Shoot 'em ups are a rare thing on the DS. Even with the rise of DSiWare last year, we have still seen little in the way of more traditional shooters for the console. Early release Nanostray was one of the first games to step up to the challenge and fortunately, it doesn't disappoint. Published back in 2005 by Majesco, the game is a spiritual successor to the Iridion series on the GBA, a series of vertically-scrolling shooters created by Shin’en, and Nanostray proves itself to be a capable successor.
Going into the game, there are four main game modes on offer here: Adventure, Arcade, Challenge and Multiplayer. For those of you hoping for some sort of story here, you’re out of luck; while shoot ‘em ups aren’t known for their stories, they usually contain at least something story-related as to who these people are and why you’re fighting them. Nanostray doesn’t even contain a hint, making the adventure mode feel rather barebones at times and it feels like Shin’en only included the mode just as an excuse to unlock the additional content for the Arcade and Challenge modes. Not that this matters too much though, as it can be completed within an hour or two and once that has been done, you’re free to do everything else the game has to offer.
Adventure Mode offers you three difficulty settings, which feel quite balanced and also very challenging at times, even on Normal mode. Fortunately, Shin’en have gone against including the instant kill approach the moment you hit one bullet and instead you have a shield that protects you for several hits, making for a less frustrating experience. However, the shield won’t protect you from colliding with enemies, which is an instant kill on all difficulties.
There’s a fair mix of levels included in the eight levels , but at times it does seem a bit generic, with themes including an asteroid field, a rainforest and a volcano, although a wide range of enemies and interesting level designs compensate. The biggest gripe would have to be the lack of in-level save points, making for many frustrating moments when your final life is lost.
Once the levels are completed in Adventure mode you then replay them in Arcade Mode for high scores. Unfortunately, no online leaderboards were included in the release but as a first-gen DS release this is understandable. For those looking to get their scores uploaded online however, an alternative has been provided via The Official Nanostray Website,
Gameplay-wise, the controls are pretty straightforward to get into. Sadly, there’s no option to control your ship via touchscreen so you’re left with the D-Pad for movement. Instead, the touchscreen is used for several other functions such as a radar, the ability to scan bosses, your current health and the ability to change your weapon to one of four different ones, which works quite well although feels tacked on. Weapons range from heatseekers to side shooters, and to make things more interesting Shin’en also included a powered-up version of each weapon, which are helpful against the stronger enemies.
Then there’s the challenge mode. This is a great addition to the game as it adds some much-needed variety as well as replay value. There are 22 challenges overall set in each of the levels, such as score targets, weapon limitations or only having one life to complete the level with. Make no mistake, these are difficult challenges but they’re also rewarding, unlocking extras such as background music and artwork when completed.
Finally, there’s Multiplayer mode. There are four modes available here between two players, including timed races to see who can get the most points, yellow coins or reach a score milestone first. While at first it can be fairly fun, after a while it becomes rather dull, but it has its own unique levels that make it worth playing over a couple of times, but overall there’s not much lasting appeal here.
On the technical side of the game, you’ll soon notice the quality of the graphics. Shin’en have a reputation for delivering excellent visuals for a platform and they do not disappoint here, especially considering it’s a first generation DS game. There are the odds gripes however, with occasional slowdown if you destroy too many enemies at once but this is nothing more than a minor distraction in the overall picture.
The soundtrack however, is not as impressive. While there is nothing particularly bad about it, and it does do a nice job of complementing the action rather well, the problem is that it’s just isn’t very distinctive, with nothing included here being particularly memorable.
The game also received a sequel in the form of Nanostray 2 back in 2008, which may also be worth checking out for fans. There's still plenty to like about the original game, with its brilliant graphics and enjoyable gameplay. It’s not perfect by any means and is let down by a few issues, but it still remains a worthy addition to the DS library.