Review by Destination

"Though not quite as good as its' inspirations, the title represents a good foundation in which to improve upon"

Nanostray definitely sets out to accomplish a number of things. As you fly your particular aircraft over expansive jungles, towering space stations, and rocky canyons, you will begin to see that the game's developer had hoped to cater to a plethora of people. From the retro gamer who knows his classic shooters to a tee to the types of players who always love that adrenaline filled challenge, developer Shin'en knew just what they wanted. I would also be lying if I said that this wasn't one of the best looking titles on the DS. Intricately proportioned enemy units, smooth rendering, and impressive lighting effects help bring that experience even more alive. Unfortunately, there is a small problem, and it is a detriment that plagues this genre to death.

It is just too short.

An appropriate comparison would be that of the popular online role-playing game, Phantasy Star Online. Though visually unique and naturally addictive, the title gave players a lack of incentive to progress. Knowing that all they had to look forward to was the same four levels, generally goes without saying how much of a disappointment that was. Nanostray has double the amount of areas, but it is all over way too fast.

Nevertheless, what the game does right, is give you an exciting series of moments for as long as each area lasts; which is usually no longer than ten minutes. Enemies are quick and frantic, leaving as quickly as they appear, all the while launching an array of lasers that fill your screen with an imagery of destruction. Your objective will be weaving in and out as much as you possibly can, picking up the score raising and energy replenishing coins strewn along the way. Yet, it is not just the swarms of robotic minions or hulking beasts that oppose your progress, but the entire environment as well. Hellish wastelands full of exploding lava pillars to a graveyard of ships, chock full of obstructive, abandoned vessels, serve as your perpetual fork in the road. And it just wouldn't be a shooter if there wasn't a boss waiting for you at the end now would it?

Each of these eight monstrous machines claim dominion over their respective domains and menacingly impede your progress, as you quickly come to the end of each stage. Nothing you can't handle right? Especially since you have a variety of interesting weapons that can turn those contraptions into cinders. Them being in the form of four unique modes of fire, ranging from an electric pulse field to your basic beam cannon. In addition to this, there are also energy based super attacks (which pool from your respective power source), and the classic smart bomb. Wisely saving these trump cards is essential to clearing each boss, as is watching your life count and memorizing its' attack patterns. It is these confrontations themselves that serve to showcase the fantastic graphical capabilities of the DS. Even with everything going on at one time, Nanostray doesn't seem to suffer from any slowdown or frame-rate issues whatsoever. Unbelievable.

Now while on the surface the title may feel like a progression based adventure, the real meat behind the game comes from the hope of reaching that top score. Cleverly avoiding death while chaining together combo after combo will serve to improve the grade you receive upon finishing each level. This heightens the replay value a tad and gives you a chance to compete against others on the Internet for bragging rights. Ah, nothing like a little friendly competition eh? While this all sounds well and good, the problem I noticed behind each session is the lack of AI variance. Meaning that every time you play the same stage, the attack patterns of your antagonists will remain as they did before. Bobbing in and out on the two dimensional plane will become increasingly simple with each and every run. Memorization is the key factor here and it is the primary reason that makes Nanostray over so soon.

Sure enough, Shin'en redeemed themselves by presenting us with a challenge mode, that surfaces as soon as you wrap up the opening campaign. Each one of these challenges sends you back through the same lands you just cleared, but with a twist. Instead of simply worrying about keeping that ass of yours alive, you will now be asked to complete a certain objective. From blazing your way through the Misturin Jungle to assemble an impressive 300,000 points to stealth-fully getting out of the Mokuzu Depths without your smart bombs, these trials can certainly be frustrating enough for the average gamer. You'll laugh, you'll cry -- but you'll mostly cry.

That is unless you are an ace at these reflex testing titles. Despite the increasing difficulty as you progress from mission to mission, veteran players will definitely have no problem breezing through the game. However, Nanostray certainly does what it originally set out to do, and that is give you something to pass those sleepless hours by. Which just so turns out to be the same thing that the classic Star Fox 64 had accomplished. Giving trigger-happy gunners a relatively short, but unforgettable romp through a series of worlds, all leading up to that final showdown. And while Nanostray isn't as remarkable as the previously given example, it is the type of game that will have you muttering, “just one more time, then I'll stop.” Believe me, you won't.

Nanostray serves as a fine example to developers everywhere on what to shoot for when making a shooter on the DS. The debut of the genre on the sleek hand-held is a sight to behold and a great option for those long, exhausting road trips. With a great presentation, upbeat soundtrack, and exciting game-play moments, there is little reason to not recommend Nanostray. A relatively unbalanced difficulty scale and short single player mode bring down the package, but you are still left with a solid 15 to 20 hours of action that don't end until you want it to. That philosophy sounds like that of a role-playing game doesn't it? Let's just hope they don't decide to combine the two into one any time soon. We all saw how Kingdom Hearts' Gummi Ship feature turned out.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 04/17/06

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