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Darius
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Darius Burst

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by Kurt Kalata and Zillion Taborda - January 19, 2016

Darius / Darius Plus / Super Darius / Darius R / Darius+ - Arcade (1986), Amiga, Atari ST, ZX Spectrum (1989), PC Engine, PC Engine CD (1990), Game Boy Advance (2001)

Arcade Flyer

Super Darius Cover

Darius R Cover

Amidst the clutter of sci-fi arcade shooters in the mid-1980s, companies needed to make their games stand out in someway. So, Taito had an idea for new game - yes, there was still a spaceship, and yes, it still took place in outer space. But instead of the usual aliens, you fight fish.

Yes, fish. Not regular, aquatic fish, but robotic fish with lasers equipped to their fins, giant metal teeth and missiles firing from their gills. And not just fish either. There are squid, snails, lobsters, octopi, sharks, and all matters of sea creatures too.

The plot is about the people of the planet Darius, who are being terrorized by the Belsar (sometimes spelled "Belser") empire and their fleet of oceanic robots. Only the heroic pilots Proco and Tiat (which, when pieced together, is "Taito Corp" backwards) can save the day. The constant star of the Darius series is the Silver Hawk ship. Much like Gradius, it has a primary, forward firing weapon, along with bombs that can be used to attack vertically, and a shield. The arcade Darius games also use a unique system that attach three monitors together, then reflect those images off mirrors, to create one seamless massive horizontal playing field (also used in The Ninja Warriors). Naturally, this couldn't quite be replicated on the consoles, so that gimmick is lost, but emulators can replicate the dimensions of the screen.

Darius (Arcade)

The other most distinctive element of the Darius games is its branching paths. After defeating a boss, you can choose your next level. There are 28 stages in total, though you only play through 7 in a single run. It adds tremendously to the replay value, especially since there are multiple endings, depending on which final zone you end up at. While most of the endings are pretty boring (variations of the ships escaping /landing/etc.), one particularly goofy one shows you, the player, sitting at an arcade cabinet and cheering victory after having beat the game. Alas, Darius adheres to the "quantity over quality" mantra. The levels are a bit dull, with little variation in the scenery, and just waves upon waves of enemies.

Your main gun is rather weak and even popcorn enemies take several hits to destroy. There are colored orbs that let you upgrade your main gun (red), bombs (green), or shield (blue), dropped by enemies of the corresponding color, but each one only increases its power by a tiny bit. When you collect seven red orbs, you'll upgrade to the next level, from missiles to lasers to wave beams. Get killed and you'll lose all of your orbs on that level, and seeing that these orbs are in short supply, you might spend a vast majority of the game in an extremely weak state, unless you're really good. Getting killed also sends you back to a checkpoint.

Darius (Arcade)

The music, however, is excellent, and one of the first great soundtracks to come from Zuntata, Taito's in-house band. Composed by Hisayoshi "OGR" Ogura, it's one of Taito's first great soundtracks, particular the first level theme, "Captain Neo", which was actually borrowed from a previous Taito shooter, Metal Soldier Isaac II.

Compared to later Darius games, the original is a bit dull, but its impressive when held up next to many other shooters from 1986. The bosses still look great (and many were designed by famed anime studio Tatsunoko). All of the Darius games have the same amusing boss introduction: a blaring siren with the message "WARNING! A huge battleship *boss name* is approaching fast".

Darius (Arcade)

The first console port was for the PC Engine CD System, under the name Super Darius, ported by NEC Avenue. While the graphics had to be scaled down to fit on the TV screen, it actually works out pretty well. There's no two player mode, but you resurrect right where you die. The redbook audio soundtrack is taken directly from the arcade game. It also includes several new bosses, 26 in total, since many were repeated in the arcade game. These include some bosses that were initially advertised, but not included in the final arcade game, like the crab boss. This version was later converted to HuCard and released as Darius Plus. Other than the chiptune music and reduction of bosses from 26 to 16, it's mostly identical. It also has compatibility with the Supergrafx. While the game is laden with flicker and slowdown on the regular system, plugging it into a Supergrafx will eliminate most of this.

The most prestigious of the PC Engine Darius releases is Darius Alpha. Created as a contest award in vastly limited quantities, Darius Alpha is simply a boss rush, where you fight all of the bosses one after another until you lose all of your lives, getting powered up in between encounters. This is easily the most costly PC Engine title, typically valued at more than $1,000, even though it's not even a full game.

Darius hit the Gameboy Advance in 2001 in Japan under the name Darius R (the "R" stands for "Revival"). The graphics are mostly the same, having been brightened a bit, but approximately half of the levels have been cut. The music has been changed to include songs from all throughout the Darius series. The power-up system has been slightly tweaked so you need less orbs to gain a level. The screen proportions are out of whack on the tiny screen, especially the bosses, which now take up most of the viewing field.

There are three fan made X68000 ports - one called Darius, which is only the first boss; Darius Plus, which features the first zone and the first boss; and Darius Dokomade Tatakaemasuka ("How Far Can You Fight?"), which only consists of a boss rush.

There is also an "Extra Version" of the arcade game, which tweaks the enemy layouts and weapon strengths, making it a bit easier. Many subsequent games have similar revisions in the arcade too, but these are never really ported back to the consoles.

Darius (Arcade)

The game was also ported to the European computers under the name Darius+. Developed by The Edge and published in 1989 for the Amiga, Atari ST, and ZX Spectrum, Darius+ is very unusual, in that it's more of an adaptation than a straight port. The pace is a little slower. The weaponry system is different, in that you gain options rather than bombs, and can even get an R-Type-like laser. You always begin each life with full shields. However, the large sprite size and overpowering amount of enemies makes this even more difficult than the original arcade game. The visuals are completely different, looking closer to a homegrown Amiga game, with a redesigned Silver Hawk and all new enemies. They're garish, but the parallax scrolling is nice. The bosses have also been redrawn, but there are only five, compared to 11 in the original. Even King Fossil is gone. They are all fought against a generic starry background. There’s only one song that plays during the levels - "Captain Neo". And there are no real endings either. Even though it's interesting to see an alternate take on Darius (and the box art is rad), overall, it’s a very sloppy shooter.

Darius Plus (PC Engine)

Darius Plus (PC Engine)

Darius Plus (PC Engine)

Darius Plus (PC Engine)

Darius Plus (PC Engine)

Darius R (Game Boy Advance)

Darius R (Game Boy Advance)

Darius+ (Amiga)

Darius+ (Amiga)

Darius+ (Amiga)


Comparison Screenshots


Additional Screenshots

Arcade

Arcade

Arcade

Arcade

Arcade

Arcade

Darius II / Sagaia / Super Darius II - Arcade, Genesis, Master System. Game Boy, PC Engine Super CD-ROM, Saturn, PlayStation 2 (1989)

Arcade Flyer

European Master System Cover

Japanese Mega Drive Cover

PC Engine Super CD Cover

Saturn Cover

Darius II is not significantly different from its predecessor, but it is a large refinement. The biggest noticeable change is that all of the sprites are much larger, giving the game a more "zoomed-in" look. In addition to a three-screen release, there is also a (more common) two-screen version.

The weapon system has changed - instead of shooting colored enemies to release orbs, you need to destroy specific waves of enemies. There's a new weapon, the laser, which fires vertically. (This was integrated into the other weapons in later Darius games.) Your main weapon isn't quite as weak, and upgrades quicker than before, though you still lose power when killed. The checkpoints are gone too, so you resurrect right where you left off.

Darius II (Arcade)

Rather than navigating your ship through a fork in the stage at the end of each level, there's now a map that breaks out your route through the game. All of the stages are based around our solar system, despite not actually taking place on Earth. Instead, it takes place hundreds of years after the events of the original Darius, as the remaining populace of the planet settled far away on a world called Olga, only to incur the wrath of the Belsar empire once again. The pilots this time are Proco Jr. and Tiat Young, descendents of the heroes from the first game.

The stages are a little bit more interesting this time - the first level begins on the Sun, complete with solar flares, undoubtedly inspired by similar levels in Salamander and Gradius II. Another stage is heavily based on the works of H. R. Giger. In both versions of the second stage, you fight against a gigantic robotic fish, then enter into its mouth to face another boss inside of it. One of the coolest enemies is a giant hermit crab, who wears the World War II Yamato battleship as its shell. Many of the bosses from the original Darius also show up in miniaturized form as mini-bosses, now known as "captains".

It also has more of a personality. The opening stage begins with a voiced narration of the pilot reading off various indicators, before proclaiming "I've always wanted a thing called tuna sashimi!" as a battle cry. The endings are even weirder - there's one where your pilot gets woken up by his mother - that the game was just all a dream before he goes off to school. The darkest one is where the heroes return to their planet, only to find that thousands of years have passed in their presence due to time relativity, and everything they were fighting for has been wiped out.

For some reason, Darius II was renamed Sagaia outside of Japan. The Genesis port was developed by Natsume and is quite good. The sprites have been scaled down slightly to fit a standard TV screen, and the visuals are darker, but it still looks decent. The music is well done too, though the "tuna sashimi" voice bit gone. Some of the bosses have been changed around and there's a mode to play all stages in one go, though two player mode is sadly missing.

Sagaia also made it to the Sega Master System in Europe and Brazil, also courtesy of Natsume. It's a magnificent port that looks amazing for an 8-bit system. The only real knock against it is that several levels had to be cut to fit in such a small cartridge - there are only 12 total.

The PC Engine Super CD port, called Super Darius II, was developed by A-Wave and published by NEC Avenue. Unlike the Genesis version, the sprites are about the same size as the arcade game, which makes the playing field a little cramped. Some of the graphical effects haven't made the transition, but otherwise it's much more colorful than the Sega version. Many of the bosses are completely different, some having been taken from Super Darius. There are a few difficulty modes - in the easiest one, your weapons don't power down after dying. However, far and away the biggest advantage is the soundtrack. Rather than the usual Zuntata weirdness, Super Darius II is full of rocking, guitar-driven music that flat out rules. Some of the arrangements are so drastic though that it's hard to pick out the base of the original song. While the opening speech is gone this is probably the best version to go after. This was released on the Wii Virtual Console.

Darius II was also ported to the Saturn in 1996, and came out in both Japan and Europe. It's mostly arcade perfect, and replicates the two-screen version of the arcade game, presented in widescreen. You can zoom in and out with the triggers, though when zoomed in, it uses awkward “wobble” scrolling. It also offers a rapid fire option that makes your default weapon much more powerful. Unfortunately, it eschews the awesome PC Engine CD version soundtrack, and instead uses the original music (as redbook audio on the CD, no less.)

The PS2 version is featured on Taito Memories II Joukan. It includes the two-screen version, available in letterboxed 8:3 or squished 4:3, and is a straight emulation with no enhancements.

Darius 2 (Arcade)

Darius 2 (Arcade)

Sagaia (Genesis)

Sagaia (Genesis)

Sagaia (Master System)

Sagaia (Master System)

Sagaia (Master System)

Super Darius 2 (PC Engine Super CD-ROM)

Super Darius 2 (PC Engine Super CD-ROM)


Comparison Screenshots


Additional Screenshots

Arcade

Arcade

Arcade

Arcade

Arcade

Sagaia - Game Boy (1991)

Japanese Cover

This Game Boy game - known as Sagaia even in Japan - isn't technically a port, but rather a mostly-new game with new levels, featuring bosses and music from the first two Darius games. There is a brand new boss, based on a sunfish. The ability to set up to nine lives is nice, as well as the autofire option. It uses the power-up system of the original Darius but requires less power-ups to upgrade, plus there is instant respawn. There's no level branching, though there are eight levels in total, including a boss rush at the end. For an early Game Boy shooter, it's quite good, featuring some nice parallax scrolling, decent chiptune renditions of Zuntata music, faithfully replicated boss fights - they're better than Darius R on the GBA - and it runs very smoothly. One of the better shooters on the system.

Sagaia (Game Boy)

Sagaia (Game Boy)


Additional Screenshots

Darius Twin - SNES (1991)

American Cover

Japanese Cover

The third Darius entry, Darius Twin, was released exclusively for the SNES. It's an average but technically-competent entry on the arcade giant's long-running anti-seafood series, was born.

The game seems to take place between the original Darius and its sequel, when the Belsar army stages an attack on Olga, home of the few humans who survived the evil fishes' raid on the series' namesake planet. Among these humans are the legendary heroes known as Proco and Tiat (not their descendents, who starred in Darius II), who once again hop into their Silver Hawks and blast off to save all of humankind. The intro mentions how two thousand years have passed since the last war on Darius, which raises the question of how our protagonists managed to survive this long, but this plot point is forgotten as quickly as it is mentioned in typical shooter fashion, thus making this game's story incoherent and almost identical to its predecessor's.

Darius Twin (SNES)

Darius Twin's gameplay is standard fare, with the only differences being a lowered difficulty level and a more linear stage progression system where the series' trademark web of paths to follow only comes into play after the fourth zone, thus making the third stage be the same in every playthrough (Zone D), while Zones B and C are both boring starfield levels with the only difference between them being the latter's thicker enemy patterns. There's also only one final stage to choose from (Zone L), with the ending you get now being determined by the path you took to get to Zone L and by the amount of lives you have lost, which makes getting the best ending a task suited only for the most hardcore of shooter fans, especially when considering the lack of continues.

Beyond the lesser number of levels, Darius Twin is obviously missing one of the series' central gimmick - the multiple screens. This is true for all Darius games going forward (at least until Darius Burst Another Chronicle nearly two decades later). However, compared to the level design in other side-scroller shooters of the early 90s, it still comes across as fairly unimpressive and drab.

The "Twin" in the game's title probably refers to the possibility of simultaneous two-player co-op that it offers, something that, despite being a mainstay of the shooter genre ever since the genre's birth, was something unheard of in the SNES' library at the time. And this, along with the fact that even the most intense boss battles aren't enough to drop the game's silky-smooth gameplay, makes Darius Twin a mildly impressive game for the console's standards. The graphics and sound are average at best, though it does have a decent arrangement of Hyper Great Thing's battle theme from the original Darius.

While the level design has improved ever so slighty - there are a couple levels that autoscroll up and down a la Thunder Force, which sort of makes things more interesting - there are less stages and less paths altogether. And only one final stage? Egh.

Darius Twin (SNES)

Darius Twin (SNES)

Darius Twin (SNES)

Darius Twin (SNES)

Darius Twin (SNES)


<<< Prior Page

Next Page >>>

Page 1:
Darius
Darius II / Sagaia
Darius Twin

Page 2:
Darius Force
Darius Gaiden
G Darius

Page 3:
Darius Burst

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