Review by Nigel Wood
Pangea have been a strong developer for the iPhone, releasing five full featured games. Granted these are not built from the ground up, and are instead ports of PC/Mac versions, but even so they have brought console quality games which push and challenge the iPhones capabilities.
Nanosaur 2: The Hatchling is their next game to come from the Mac, and as they did with Bugdom, they are skipping the first game and jumping straight into the sequel (so don’t go looking for Nanosaur 1 for iPhone because you won’t find it!).
Originally released in 2004, the game features a race of Dinosaurs from the future called Nanosaurs, these creatures possess valuable eggs from earths past, however a rebel group of Nanosaurs steal the eggs to create a vicious army to aid them in their wicked plan to take over earth. A lone egg survived the evil nanosaurs, and and out pops a winged Pterodactyl Dinosaur. A more indepth version is told through voice over accompanied by some great hand drawn stills when you boot up the game… but basically you play as this baby dino and must retrieve the stolen eggs… the cool thing though, is that you get to do this with a jet pack and an impressive array of futuristic weaponery strapped to your back. Nice!
The game comprises of three levels, one populated by forests, one with deserts and lava, and the third and final one a swamp. Enemies come in all shapes and sizes, you have primitive dinosaurs like Raptors and Brachiosaurs. Futuristic foes like laser wielding droids, floating mines and gun turrets… and also natural obstacles such as Tornados. Oh, and don’t forget the trees… you don’t want to bump into one of those bad boys!!!
On each level you must track down the lost eggs. Pick them up with your claws and carry them to a worm hole, where they are sucked up to safety… lose three lives and it’s game over. Eggs are dotted around the landscape and you must avoid enemies which can shoot or claw the eggs from you. Your egg quota is presented in a HUD at the top left of the screen, wIth the eggs ordered from left to right in coloured groups of two or three. The playing field is divided into invisible zones which contain these groups plus a nearby worm hole to deposit them in, and once sent through the wormhole the egg icons in the HUD are filled in. Once you have retrieved all the eggs in a level, it’s on to the next, plus a chance to save the game (there is no auto-save).
I think it would be better suited for the iPhone if there were less eggs to find in each level. In some levels you have around 12 eggs to find which require you to not only search for them but to traverse large landscapes too. Because of this, a level can take from to 20-30 minutes or so to complete. And as mentioned before, with no auto-save, it’s not a game you can pick up and play on the way to work. It’s a full-on ‘sit-on-the-couch’ experience. Splitting the three levels into smaller, manageable chunks, or indicating where each egg is on the map would help.
Unlike Pangeas previous effort ‘Bugdom 2′, Nanosaur 2 controls like a dream. Controlling flight is very intuitive, much like a flight simulator. Tilt the iPhone forward to dive, back to ascend, and left to right to turn. Once you have practised a few times you’ll find it very enjoyable gliding around. You automatically fly forward, and picking up the eggs is automatic too, simply swoop down near the egg and you’ll pick it up. There is a boost which can be activated by hitting the icon on the left, this does deplete so you’ll need to pick up the boost power-up to replenish it. Boosts are useful to get to a wormhole while clutching an egg and avoiding the enemy fire. The game features auto calibration which is a great touch and hopefully this will become the norm in iPhone games in future. On the off-chance that the calibration fails to centre you, you can hit the calibration reset button on the left of the screen, but you shouldn’t need to use this much.
Combat is equally enjoyable, to begin with I was worried I would struggle to fly and shoot, but the weapons feature a quasi lock on, so you don’t need to be wholly accurate with your aiming. In fact, one weapon, the homing missile, needs no aiming at all. All weapons are fired using the red icon on the bottom right of the screen, and you can cycle through the weapons by hitting the icon next door. These weapons include, a blaster, grenades, bombs, sonic scream and the heat seeking missiles. All those except the sonic scream require the collection of ammo power-ups. Only the sonic scream won’t run out, but its not very accurate. To activate the scream you hold down the the fire button and release when charged.
The game does have it’s buggy moments. After almost collecting all the eggs in one level, and after losing a life from a rather nasty head on collision with a tree during a daredevil swoop on an egg while being shot at from a laser wielding hover droid. The game crashed sending beck to the homescreen, and with no auto save I almost threw my iPhone at the wall in frustration. Hopefully this will be ironed out in an update, but I wish developers would beta test fully to avoid this.
The graphics are fantastic, and for the most part run at a solid framerate. I assume that Pangea use the Bugdom engine, but the texture work and models are much improved over that game. Overall it has the look of a PSP game in quality, but with some pop-up masked with a fog trick being the only thing letting it down. Special effects such as the wormholes, laser fire and the tornadoes are rendered to great effect. Some of the dino animations are a bit wooden, but your winged hero’s flying motions are fluid and realistic.
The music is good and adds to the drama, but as with most pangea games, it’s advised to turn it off for better performance, which is a shame. The sound effects feature some great weapons effects, and dino screeches and growls… and some of the atmospheric sounds like the low rumble of generators and tornados sound great. At one point, when flying past a tornado, the sound distorts the speaker, it’s probably unintentional but it actually help heighten the impending danger.
Overall Nanosaur is a great console style experience, but if you are looking for an action adventure to take on the road, then Nanosaur may not be for you. It’s level length with no auto save feature means it’s not ideal for quick sessions. Hopefully, Pangea will release a sequel built from the ground up with handheld gaming needs in mind, because the gameplay, controls and graphics are top notch.
Presentation & Graphics:
Nanosaur looks great, it’s easily one of the best looking game for iPhone right now. Great design, textures, models and special effects are awesome. The frame rate is mostly solid. Shame the game can’t be optimised to run smoother with the music on.
A high quality audio experience, with music that fits the action and some great weapon and dino sound effects.
The game controls fantastically, flight is a real joy. However for a handheld experience the three levels are too long. It’s a couch or long flight experience only.
Only 3 levels, but they are pretty large and there are many eggs to search and find on each. Once the game is over I don’t see much of a reason to revisit the game. Wheres the wifi multi playing dog fighting of the original?
If you are up to the challenge then Nanosaur has its rewards, but it’s desktop heritage isn’t a perfect fit for the iPhone. The game is available now for an absolute bargain price of $1.99 (£1.19)