"Held back."

For quite some time, the Nintendo DS's launch didn't really give gamers a major example of the DS's power in terms of graphics. For the most part, a good majority of the system's games haven't even come close to taking good advantage of the 3D processor the system offers. Although it may not have the most powerful graphics of today's handhelds, it most certainly has the potential for some creative graphic designers to produce some equally impressive visuals. Unfortunately, though, there seems to be a trend of ‘budget games' that has plagued Nintendo DS's library and are produced only to make a quick buck. Now, this is not to say that graphics are everything, but with a system's capabilities being neglected as much as it has with Nintendo DS, it's a true travesty. Fortunately, the German developer Shin'en has decided to give us a taste of what the DS can truly do, as well as offering a solid arcade-type shooter that proves to be more than addictive despite it's drawbacks.

Gameplay

As with all games of this genre, what usually counts most is its gameplay, and Nanostray most certainly doesn't fail to deliver in this category. Things are far from perfect, however. As the case has been for years, if you've ever played a single shooter before you could explain nearly the entire genre of them all despite whether they take place on a vertical or horizontal scrolling plane. The object is to guide your lone fighter craft on steroids through a huge armada of enemies ships and terrain hazards—Nanostray, for the most part, is no different. This fact might have caused many gamers to think why such a bare and simple style of gameplay would release for a system with an innovative nature. So, Shin'en obviously had to come up with some form of use for the touch screen, and they did so with the selection of weapons. On paper this seems like a good idea, give something more involving as well as intense gameplay and other little goodies to make everything seem more new and unique. Unfortunately, though, that simply isn't the case.

In order to switch between your plane's five weapons, it is required that you press the buttons on the bottom screen all the time, this pretty much means taking your eyes off the top screen where everything is happening at a very fast pace and stop moving as well as firing. It shouldn't be hard to understand that a shooter such as Nanostray just can't follow such a mandate. It opens many frustrating situations because of having to take your eyes off of something that requires your full attention. In the end, your best bet for switching weapons is to pause the game, place your finger on the weapon you need then quickly un-pause the game and resume play till you need to switch again. Fortunately though it is possible to utilize one weapon for the stages, as long as you have the right one that is, and the weapons themselves are pretty fun to use. With an arsenal of five weapons that include their own sub weapons that require energy to use you can definitely bring out the hurt. These weapons range from a standard forward canon, a side gun that attacks just as the name implies: from the side of your plane, a heat seeking gun that will curve to nearby targets and an electric current shot that will lock onto a target until it is destroyed.

Then, to top it all off, you are given three smart bombs which are your typical board clearing weapons that are useful for getting out of tight situations as well as doing tons of damage. But the weapons aren't the only thing that make Nanostray fun—level design is excellent despite being rather short in length. Creative bosses add more to the game and are a great challenge even on the game's easiest difficulty. To counter this, the game's main mode, adventure mode, is pretty much over in a half an hour even on some of the higher difficulty settings and is accompanied by a rather unfulfilling ending sequence. However Shin'en has proven to not be without wisdom and has included incentives for replay to make up for the game's shortcomings. One of these things is the challenge mode. In this mode player are given a set of tasks to carry out in the game's eight stages, these task usually consist of reaching a certain score or making it through the stage with negative handicaps such as no sub-weapons or no rapid fire.

These tasks tend to repeat themselves through the stages but don't get old too quickly since the levels make them different than the last. However, this mode has a downside to it as well, the problem is that these challenges often are extremely frustrating and may cause one to turn the game away because of it. And to worsen matters, the rewards for completing these are not worth the effort for the most part since all of it consists of artwork and enemy models. But despite this, it still accomplishes in creating replay value, which has long been lacking in most games of this genre. And lastly is the multiplayer mode, which can be accessed by anyone with a DS through one cartridge. In this mode two players will compete for the highest score or simply try to last as long as they can.

To mix things up a bit, special multiplayer-exclusive items can be collected that will either benefit the player who collects them or harm the other player in some way such as slowing their speed or disabling their auto fire. Although this mode can is entertaining and can add a good amount of replay to the title, it just can't seem to come above feeling like a shoddily put together multiplayer game with it's small selections of four stages that barely differ from one another and very little options to customize. What would have really helped is if a co-op mode was included, but this is simply not the case. So, though Nanostray doesn't exactly make great leaps and bounds with it's gameplay it does bring a lot of the wow factor in other categories.

Visuals

This is where Nanostray holds much of its merit, with it graphics. As stated above the current lineup for the DS hasn't exactly shown much of what the system was truly capable of. The closest thing we were given was Super Mario 64 DS, Nanostray however shows us what the system can really do. Every stage you will be presented with tons of smooth looking 3D models accompanied by rather nicely detailed 3D backgrounds and environments that seem to swirl around the player in a similar fashion to Ikaruga all at a near constant 60 frames per second. As to be expected slowdown does occasionally occur when the screen gets a little too crowded but this is a rare event and just watching how well the DS handles these graphics is impressive alone. Another neat aspect of the graphics is the fusion of the background with the player field which seems to make the environments just that much more involving so in this games case the graphics are a big contributor to the gameplay experience and if you've wanted to know what the DS can truly do, this game's your ticket.

Audio

Not one's known to neglect the audio department of their games Shin'en has produced an impressive soundtrack on the GBA's limited speakers with their last two creations: Iridion 3D and Iridion II and with the DS's enhanced speakers they went to town. When you first enter the main menu you will be greeted by a rather dull blippy tune, which seems odd that they would do such a thing but isn't all that important anyhow. Once you begin the game an excellent soundtrack full of nifty techno beats and keen tunes fit right along side the levels with perfectly fitting sound effects as well. One thing that has often been said in many reviews for potable games is a remark that sounds like this: “You'll probably be ok leaving the sound off.” But this game is most definitely an exception, headphones are strongly recommended for this. And as an added bonus the soundtracks can be unlocked through the challenges in case you want to take a break for a bit.

Overall

Though this game will likely not be able to achieve the status of a must own title it most certainly does do what it was meant to do fairly well despite some problematic flaws. One thing this game probably could have used is more development time, for one the game still could have used more stages. One of the things that helped Iridion II out was its length, and many other things in the interface and presentation could have been ironed out. In truth, it's really difficult to say how a game such as this would utilize a touch screen, but one thing is for certain: the way it was done here isn't practical. The best course of action would have probably been to leave weapon switching to the shoulder buttons. So in conclusion Nanostray won't exactly bring you a revolutionary way to play shooters but for shooter veterans and those wanting to get a taste of the DS true power you can't go wrong with this title, and despite the problems this is still one of the better titles to release for a while.

Overall score: 8.0

Pros
+Amazing graphics and impressive sound
+ Effort was made to actually give the game replay value
+Slowdown is a rare occurrence
Cons
-Could use some more length
-Unlockables aren't exactly worth the trouble
-Multiplayer needs work


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/02/05


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