (August 03, 2005)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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