Darius has been thrilling shooter fans since 1987, when it came to arcades all guns blazing horizontally across 3 screens. This unique horizontal setup wasn't the only stand-out feature - the game featured glorious fish-themed space-ships that gave the title it's own voice in an increasingly crowded market.
The games generally gift you with three facets of your craft to power up - shields, lasers and bombs. The meaner games will expect you to keep these power ups, meaning that dying isn't really an option if you want to progress, bringing some early-gaming harshness into proceedings that younger players may not be used to nor appreciate.
There are now two collections of Darius goodness available for PS4 and Nintendo Switch, both of which I've got my grubby paws on, so let's examine what each of them offer.
This collection offers seven flavours of the series, but really only three unique titles.
Darius has two variants, both of which are the same game with balance fixes (think Street Fighter II's many iterations), and Sagaia is Darius II with shorter levels and a new name for the non-Japanese market. So really what you get here is:
- Darius, with a "new" and "extra" variant (3 screen)
- Darius II (2 screen) with Sagaiai being the foreign release, of which there are two versions - the second version of Sagaia may never have actually been released!
- Darius Gaiden (single screen)
Despite the fact that we're getting the same game in multiple variations, this is still the most interesting of the two available compilations. Due to the screen width, it's certainly the release most suitable for TV screens - Darius is basically unplayable on the Switch's handheld configuration.
Being arcade ports, they are naturually superior to their console counterparts. While the first game looks its age, it plays like a champ. Darius II is more of the same in terms of looks, leaving it to Darius Gaiden to really blow you away - it's a stunning-looking title and the only one that was designed for a single screen. The soundtrack is absolutely top-tier stuff, and of all the iterations of the game on offer, this is hands down my favourite game. It doesn't hurt that your Silver Hawk fighter can now capture mini-bosses and utilise a black-hole attack either.
For those who don't possess the greatest shmup skills, the Arcade compilation is infinitely kinder than the console edition, allowing you to throw in credits whenever you like and restarting the game at the point you perished. The console will send you back to the beginning of each level, and to the game itself if you get shot down 3 times. Ouch.
This is where nostalgia probably kicks in hardest for most of us. The Console Collection offers up five distinct games, cheating a bit by offering up several games with their international versions. Comprehensive it may be, but really putting in three versions of Darius II with regional variations is pushing it.
Darius Twin on the Super NES is the game I grew up with, and it still plays a cracking game, though it's harder than I remember. The real gem for most die-hard Darius fans is the inclusion of Alpha for the PC Engine, a game that was limited to 800 copies and only available to those who had purchased Darius Plus. It's essentially a boss rush, but a great way to quickly work through some wonderfully imaginative bosses.
Because the games are all designed for single screen, they play more favourably on the handheld Switch, but lack the amazing soundtrack and larger sprites of their Arcade counterparts. Some titles have multiple game modes (boss rush, special mode, remix), adding to the replayability of the titles, especially for the hi-score addicts out there.
Between the two:
The elephant in the room here is, no matter which of the titles you pick, these are now very old games, and despite the inclusion of the variants, you're only getting around half the games advertised - only an obsessive will play the original and the international versions of the same game. Honestly only the SNES and Arcade Darius Gaiden are lookers in the graphics department, and it would have been really nice to have added something more modern to show how the lineage has been maintained - Darius Burst Chronicle Saviours on PS Vita is a surprisingly faithful update to the game, from ship designs to mechanics. I know we're going old-school here, but I would have appreciated a greater range of titles.
It's hard to recommend either game at full price to anyone who isn't already a big Darius fan. It was never a huge deal in the West, often playing second-fiddle to R-Type and Gradius, so the high price may reflect the narrower fanbase. If I had to plump for one, I'd say go for Arcade - Gaiden in particular still looks and sounds fantastic, almost worth the price of entry on it's own. The ability to play a 3 screen arcade game is also pretty novel, but in this case the bigger the screen, the better.
I'm grateful to Taito for making these games available, especially the rarer titles few fans will have been able to experience. Some of the games here are over 30 years old, and it's important to remember that when going in. A score is almost redundant - if you're a fan of shooters, retro gaming or chasing hi-scores, you could be very happy with these, but if you're new to the Darius lineage, you may find yourself wondering what all the fuss was about.