Review: Nanostray? Does that mean these are all really tiny ships?
When it was first released, Nanostray was looked at as one of the first entries in the "next wave" of DS games. In this case, it was sparkling 2 1/2D shooter that came from Shin'en, the development team behind shooter mainstays Iridion and Iridion II on the GBA. So what have we learned in the year since Nanostray's release? We have learned that the DS' next wave was an absolute killer parade of must-have titles. But in that time, Nanostray is still the only shoot 'em up on the DS.
If you've played Iridion, 1943 or the GameCube classic Ikaruga (Nanostray's obvious inspiration), then you'll have no doubt how the game works. You fire a variety of weapons at enemies that fly in graceful formation, dodge a hail of bullets and weave in-between burned out buildings. You also collect power-ups and fight a large boss at the end of each level that has a glowing weak spot.
So how does Nanostray stand out? Well the most obvious point of originality is the combination control pad/touchscreen controls. A and L are used for your primary weapon, with B taking on superweapon duties. X will fire off a screen clearing bomb while R controls a magnet that pulls in power-ups from anywhere on screen. The touchscreen is used for a representation of your ship's control panel. It features a radar screen, energy bar, super weapon bar and buttons to switch weapons. Yes, you will actually be expected to look down at the touchscreen to switch weapons while at the same time pulling your finger off the "Fire" button. It's possible to switch to the L button to fire, but that still makes the superweapon and smart bombs unavailable in the middle of a firefight. I actually found that not switching weapons was the only way to stop the frustrating feel of the controls. The game is still very playable with just the straightforward laser.
Sadly, this means I mostly missed out on the game's variety of weaponry. Each gun's primary weapon feels like a pea shooter against a good portion of the enemies. But all four guns (a straightforward laser, a horizontal firing cannon, heat-seeking lasers and the lightning gun) also have secondary functions that make them much more powerful and much cooler. Thankfully, ammo pickups to refill the superweapon bar are plentiful.
So with a frustrating control scheme and a poor weapon system, what is Nanostray's claim to fame? Well, I'd say that fact that it's beautiful. 3D visuals on a 2D plane just pop out of the DS and rival the graphics of any of the great shooters. Bright colors and solid lines make the enemies stand out against each wonderful hand drawn backdrop that the game throws at you. Add in a few quasi-3D effects with enemies swooping in and out of frame and you've really got something.
Problems arise here too when you notice that moving too far towards the top of the screens causes an invisible line to push your ship towards the center. The playing field doesn't actually fill the whole screen, but instead it's a trapezoid that turns towards the center of the screen about halfway up. A very easy way to get yourself killed and an annoying one at that.
The game's eight levels and unlimited continues can be polished off in a few hours. A few extra difficulty levels bring Nanostray into hardcore shooter territory with a blast. But of course, the increased difficulty just makes the flaws that much more noticeable.