Ever since the DS was announced, many gamers have been asking for a vertical shooter. In fact, I must not be the only one to think that with those 2 screens we could easily get an Ikaruga port on the system as it seems like it has been designed for that type of game. Unfortunately, we might never get Ikaruga DS, so Shin’en, the developer of the popular Iridion games for the GBA has decided to bring an unofficial sequel for the DS called Nanostray.

One of the reasons the Iridion series was so popular, besides the great gameplay, was because the developer was pushing the GBA hardware far beyond what others had done for its time. When I saw the first screens for Nanostray I was totally blown away because it really seemed to be on the same level as Ikaruga minus the texture filtering. This is the first shmup (short for shoot’em up) for the system and other developers are going to have a hard time doing something better.

Since this game is on the DS, one would be expecting it to be using both screens as well as touch controls. Well, it does use 2 screens and, yes, you can also use your fingers on the touchscreen, but it is extremely limited. In fact, the touch screen is only used for menu navigation and also for selecting your weapons. This is the kind of game that could have been made on a handheld with one screen. But with the 2 screens, there was no need to cram all of the info in the same place so you get a better look at the action on the top screen and know about your health, weapons and power beam on the lower screen so it is kind of useful. Still, it’s far from being the most imaginative use of 2 screens I’ve seen, though it does its job well so I’m not complaining here.

The game itself is pretty straightforward. When selecting adventure mode you have to complete 8 missions. You do that by selecting to which planet you want to go in each of the galaxies. Once you’ve selected it you will be going through the level blasting everything in your way. You will have to collect coins with the golden ones giving you more points and the blue ones refilling your power weapon meter. You also have power bombs if you want to blow everything up at the same time.

Expect to see tons of enemies on screen at once and lots of bullets to dodge as this game is quite difficult. Bosses at the end of each level are also very difficult depending on your skills, but for an advanced played they can be fairly easy. Like in all shmups, Nanostray has its own pattern that you have to memorize. I also liked the fact that they had more than one part on the bosses to destroy and each time you destroyed one it would change its pattern making it even more difficult.

Each time you finish a stage you will be awarded a rank from A to F depending on how well you performed. The game looks at everything from auto-fire to the number of times you died, how many power bombs you used, how many coins you collected, time for completion and also the waves you’ve done. Waves are when you destroy several enemies one after the other. It’s a combo chain. If you’ve played Ikaruga you will remember that if you destroyed 3 enemies of the same color you’d get a combo chain started. It is a little bit similar here though there are chains scattered along the level and if you destroy them all you will get a bonus at the end of the level.

Once you’ve finished adventure mode you can play through it again as there are 3 difficulty levels and also 3 save slots, but you can also play any of the stages you want in arcade mode OR, you could try the many challenges the game offers to unlock renders, artworks, and music.

Challenge mode is probably where you’ll want to spend most of your time. This is a difficult game and the developers made sure it would be difficult for you to unlock everything. The challenges range from getting a certain score on a stage, completing it without using power weapons or with only one life. Since you can die by getting hit by an enemy ship this means you’ll have to practice a LOT if you want to unlock everything. That probably means you’ll end up playing this game for countless hours until you get to see the end of it.

There is also a multiplayer mode that supports single cartridge for up to 2 players. In it you’ll be playing with an opponent and have to get the best score as possible in a certain amount of time. It’s not a lot and it would have been fun to be able to complete the game with a friend even if it required 2 copies but at least Shin’en made the effort to implement multiplayer in the game so it’s better than nothing.

As I said earlier, the first time I saw screenshots of this game I was amazed because I didn’t think those graphics were possible on the DS. And while there are a few slowdowns here and there, the game manages to keep a constant framerate most of the time. In fact, it drops only when the screen is full of enemies and you decide to blow up a big one causing an enormous explosion which slows down everything. Besides that, the framerate is smooth. The camera can move quite a lot in some stages and everything goes by fast. Textures are detailed and some objects on screen have a high polygon count. Shin’en wasn’t afraid to show some of the environments up close in some cutscenes and you’ll understand why when you see the game in motion. The same cannot be said about the music and sound effects as they are not the most memorable I’ve heard in my life except maybe for 1 or 2 songs, but for a DS game I’d say it’s good.

So while this game isn’t exactly the best shmup to ever grace a video game system, it actually ranks up there with some of the best, and it shows that the DS can handle great shooters. It features amazing graphics and action, as well as a fun multiplayer mode and it’s difficult enough that you’ll want to play it for at least a few weeks. Show your support to both Majesco and Shin’en and buy this game, you won’t regret it.