Imagine that you’re in command of an aircraft capable of mass destruction, your bare hands gripping the controls as you zoom through the stratosphere. There are dozens, hundreds of enemies looming in your midst, each ready and willing to take that ever-so-crucial shot that could mean certain doom for you and everything you stand for. Yet despite these incredible odds, you venture forth into combat with only your skills and abilities as a combat pilot to guide you through the bloodshed unscathed. You zoom to and fro among the clouds, waiting tensely as your itchy trigger finger begs for some action. Your desires are soon met by massive hordes of deadly foes, practically lining up to get wiped out by your superior firepower and skill. Thus the onslaught will continue, until you finally get taken down due to your carelessness. And as that Game Over screen pops up, you can only throw down your controller in frustration and hang your head in shame as you start your epic crusade for survival anew.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Shooters have been around for ages, beckoning gamers with incredibly intense gameplay, epic presentations, and extraordinary difficulty. With a genre spanning across generations of consoles, it was only a matter of time before such a game would wander into the realm of the DS lineup. Thus we are presented with Nanostray, the first shooter on Nintendo’s latest handheld. With a history of making games of questionable quality, one had to wonder how Majesco’s latest creation would fare in a jaded gaming community looking for something new and refreshing. Unfortunately, such a godsend was not to be. Nanostray comes to us as both a blessing and a curse, a mixed bag of lackluster gameplay blended with immense style.
The quest for survival will lead you through three separate realms of the universe, each offering their own unique levels. Once you’ve chosen a desired level, you’ll be immediately thrust into the front lines of an epic aerial battle. You’ll face wave after wave of enemy fighters, each of which will loom in front of you just long enough to be shot down by your powerful arsenal. You’ll be granted a few weapons to dish out the pain, ranging from infinite high-powered Pulse Cannons to Heat Seeking Missiles. And for each standard weapon, you’ll be granted a special sub-weapon to cause even more delightful mayhem. But while these sub-weapons offer pack a hefty punch, they come at a price, gradually wearing down your ammunition gauge with each use. Once you’ve finally shot, blasted, mowed down, and electrocuted everything that moves, you’ll get to deal with a mildly difficult boss. When the smoke finally clears and victory is won, you’ll be whisked back into a galaxy far, far away to continue your conquest for dominance.
It’s the basic standard for every shooter currently out on the market. A decent variety of weapons and tons of enemies blend together for a balanced gaming experience. The problem is that the controls are so haphazardly designated that it makes browsing your arsenal a true chore. When you’re in the heat of battle, you probably won’t have enough time to actually look down at the Touch Screen, take your finger off the sub-weapon button, grasp your stylus, and tap the appropriate icon to change your artillery. If you somehow manage to perform this impressive feat, chances are that you’ll get wiped out as soon as your eyes refocus on the top screen, thus losing what could be a crucial life. You’ll end up throwing the stylus by the wayside, forced to toggle weapons with your thumb and getting your normally pristine Touch Screen covered in fingerprints.
However, some of these levels are easy enough to memorize that taking your eyes off the screen won’t be an issue. While your first run through will seem like an action-packed romp through intense enemy fire, these levels will become cakewalks with enough practice. And while the bosses may seem incredibly lethal at the first glance, their attack patterns and weaknesses are so exploitable that you shouldn’t have much trouble sending them packing. But while the Adventure Mode only lasts eight reasonably difficult levels, the Arcades and Challenge Modes will have you coming back to attain both high scores and unlock some artwork and songs for your efforts. The longevity of this game relies solely on your desire to improve your score to perfection, even allowing you to rank in on its official website for bragging rights. If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll be coming back to this game long after its levels have grown stale.
But while the game is somewhat lacking in overall gameplay quality, it makes up for it with an incredibly vivid atmosphere. Nanostray takes the capabilities of the DS to a new high, depicting space age ships, weapons, and technology with remarkable detail. As you annihilate everything in your path, you’ll be treated to beautiful renderings of asteroid belts, active volcanoes, bleak deserts, dense jungles, and futuristic cities. You can just barely make out the glare of sunlight reflecting off of metal, or the intricate metal designs of the Sekai Outpost, or even the wispy clouds in the first area of the Hibashira Plains. If you don’t look too closely at the screen, you’ll never even notice how some of the objects lack the overall clarity of the level as a whole. Thankfully, the fast-paced techno soundtrack will keep you distracted long enough to sit back and enjoy one of the DS’s most impressive graphical presentations.
It’s a good start. Given Majesco’s horrendous run of shooters on the GBA, I was cringing when I heard this game was coming out for the DS. Thankfully, my fears were laid to rest. Nanostray reminds us what we love about the genre: a bunch of amazing weapons, tons of enemies, and some awe-inspiring background levels. Is it a decent game? Certainly. However, it’s far from perfect. The brief Adventure Mode, lack of challenge, and awkward controls take away from what could have been a truly awesome debut on the handheld. But will that stop the legions of shooter fans craving for a new outlet? Not likely. We can only pray that game designers will learn from their mistakes, providing us with higher quality games as time progresses.