Review by bluej33

"I'm Reminiscing of Galaga..."

Since the dawn of the first arcade-style video games, one genre has been constantly done and redone: the top-down shooter. Now, Shin'en bestows upon the DS its first game of this genre: Nanostray. While it follows the rules of the book to a letter, Nanostray still manages to create the tough, fun gaming experience that is the trademark of all top-down shooters.

After powering on your DS, the first thing that will hit you is the quality of the graphics. To put it simply, Nanostray has arguably the best graphics of any DS game. To be honest, games like Final Fantasy III and Super Mario 64 DS look weak compared to Nanostray. The view is top-down, but the game is filled with lush, beautiful 3D environments. There's a vast variety of enemies, and all of them are beautifully done, as well. The framerate is consistently smooth, even with several enemies on the screen at one time. The graphics in Nanostray are probably its strongest point; it's hard to describe in words just how great they are. If your decision to buy games is based solely on graphical quality, then Nanostray is the game for you.

Also interesting about Nanostray is the game play. It operates much like any other top-down shooter you've played. The screen will move forward automatically; you can control your ship around the screen, dodging blasts from enemies and firing off shots at them. Unlike some shooters, such as Star Fox Assault or Ikaruga, Nanostray does nothing to add its own spin on the genre. Instead, it simply takes the given formula, and nearly perfects it. So, while it is certainly not the most creative DS game, it's definitely very fun.

While Nanostray is pretty mundane, there is some creativity in the game. One innovation is the way the game controls. Unlike many games on the DS, where one screen is wasted, Nanostray puts both DS screens to good work. On the upper screen, you'll see the action. However, more interesting than that is the bottom screen, which displays a variety of information. A radar-like map is available, though it's none too useful. Also, as to be expected, there is a health bar and a power bar. Most interesting, however, is the number of different weapons that you can use. There are a total of five different weapons in Nanostray; four different guns, and smart bombs, which incinerate everything on the screen. While the actual power of the guns is relatively similar, the difference in use is pretty cool. For example, the standard gun shoots a beam of blue energy forward; however, there is also a weaker homing beam, and a gun that shoots from the sides of the ship, instead of the front. The variety of weapons helps to break up the slight monotony of the levels, and provides a decent amount of customization.

Adding to the vast amount of fun in the game is the boss fights. After reaching the end of a level, a boss fight will be initiated. While the bosses aren't downright stunning, they are still an enjoyable aspect of the game. You scan the boss for it's weak spots, and then hit the boss with all you've got. The one thing about bosses that differ are their forms and attack methods. Like bosses of nearly every game, they attack in a different manner, and it's up to you to figure out how to avoid and counterattack. The form that the boss is in is also interesting. Each of the levels has a theme of some sort: ocean, swamp, ruins, etc. Therefore, the boss of that level will somehow be incorporate into the theme. While it's nothing mind-blowing, it is mildly interesting.

Unfortunately, beyond the great graphics and fun game play, Nanostray doesn't have much to offer. Probably the biggest problem is the fact that the game is so short. There are only a handful of levels, and they can all be completed relatively easily. All in all, one playthrough of Nanostray should not take you more than a few hours. Levels themselves are not short, but the fact that there are only around five of them severely dampens the feel of the game, and offsets most of the fun that the game has to offer. Without a doubt, the ridiculous shortness of Nanostray is its biggest disappointment.

However, despite Nanostray's extreme brevity, it does offer quite a challenge. Like many top-down shooters, Nanostray is quite difficult. As you play through, you are bombarded by enemies from all sides, and you are never given a break. Enemies swarm and fire from the start of the mission until you reach the boss. This is a very old-school-style form of difficulty, but it's actually pretty enjoyable. It's refreshing to play such a difficult game, in the midst of other easy DS games. However, there isn't any reason to play Nanostray again. There's a feeling of satisfaction once you finally beat the final boss, but the levels aren't so fun that you'd want to play them over and over again. Decent replay value would help to negate the game's shortness, but Nanostray just doesn't deliver.

Nanostray does offer a multiplayer mode, and it seems as if it has the potential to be great. After all, going head-to-head against friends in a 2D space shooter sounds like a blast, right? Well, the multiplayer is another missed opportunity by Shin'en. There is only one form of multiplayer: co-operative. You and one friend (there's only two-player multiplayer) fight side by side through a random level. There is absolutely nothing creative about it. Instead of playing a level by yourself, you're with someone else as well. There's no actual co-operative aspect to the game, as the title implies. It's as if two people are playing single-player mode. Frankly, the multiplayer mode is a huge letdown.

The music in Nanostray is mediocre, at best. The music is cheesy and very forgettable, and the sound effects are nothing out of the ordinary. With many shooters, music and sound effects complement the game and make it a more fun, enjoyable experience. However, the music in Nanostray fails to do this; in fact, you'll likely play through the whole game with the volume off.

The last way that Nanostray fails miserably is in the way of a plot. To be honest, many games on the market today have horrible plots. However, despite the fact that they may be less-than perfect, they still help to draw the player into the game. Nanostray is in desperate need of a plot. It would not need to be elaborate, but there really does need to be something to motivate players. Unfortunately, Nanostray lacks any kind of storyline, and this negatively affects the overall quality of the game. Due to the high level of difficulty, many gamers will be tempted to pass this game over. A good plot can keep people playing a game, even if it is difficult. Think of Advance Wars: it's a tough game, but you're not likely to quit halfway through, because of it's decent plot. If only Nanostray had something similar, I could confidently recommend it to anyone. However, rookie gamers are going to want to pass this game up. If you get stuck, you'll probably put Nanostray down and never pick it up again.

Nanostray really did have enormous potential. As the first DS shooter, Shin'en could have set the bar high and redefine the genre as we know it. However, Nanostray fails to do this. In the end, the problem is not the brevity or the difficulty, but the lack of originality. There doesn't seem to be anything fresh or innovative in Nanostray. The DS has proven its value when it comes to creative games; however, Shin'en never fully took advantage of that. Still, though, Nanostray is a great game if you're looking for a nail-biter, or if you prefer quality over quantity in your gaming. However, for everyone else, you'd best hope that Shin'en does better with Nanostray 2.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 05/30/07

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