Shoot ‘Em Up games are notorious for being thin on plot details but Nanostray takes this to new heights. Nowhere in the game manual or game is it ever mentioned why you are a lone pilot taking on an armada of alien enemies. In fact, I had to visit the game website just to find that your pilot has awakened from a blast to his ship with no idea what is going on either. This means that you could be the hostile invader carving a path of destruction through hopeless aliens defending their home world for all we know.
It does not really matter however as the important thing is that the DS finally has its first vertical shooter. Even better is the fact that it is rather good. Genre fans will know the drill by now. You battle your way through waves of enemies in order to get to the big boss of each world. Enemies drop coins, which can be collected for points, and blue tokens, which refill your power bar. You have four different weapons, which can be switched between on the fly, but none of them can be upgraded. Instead, they have a “power” mode, which does increased damage, but drains a bar, which is only refilled with the aforementioned blue tokens.
Initially, only “Adventure” mode will be open to you where you clear out eight levels before the end credits roll. Each completed level opens up in “Arcade” mode where the goal is to acquire the highest score. Then there is the challenge mode, which as the name suggests gives you specific wining conditions like time or score limits. There is twenty-two challenges in total so while Adventure mode can be completed quite quickly, these will last you a bit longer. Your reward will be all kinds of extras like concept art and music. There is even a multi-player mode, which can be played with a single cart.
Visually the game looks great with some very impressive 3D backgrounds. The game still takes place on a 2D plane however. The polygonal enemies look good and the colourful graphics give the game an old school feel. While the developers claim that it runs at a constant sixty frames per second I did notice a few instances of slowdown. The visuals also feel a bit cramped with everything crammed into the top screen. The bottom screen is for weapon management, which means you have to take your eyes off the top screen to switch between guns. While your ship can absorb a few bullets thanks to its shield, switching weapons in the midst of battle is still awkward. You can also use the touch screen during boss battles to scan for weaknesses, which once again involves taking your eyes off the action.
With its awesome soundtrack and visuals, Nanostray is sure to attract some fans but longevity is definitely an issue. The 3D backgrounds look great but can cause some confusion as well. Like most games of this type, there is also some trial and error involved in mastering the levels. Shooter fans should have a blast though.
*Review originally published 2006.