Certainly More Inviting than Nanostray, yet not as Enthralling as Iridion II.

User Rating: 7.5 | Nanostray 2 DS
I felt utterly appalled when I realized Nanostray 2 had been released. It was like when 989 Studios somehow made Twisted Metal 4 after releasing that repulsively awful Twisted Metal 3; I immediately asked myself how it could be humanly possible. But looking back on that I realize the answer now as I did then: 'The sequel was spawned from a desire at redemption. Twisted Metal 4 at least redeemed itself of bad programming, weapon and game design as well as a mild desire for replay value (despite the fact it will eternally roast in Purgatory for bearing the title of Twisted Metal for the sake of marketing). Will Nanostray 2 make up for Nanostray's pain-inducing gameplay?
Surprisingly, yes it will and no it won't.

Nanostray 2 actually starts with a story which, judging by Majesco's story telling tactics in the Iridion saga, is predictably shallow despite finally giving us some motivation for killing. We start off immediately in space in the future where some colonist lame-brains are floating on a space ship called the Ariga (aka: the Overrated Japanese Etymology Cruise Ship). They decipher an antiquated message from a derelict station that was destroyed three years ago: apparently a virus has been spreading that causes all modern devices to go amok which explains why there are unmanned spaceships flying around suggestively destroying stuff, though we never actually see any destruction. You then have to study the virus by destroying everything in sight, but it turns out that a guessable, overdone plot twist awaits you... Blahidy blahidy blahdiddy blah.

While I'm glad to see Majesco and Shin en' tackle a narrative driven storyline, it's obvious they didn't do a good job at telling an original or even compelling plot. Then again I'm not really surprised: Irdion II was the best shooter they made, but the only thing that kept that from being pristine was a very vacuous narrative plot that was made in eight seconds and went absolutely nowhere. Nanostray's story would've been unique if it had a bit more art direction and it would've been more original if R-Type hadn't beat them to it all ready... and did it better.

With the rather unsatisfying plot out of the way, the game play is honed to near perfection in this title. You have the immediate option of choosing your Sub-Weapon as well as the alarmingly new function to change the position of your Options/Gun Spheres/Craws. You get a choice of three different standard shot directors pointing forward, vertical and back and you can have the shots flare out or fire inwardly with a little repositioning.
The Sub-weapons you get though are only helpful every once in awhile. You get a big laser beam that will only kill anything weaker than fine china and the yellow Truxton Beam's Sub-Weapon is brought back, but was resized so that you have to be within three feet of the enemy for it to be effective. Just about the only really helpful weapons are any homing weapon available, but some of them tend to home-in on less immediate dangers; the Seeker weapon tends to get a little confused when you want to destroy a tough enemy to your side, but it ends up hitting another enemy just like it straight ahead of you instead. However, the one straight ahead of you was mounted to the other side of the wall and thus was no immediate threat compared to the one right next to you that just killed you. The explosive weapon has all the power necessary to dispose of stronger enemies, but its slow pace makes it only good for point-blank combat. The balance here is that the so-so weapons keep you from over-depending on them for basic combat so you can use them against the boss fights. Which is futile, because most of the bosses have such weak armor they make the rock-hard levels look bad.

Nanostray 2 is actually a Multi-Scroller similar to that of Axelay where you pilot your fighter in a Horizontal and Vertical perspective; all it's lacking is a Rail perspective and Majesco would have finally paid homage to Iridion 3D! I kid, really, the two platforms work remarkably well together and the control schemes work very well in the game play's favor.
One thing I highly appreciate in Nanostray 2 is the removal of that stupid 45° angle for the top-down vertical scrolling segments; it seems that Shin'en understood that you should never have a vertical scrolling 3D shooter with a constantly swerving camera where the player can die on the disorienting backgrounds. Here, the top-down camera is literally set at a top-down position making 90% of the collision objects visible and better highlighted. While the camera moves around a lot, there's none of that changing altitudes BS where you move out of a pipe-filled canal and have no idea if the pipes are still in your physical plane as you're flying out. If anything the earliest vertical scrolling moments have a few timing puzzles where a door will close and never open again, forcing you to move ahead of the action before the doors even scroll halfway down the screen. The game is a lot cleaner than Nanostray in regards to design and challenge. The enemies still do that annoying maneuver where they fly in from the background at a safe distance then suddenly pop into your plane in seconds. However, they do less of it in Nanostray 2 and it's a lot easier to tell when they're coming.

It really feels like there's a BS game play requisite for every DS shooter Design Document, though: the one good thing that was dropped from Nanostray 2 is the fabled health gauge. Older shooters like Curse, UN Squadron and virtually EVERY shooter made by Namco and Compile taught us that playing a Shump with an actual armor/health gauge is not only sensible, but extremely fun because once you get a ship that lacks ye olde one-hit-kill and Shield pick-up dependency, the game can throw any Dick Move at you from any direction and the challenge would still feel balanced out. Now every time you get hit by a single bullet, it means your complete defeat which is something I kinda hoped what little remaining Shooter developers had grown out of by now. Plus, it feels like a complete regression playing a one-hit ship in a fourth sequel to a series of games where your ship can take more than three.

Also, the game is still obsessed with that pointless, grumble inducing ranking system, only this time it's slapped on the bottom screen and it ranks you while you're playing the game. Like Nanostray and Iridion II, the ranking system has no impact on game play or unlocking extras, nor does it save your ranking in Arcade mode with your initials, it just says what score was made at what day and year; it's stark pointlessness feels like a complete waste of bottom screen HUD space. Great...

Here's another waste of space in the game: the voice over guy. I can tolerate some random voice overs in Shmups, but others were out right irritating. This guy however just seems pointless; he's just extra, muffled noise, like the random voice over to the opening of Iridion II. No matter what he says he sounds like someone's stoic friend trying their hand at sounding sarcastically unimpressed at you playing a game while they're reading a gossip magazine or doing their nails.

Chellenge Mode is back, but the challenges actually feel like challenges and not a brutal punishment designed by an alien dictatorship. Some of the Challenges are a little toned down and are really all about knowing which sub-weapons to use in which scenario. Unfortunately, the futility of the Challenges is evident in the mode known as Simulators: much like Demolition Racer: No Exit for the Dreamcast (and probably every other game I can't think of right now), you can unlock various Atari/PC era mini-games incongruous to the game's theme.
The Mini-Game/Simulators are a collection of lame, pointless, but shiny and colorful games re-imagined by someone obsessed with Atari. The point of them was mainly to put the dusty little Stylus and touch screen to use what with a 3D, 45° Pong clone, but even then their charm and enjoyability is the equivalent of dirt. At least in No Exit you unlocked a mini-game where you could toss sports cars at each other and decimate various mountainsides in the process.

Adventure Mode features a very painful flaw where every time you try to Quit Adventure Mode during gameplay, it throws you back to the Stage Select screen with whatever number of lives and/or continues you lost during gameplay. It breaks the pick-up and play Adventure Mode feel like tossing fine China against an oncoming train. The enemies do that old-school dick-move attack where they can still shoot you once they're officially off-screen and the moment your ship tries to lightly touch a pool of water while avoiding a bullet, it crashes.
There're even these completely stupid, factual error riddled attack in levels 1 and 7 where a billow of green smoke (that can somehow remain balanced in zero gravity) or an occasional falling of water from an oversized sewer pipe will cause your ship to explode rather than get pushed down a bit. That's right: your spaceship can be destroyed by falling water. I guess its a step-up from steam...

Probably the biggest kick in the balls is the complete lack of a Sound Test mode. I know this is a one-sided complaint, but listening past the balls-tight Sound FX, I heard the music actually sounded improved over Nanostray 1: rather than just musically establishing a setting, the songs actually put me in an adventurous, action-driven mode like most shooters are supposed to. The level 2 song in particular sounded better and more immersive than a single track from Nanostray 1, but a complete lack of a normally accessible BGM mode makes it hard for me to enjoy the soundtrack in its entirety. And really Majesco and/or Shin 'en (and/or whoever): why do we have to constantly unlock the soundtrack and FX just to hear them? What, would a game's replay value just be incomplete without unlocking something that a good twenty years ago was easily accessible? At the very least, do what Techno Soft did: keep the BGM Mode in the Options screen where it's easy to access 90% of the songs, then have us unlock secret songs that weren't used in the final version! I know the CD soundtrack to Nanostray 2 may very well be on its way, but I'm not gonna buy it: just for once, make a good shooter with an excellent soundtrack that doesn't require a password, Challenge Mode or an extra dollar to listen to on its own!!

Oh yeah and anyone who makes a retro-style game with an accumulating score that includes a Lives System but refuses to include Extend Bonuses probably needs to remove their head from their ass before they seriously start losing air.

Don't take this the wrong way, though: Nanostray 2 is one of the best shooters on the DS in terms of actually feeling like a straight-up, action entrenched, classical Space Shooter. It's not a brief shooting segment that makes the bland Platformer/Third Person action seem worth your time or a couple of shiny geometric shapes launching firecrackers at triangles and blocks. This is an actual attempt at making a good 3D multi-scrolling Shmup, one that is only infected with a few manageable flaws: downgraded armor system, lack of engaging/interesting unlockables, a few bewildering instant-kill physics, lack of an adequate story and lack of BGM mode. It's certainly not the best Shmup I've played 3D or 2D, but it ranks up there with the Shmups that have earned my trust, respect and ownership rights.
It certainly shows me that modern game developers on portable consoles can redeem themselves of their previous development sins, though personally, I would've excused all of Nanostray 2's flaws entirely if Majesco would just finally bring back the Deflector Laser.