Also known as Anger Management Training.
Nanostray 2 is a very respectable shooter. Solid default controls, stellar visuals, and an equally impressive soundtrack reflect the care put into the title. However, unbalanced difficulty and cheap deaths spoil the fun, making this DS shooter as frustrating as it is entertaining.
This game tries very hard to emulate the classic Japanese shooter formula exhibited so well by several titles on Wii’s Virtual Console. Heck, each German-engineered planet and boss is accompanied with Japanese names written in both English and Kanji. Players shoot their way through eight vertically and horizontally oriented planets (levels) with two satellite guns and a special weapon at their disposal. You can rotate among three satellite configurations at will, each with customizable positioning and aiming direction. Destroying complete waves rewards the player with points, energy refills for your special weapon of choice, and the occasional 1-up. One-hit deaths are the norm, regardless of difficulty level, so Nanostray 2 is not for the weak of heart.
The core of the game is its Adventure mode, in which you progress through the game’s eight levels and accrue an arsenal of special weapons. Each level has a distinct look and feel, helping provide variety to an otherwise simple game. Once visited, a level can be played in the game’s hi-score-centric Arcade mode. This is useful for practice, as a level need not be completed in Adventure mode, nor are they strictly ordered. However, whereas Adventure mode has different difficulty settings, Arcade mode is perpetually stuck on Hard (as far as I can tell). The higher the difficulty, the more plentiful and aggressive the enemies are. Bosses also become far more durable, transforming their battles into wars of attrition.
Nanostray 2 is very much about skillful maneuvering. Although the game doesn’t approach Ikaruga-like levels of bullet hell (mostly due to the smaller screen) the field is often very cluttered with baddies and bullets. Your ship has a small hit box, and you’re expected to weave through the mess while defeating foes. Your special weapons can help tame the chaos, although some require too much attention or are too unpredictable to be used effectively. As to be expected from the technical wizards at Shin’en, slowdown is minimal in spite of the sprawling action and decorated environments. The game strains itself at times in Arcade mode, due to its displaying of additional point sprites.
The impressive graphics sometimes work against the gameplay. Both foregrounds and backgrounds are mostly polygonal, and some in-game structures jut out from the background, so it can be difficult to discern between the two. Some objects unintentionally blend with the background due to muted color schemes. I also found myself needlessly dodging background objects because they resembled obstacles from other levels. What’s more, many enemies appear from the background, and it is difficult to tell exactly when they enter the gameplay field. Some of these issues go away after a few play-throughs, but they could have been avoided with better visual cues. The resulting cheap deaths are not amusing.
The game includes touch screen controls so flawed as to be worth highlighting as a case study in game design. With the touch screen controls enabled, the action moves to the bottom screen and you touch where you want the ship to fly. While intuitive, this setup also means you block your own field of view. This causes only minor problems for most DS games, but in a fast-paced game such as this with small bullets to evade, it’s a game-breaker. In case the touch screen controls weren’t already broken enough, tapping the screen rotates among your satellite configurations. That sounds fine, until you realize that this forbids you from lifting the stylus when steering….an unviable expectation that ultimately leads to an uncontrollable offense. Considering that a touch screen control option would be most appealing to casual gamers—who by and large would not enjoy the high difficulty—its inclusion is baffling. It’s as though the development team felt compelled to include it, knowing full well that the default scheme is far more preferable.
Majesco’s title includes a handful of other notable features. Challenge mode presents time-restricted scenarios to complete, such as surviving obstacle courses or reaching a score goal. Completing challenges can be mind-bogglingly difficult, but gamers eager for torture will be rewarded with unlockable mini-games. As of the writing of this review, I have only unlocked the first mini-game: a Breakout clone with air hockey touch screen controls and pinball physics. While this diversion is mildly amusing, it looks and plays like a tech demo.
There is a single card two-player duel mode, as well as a multi-card cooperative mode, neither of which I had the opportunity to play for this review. You can also upload hi-scores to a worldwide leader-board through Nintendo WFC (rankings are uploaded to Nanostray2.com), but your ability to browse scores in-game is limited.
This game is targeted at hardcore shooter fans who like a good challenge. Its unforgiving difficulty, even on the easiest setting, makes Nanostray 2 hard to recommend for anyone else. Even so, its production values are apparent and its mechanics are solid (if a bit dated), making it a good selection for fans of the genre.