Prepare for old-school two-dimensional shooting game action! That is to say, prepare to die over and over again while hacking through levels with little to no progress over long periods of time!
That's Nanostray 2, a shooter in the classic side-view or top-view on rails mold. Actually, Nanostray 2 has both the side and top views. It uses one or the other in particular levels. But the bottom line is that you fly your spacecraft as it scrolls into combat against bad guys of an unknown origin. Yes, it scrolls, too. Once upon a time, every shooting game released did that. I always preferred the scrolling shooters (also called rail shooters) to the open-range shooters because you could never get confused as to which direction you were supposed to be flying in and what the level objective was supposed to be: Namely, survive until the end of the level and shoot the hell out of a boss until it was killed dead.
The plot of Nanostray 2 has something to do with a derelict spaceship that isn't giving out any messages and a virus that needs to be deciphered. What any of it has to do with flying into crowds of alien space gunships and plugging them with holes until they blow up, I don't know. So for all intents and purposes, it's you, your spacecraft, and pretty much everything in the universe coming in to kill you.
That last thing I said about killing you takes on a special emphasis of its own when you plug in Nanostray 2 because it's such a powerful throwback game. That aspect even shows up in the way the developers, Majesco, decided to distribute lives. That is to say: You take one shot, you die. No energy bars, no little onscreen pegs that disappear as you get shot, just one hit and BOOM! You're allowed to continue the fight from the very spot you were killed on, but you've still got to fight through all the levels with a set number of lives and continues. And while the game is nice enough to save your progress, that word "continue" is also meant to be read with old-school applications in mind: Lose all your lives, lose a continue. Lose all your continues, and you fall into that old satanic ritual where the game throws you back to the beginning and makes you start again from there.
Nanostray 2 gives you a choices of the levels you can visit first, at least to an extent. You do have to beat levels in order to unlock other levels, but the levels seem to be unlocked in bunches instead of one at a time. When you beat one cluster of levels, you get access to more levels, and you get to select which levels in a cluster you get to tackle first. This is a cool setup, mainly because it can save you the insanity of playing the same levels over and over with the same result when you find your path blocked by your inability to get out of the way of certain bullets.
The weapons system in Nanostray 2 doesn't involve picking up special items for different weapons. You start and end with a basic laser, and you pick up a pair of glowing balls which you can station at different points around your ship while they shoot away, helping you mow down your enemies. The odd thing about this is that the glowing balls aren't any more or less powerful than the laser your ship is equipped with, but they do have a considerably faster firing rate. That basically means they're the most important weapon you'll pick up. Your side weapons have a wide array of different effects and are all monitored by a blue bar on the bottom screen which shows you how much power they have. You can choose one side weapon per level, and new side weapons are presented at the end of every level, kinda like Mega Man except you can only carry one instead of all of them.
The hit detection is nothing if not sensitive, and you'll be losing lives for looking cross-eyed at the three-fingered robot in the first level. There are some killer steam vents in the first level that seem to destroy you when you've clearly got a couple of millimeters of clout to work with. If you die by flying into the nearest wall, it tends to happen suddenly because your ship moves pretty fast. Bullets from enemies are simply a given. They'll come in clusters and waves, and you have to be excrutiatingly precise in order to avoid being killed sometimes.
Being such a throwback, Nanostray 2 has a good old-fashioned score counter which Majesco based a lot of the extras and modes around. There is something in the gameplay called the Nano Gauge which fills every time you shoot something and stays filled with everything you hit. It's integral to the score because the more filled up it is, the more points you're awarded for blowing your enemies out of the sky. The game comes equipped with an Arcade mode with that very idea in mind: Play through any given level trying to rack up the highest score you possibly can. There is also a mini-game mode where you have to accomplish some ludicrous objective. Both of these modes substantially increase the replay value if you're into such things, but the thing with the Arcade mode is that for your finishing score to count, you have to beat the level. You're not always going to be able to do that, and the mini-games in that mode are very, VERY tough.
The graphics are clear and crystalline, but they rely a bit too much on light bloom. The backgrounds are hit-or-miss. Sometimes the designs can be creative, but this IS a shooting game. The rendering and animation, however, are excellent and Nanostray 2 doesn't suffer from slowdown. The sounds are barely there, but the music has some outstanding rock and techno influences.
If you're a youngster curious about how us geezers played games, Nanostray 2 is a perfect example of the kinds of shooting games we played. Frankly, I really did think the old rail shooters were better than the chase-cam open world ones now dominating the landscape ever were. That's why I'm glad to have bought Nanostray 2, and why I'm perfectly happy to hack my way through it getting killed time after time after damned, damned time.