Amidst the clutter of arcade shooters in the late 80s, companies needed to make their games stand out in someway. Simply flying a ship into outer space simply wasn't going to cut it anymore. Taito had an idea. Yes, there was still a spaceship. And yeah, that "outer space" part was still there too. But instead of the usual aliens, you fought fish.

Yes, fish.

Not even 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, and other undersea variations out for your blood as well.

The requisite plot is about the people of the planet Darius, who are being terrorized by said intergalatic fish. Only the heroic pilots Proco Jr and Tiat Young can save the day. The constant star of the Darius series is the Silver Hawk. Much like Gradius, it has a primary, forward firing weapon, along with bombs that can be used to attack vertically, and the usual shield.

The arcade game Darius games also used a unique system that attached three monitors together to create one massive horizontal playing field (also used in Taito's Ninja Warriors.) Naturally, this couldn't quite be replicated on the console system, so that nifty little gimmick is lost, but emulators can still replicate the dimensions of the screen, even if you end up looking at a tiny picture.

Looking to further set itself apart from the crow, every Darius game has multiple levels, with several branching paths throughout the game. It adds tremendously to the replay value, especially since there are usual multiple endings, depending on which final zone you end up at. Unfortunately, it's at this point where the game begins to fall apart, as most of the Darius games adhere to the "quantity over quality" mantra. The levels, quite simply, are dull. The first several Darius games are really quite bland, lacking any interesting really interesting gameplay, and they just come off as gimmicky, mediocre shooters. It's not until the 32-bit titles (Darius Gaiden and G Darius) does the series really become more than just a wacky concept.

Darius Plus

Darius Twin

Darius Gaiden


G Darius

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". And every Darius game since the second have the stage intro warning: "Zone is over. We are now rushing into *next level*. Be on your guard!"

Darius R

Darius - Arcade (1988)

Darius Arcade

Darius Arcade

Darius Arcade

The original Darius wowed arcade goers simply by the freaking huge screen. Unfortunately, that's about all the game really had going for it. While far from terrible, Darius is pretty much the epitome of "average". The level designs in particular reeks of dullness - the beginning, middle, and end of a given stage all consist of the same graphics, same enemies, same pretty much everything. The action isn't particularly intense either, even though it manages to be a reasonably difficult game. The power-up system also requires more effort than practically any game in the genre - there are colored orbs that let you upgrade your main gun, bombs or shield, but each one only increases its power by a tiny bit. When you collect seven of them, you'll finally upgrade to the next level, granting you lasers and whatnot, but this is an extremely difficult task. Get killed and you'll lose all of your power orbs on that level, and seeing that these orbs are in dreadfully short supply, you'll spend a vast majority of the game in an extremely weak state. The point seems to be that you need to work in order to make your ship into a killing machine, but it doesn't pan out at all. The only interesting parts are the boss battles, not only in their design, but the fact that they're enough to jolt you out the coma the rest of the game will have undoubtedly placed you in. In summation, as you have guessed, Darius has not aged well.

MP3s

Captain Neo
Cosmic Airway

Darius Arcade Flyer

While most of the endings are pretty boring (variations of the ships escaping/landing/etc.), one particularly goofy one shows you, the player, cheering victory after having beat the game.

Ports:
Darius Plus/Super Darius (Japan) - PC Engine/PC Engine Duo (1990)

Japanese Super Darius Cover

Darius Plus

Darius Plus

The first real port of Darius came out for the PC Engine in Japan, under the name Darius Plus. While the graphics obviously had to be scaled down a bit to fit on the TV screen, it actually works out pretty well, although the backgrounds don't look particularly pretty that zoomed in. There's no two player mode, but you resurrect right where you die. Darius Plus is also the only card released in Japan that has dual compatibility with the PC Engine and Supergrafx. While the game is laden with flicker and slowdown on the regular system, plugging it into a Supergrafx will eliminate most of this.

Not long after Darius Plus came out, Taito also released Super Darius for the Super CD System. It's the exact same game, only it uses redbook audio in place of the chip's rather weak soundtrack. Unfortunately, instead of including arranged music, it's all music straight from the arcade game. Major wasted opportunity.

Finally, the most prestigious of the Darius releases is Darius Alpha. Created as a promotional item and in vastly limited quantities, Darius Alpha was simply a boss rush, where you'd fight all of the bosses one after another until you lost all of your lives, getting powered up in between encounters. If you're wondering whether you should spend money on this - for the love of God, don't.

Darius Plus

Darius Plus


Darius R - Gameboy Advance (2001)

GBA Cover

Darius R

Darius R

Darius hit the Gameboy Advance in 2001 in Japan (the "R" stands for "Revival"), but instead of being a whole new game, it's really just a half-port of the original Darius game. The graphics are mostly the same, having been smoothed over a bit, but approximately half of the levels have been plain cut from the game. The music has been changed to include songs from all throughout the Darius series, which is probably the best thing this title has going for it.

But the most frustrating thing is that this, being a pretty close port, fixes none of the problems of the original game. The designers of the later games obviously realized the flaws in the power-up system, and they slightly revised it by requiring less orbs to power-up, but it's still aggravating. Why did they keep this? For a "pure" gaming experience? What's more is that the game's proportions just feel out of whack on the Gameboy Advance screen - bosses are so large there's sometimes no room to maneuver, and dodging bullets with your gigantic craft is harder than it needs to be. This one really isn't worth it - hit up Gradius Galaxies or Iridion 2 if you want a decent GBA shooter.

Darius R

All of the music in Darius is composed by Taito's inhouse musical group, Zuntata. While the earlier games are mostly the usual video game fare, it's the later games where Zuntata show their style. Darius Gaiden and G Darius sound like a mixture of new age ambiance and techno. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's "good," but it's definitely different, and adds a bit of weird distinction to already weird game series. Other games they're notable for composing are the Raystorm series (another shooter series from Taito), Bust a Move/Puzzle Bobble, and Ninja Warriors.

During the 90s Zuntata put on several life concerts, of which CDs were released. Here's a few samples from the Darius games.

Adam
Captain Neo

Zuntata from 1992 Live CD

Darius 2 - Arcade (1989)

Darius 2 Arcade

Darius 2 Arcade

Darius 2 Arcade

Darius 2 Arcade (two screen)

Not much has changed in Darius 2 - it still uses the same wide screen format (although some versions were released in Japan using two screens), with the same lethargic gameplay. There are little enhancements here and there, that at least make everything a little bit better. It's much easier to upgrade your weapons, fixing the biggest problem with the original, although the stages still lack flair. And there's now a map in between levels you let you pick where you go, instead of taking a fork in the stage. So while it's definitely a better game, it's not by a huge margin. The opening victory cry - "I've always wanted a thing called tuna sashimi!" - is pretty much worth playing the game at least once. Or, just download the MP3 below, it's on there too.

MP3s

Olga Breeze - Level 1

Darius 2 Arcade Flyer

Sagaia

Darius 2 also had a wacky joke ending where your pilot gets woken up by his mother - that the game was just all a dream before he goes off to school. The more amusing ending is where Proco and Tiat return to their planet, only to find that thousands of years have passed in their presence and everything they were fighting for has been wiped out - a plot device surely stolen from thousands of sci-fi stories.
Sagaia

Ports:
Sagaia/Darius 2 (Japan) - Genesis/Sega Master System (1990)

European SMS Cover

Japanese Mega Drive Cover

Sagaia (Genesis)

For some strange reason, Darius 2 was changed to Sagaia outside of Japan. Most people are probably familiar with the Genesis port, which was quite good. The graphics obviously suffer a little bit, as does the music (and no more goofy take-off sound bite), but otherwise it makes the transition quite nicely.

Sagaia also made it to the Sega Master System in Europe - and also pulls off 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.

Sagaia (Genesis)

Sagaia SMS

Sagaia SMS

Sagaia SMS


Sagaia - Gameboy (1991)

Title Screen

Sagaia GB

Sagaia GB

Despite what the title suggests, this isn't a Gameboy port of Darius 2. Rather, it's a semi-new game combining elements of Darius 1 and 2 into something somewhat unique (Konami did the same thing with their Nemesis game for the Gameboy.) The ability to set up to nine lives is nice, as well as the autofire options. There's no level selection, but otherwise for an early Gameboy shooter, it ain't too bad.

Sagaia GB

Super Darius 2 - PC Engine Super CD (1993) / Darius 2 - Saturn (1995)

Super Darius 2 Japanese Cover

Darius 2 Saturn Japanese Cover

Super Darius 2

Another port of Darius 2 hit the PC Engine Super CD. It's much like the Genesis version, except it looks much nicer. However, far and away the biggest advantage is the soundtrack. Ditching the usual Zuntata weirdness, Super Darius 2 is full of rocking, guitar-driven music that flat out rules. It's hands-down the best Darius soundtrack. The only other change is an Easy mode that lets you keep all of your weapons after getting killed. While the opening speech is once again missing, this is probably the best version to go after. Alas, it's rather difficult to come across.

MP3s

Super Darius 2 - Jamming
Super Darius 2 - Olga Breeze

On another note, Darius 2 was also ported to the Saturn in 1996, and came out in both Japan and Europe. It's mostly arcade perfect, even with an option to zoom out the playing area to emulate the super widescreen of the arcade version. Unfortunately, it eschews the awesome PC Engine CD version soundtrack, and instead uses the original music (as redbook audio on the CD, no less.)

Super Darius 2

Super Darius 2

Screenshot Comparisons - Darius 2:

Arcade

PC Engine CD

Genesis

Sega Master

Darius Twin - SNES (1991)

Japanese Cover

Darius Twin

Darius Twin

Darius made its way to its first home incarnation in Darius Twin for the SNES. For the most part, not much has changed. Everything's a little easier this time around, being that you keep all of your weapons after dying. But it's not like you're given all that much of an opportunity to use them. The enemies float onto the screen with a noticeable lack of gusto, as if they don't care that you're trying to kill them, without putting up much of a challenge. Just like the other two games, intensity is pretty much lacking. The two-player mode from the arcade games is present (perhaps that's what the "Twin" of the title is bragging about) but overall the graphics pretty crappy for a Super Nintendo. The music sounds extremely similar to the Mega Man X games, and other than one or two decent songs, somehow still manages to suck anyway.

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.

MP3s

Level 1

Darius Twin

Darius Twin

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