Nanostray Returns With More Side Scrolling Addictiveness

April 25, 2008


While scrolling shooters like Xevious and R-Type were abundant in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the genre has been pretty dry in the new millennium. However since 2001, German developer Shin’en has stepped up to keep the classic arcade gameplay alive with its Iridion and Nanostray titles for handhelds. Following in the footsteps of its predecessors, Nanostray 2 is filled with more bullet-filled corridors to navigate and mighty bosses to conquer.

Like most shooters, Nanostray 2 isn’t a particularly lengthy game. There are only eight main stages, each about seven minutes long. But unless your skills are legendary, you’d be a fool to think you’ll finish the game in an hour. Even on the easiest difficulty setting, most players will have to make numerous attempts before reaching the final goal.

Adventure mode is the main event, introducing new planets and weapons as you progress. Keeping portability in mind, the game auto-saves after each level, making it easy to play through over multiple lunch breaks. Each new level and weapon you acquire will also be unlocked in arcade mode where you can take on any stage for high scores to submit to online leaderboards.

In addition to the eight main planets, the game also has 32 smaller challenges to conquer. These tests of skill require you to reach a specific score in just a few seconds, fly through tricky courses, or simply survive for a set amount of time. By completing them, you’ll unlock mini-games like the Breakout clone, Nanobreak. Most challenges last less than a minute if you’re successful, but they’re so difficult and addicting that they’re as big of a time sink as the larger stages.

Nanostray 2 features both single-card and multi-card two-player modes. You can play quick competitive rounds to see who can reach a high score first or survive the longest. Or, if both players have copies of the game, you can run through the full adventure mode cooperatively.

While Nanostray 2’s main adventure isn’t any longer than the majority of old-school shooters, it delivers a full feature set to keep players involved.

Nanostray 2 is a fairly traditional shooter without any special hooks or gimmicks. You play in both side-scrolling and top-down levels, blasting through waves of smaller enemies and facing off against bosses and mini-bosses.

Aside from your main cannon, you can choose between six different sub-weapons, including simple laser pulses, radiating electrical beams, and homing weapons. You also gain satellites to spread out the firepower, allowing you to quickly target enemies to the side or rear with a tap of the shoulder button. The game offers a fair amount of customization, letting you choose sub-weapons and allowing you to tweak the angle and direction of your satellites’ positions before each level.

Although your ship can be taken out with only one stray bullet, deaths aren’t as punishing as a game like Gradius. When you die and respawn, you’ll keep any satellites you’ve picked up, and your weapon gauge actually refills, allowing you to muscle your way through tough boss fights if you have lives to spare.

In addition to the traditional controls, Nanostray 2 does feature a touch screen option that makes dodging a little easier in some cases, but the stylus control can’t really be recommended. It’s far too easy for your view to be obscured by your own hand, and there’s a noticeable lag in your ship’s movements.

Sticking to standard controls, though, Nanostray 2 is full of moments that require tight squeezes and quick reflexes with bullet patterns that get even more complex on higher difficulty settings.

Once again Shin’en’s 3D engine looks great on the DS. Enemy ships and bosses are all finely detailed with a metallic sheen, and the fast-paced action never bogs down. The visuals are complemented with good electronic beats, and there’s voice work during the few cutscenes between levels. Oddly enough, despite being developed entirely by Germans, Nanostray has a very deliberate Asian aesthetic with each location featuring Japanese names and characters.

Nanostray 2 doesn’t go out of its way to reinvent arcade shooters, but it does deliver a fresh dose of bullets and boss fights for players with itchy trigger fingers. The challenges and online leaderboards are a plus for competitive players, and the high-adrenaline experience is a great fit for quick handheld sessions.