Peanut butter and jelly. Root beer and ice cream. Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus. All those things are great individually, but they're even better together. Now, Nanostray 2 brings that "best of both worlds" mentality to video games, in the form of a wicked tight spaceship shoot-em-up that offers both horizontal and vertical stages.
Yes, this is one of those hybrid shoot-em-ups where half the levels scroll from right-to-left and the other half scroll from top-to-bottom. However, it doesn't really matter whether your ship's nose is pointing to the right or straight up. Enemy ships fly in from all directions and rotating sections within each stage constantly keep you on your toes. Watch out for enemy bullets, watch out for the walls, and, for heaven's sake, watch out for those giant robots that swoop in from the background and wave their massive arms around.
Each stage follows the same format: A lengthy run full of smaller ships, laser cannons, and traps that narrow the path, followed by a mid-boss battle, followed by another survival run, followed by the confrontation against the stage's main boss. To handle the swarm, your ship is equipped with a main blaster that fires straight ahead, two satellites that can direct machine gun fire in any direction, and six different sub weapons that will cut through enemy ships' hulls like butter once they're charged up.
Nanostray 2 doesn't try to re-invent the genre, and that's totally fine. The no-nonsense weapons and controls are easy to get the hang of, each stage has its own unique collection of enemies and environmental gotchas, and there's rarely a moment when the screen isn't flush with bullets, ships, and explosions. Detailed 3D graphics give the two-dimensional action plenty of depth, while the soundtrack consists of a manly mix of lasers, explosions, and trippy rock-trance music. Longtime shoot 'em-up fans will also appreciate all the obvious references to Gradius, R-Type, Super Star Soldier, and other classic shooters that are sprinkled liberally throughout the game.
If you played the first Nanostray and weren't happy with the touch screen weapon swapping or the way the graphics were tilted to make it seem like everything was flying towards you, you'll be pleased to learn that the sequel corrects those blunders. The default control scheme uses the directional pad and buttons, and the perspective is no longer skewed, so you don't have to rack your brain dealing with bullets that veer sideways when you want them to go straight ahead. On top of that, the hit detection is a lot more accurate this time around. We just wish the hero's ship was slightly smaller for those more hectic moments.
The biggest complaint most people have with shoot-em-ups is that they're too short. Sure, you can go back and try for high scores, but if you're the sort that just wants to bleed ships through the final boss, you usually get 20 minutes of playtime out of the typical shmup. Nanostray 2 responds to this common complaint in spades. High score buffs can replay stages in the arcade mode and upload their scores to a worldwide server, while those constantly seeking new thrills can dive into the challenge mode, which offers 32 unique mini-levels with various scoring and survival requirements. If you can convince one of your friends to buy a copy of the game, you can also participate in scoring duels or go through the adventure mode co-operatively. As it is, each of the game's eight main stages is easily double the length of the stages found in most shooters.
Bleeding ships won't see you through to the end anyway. The stages are long, they're packed with enemies, and a single hit will cost you a ship. Even on the easiest setting, this game is tough in that old school way, where you need to develop twitch reflexes and memorize the layouts so that you make the five ships and three continues you're given last. This game is probably tougher than you're accustomed to. Whether that's good or bad is up to you.
Unrelenting difficulty aside, Nanostray 2 for the Nintendo DS is a top-notch shoot-'em-up that will give you your money's worth.
Mar 17, 2008