Nanosaur 2, like Bugdom 2, is a port of one of Pangea Software’s older Mac games. It’s a very faithful rendition of the original, especially in its astoundingly beautiful presentation. However, this level of fidelity actually hurts the game more than it helps, because it’s kept Pangea from making many of the gameplay adjustments necessary to turn Nanosaur 2 into a successful iPhone game. Casual players won’t be able to enjoy this game at all, and even hardcore console gamers will be flummoxed by its challenge level.
In the far future, genetically engineered dinosaurs have taken the reigns of civilization from humanity, along with mastery of advanced technology, spaceflight, and time travel. Unfortunately, these “nanosaurs” aren’t any better at running a harmonious society than we were. Civil war breaks out, and the rebels steal a bunch of precious dino eggs scavenged from the past to freshen the nanosaurs’ gene pool. You play a pterodactyl commando sent to recover the eggs from the rebel faction’s worlds… by any means necessary. In other words, you make the rebel guards into fossil fuels, snatch the eggs, and send them home via express wormhole.
The gameplay runs from a third person, behind-the-dino viewpoint. You swoop around by tilting the iPhone in the direction you want to go; pterodactyls can’t hover, so you fly forward at a set pace. If you want to go faster, a limited amount of boost power is accessible via a touch button on the left side of the screen. Firing and switching weapons is handled with similar buttons on the right-hand side. In order to beat each level, you have to locate a certain number of eggs, scoop them up by flying right over them, and drop them into a nearby wormhole–all while running a gauntlet of enemy dinos and killer robots.
It’s a daunting task, but you’re reasonably well equipped for the job. The game’s tilt controls feel much more natural than they did in Bugdom 2, simply because the game takes care of forward movement for you, leaving you to concentrate on altitude and pitch. Soaring through corridors of trees and circling wide-open spaces is no problem with a bit of practice and sensitivity adjustment. We found that we played best with the sensitivity dialled up, rather than down, as in Bugdom 2. In addition, your dino packs mondo heat. You are protected by an energy shield and five different types of weapons. Blasters and homing missiles track your enemies automatically, and are easily the most useful items in your toolbox. The sonic scream is unlimited and can be charged up to deal big damage, but it’s really only useful as a last resort. Cluster grenades require aiming and don’t do much damage, so they’re completely pointless, and bombs aren’t very effective either. Luckily, there’s usually plenty of blaster and missile ammo lying around, so you don’t often have to resort to the novelty guns.
That said, staying alive long enough to find all the eggs is really tough; egg-hunting is as hard as dying is easy. For one thing, running into any big obstacle, like a brontosaurus, a tree, or a cliff, kills you instantly–and the hit detection isn’t always clear, especially when it comes to trees. You can fly along the ground to a limited extent, but if you approach it at an angle any greater than a gentle glide, you’re toast. This is a real problem, considering that the eggs are sitting right on the ground, and are often tucked in tight quarters behind an obstacle. You have to get very close to an egg to grab it, and positioning yourself exactly right to make the grab without killing yourself is a delicate operation. Furthermore, the eggs are small (they shine a bit, but not enough), and they aren’t indicated on your mini-map, so you end up having to fly over every square inch of territory several times to find them all. This isn’t fun, it’s a chore.
Nanosaur 2 also recycles Bugdom 2’s notoriously horrible policy on continues and saving. Although you can pick up an extra life every once in a while, there are no continues, and you can only save when you finish a level–a poor combination for a game with so many instant fatalities. It results in lots of restarts and occasional screaming fits, and is decidedly unfriendly to shorter play sessions.
It’s a shame, because Nanosaur 2’s presentation is superior. All of the game’s primordial environments are clad in rich, realistic textures and sculpted in such a way that they look completely natural. The dino models are fully realized and animated; just watching your dino’s wings beat up and down is enough to put you into a trance. There are lots of context-specific animations, too. When you kill a brontosaurus, for instance, it’ll take a full five seconds to capsize and collapse in agony. The game does slow down when there’s a lot of action on-screen, but it doesn’t cripple you. And the music is breathtaking. Each level has its own cinematic score that plays on the environmental theme.
We feel more or less the same way about Nanosaur 2 as we do about Bugdom 2–it’s a fantastic game that isn’t yet appropriate for the iPhone. If Pangea wakes up and makes a few simple changes, like adding a few continues, putting the eggs on the freakin’ map, and installing mid-level checkpoints, Nanosaur 2 will receive our full recommendation, and may even become a Must Have. Until then, this game is really only appropriate for gamers who like an extreme challenge, or for those who are familiar with the Mac game and know what they’re getting into.