When Taito released Space Invaders in 1978, it triggered a cultural earthquake that changed the face of gaming as it was known. That game in particular would shape the “Shoot ‘Em Up” ( “shmup” or STG for short) genre, a veritable grandfather to thousands of games that would follow in it’s wake.
Taito themselves would release many STGs over the years, and while some have been obscured by the passage of time, others did enough to stand out and retain their popularity through today. One of those franchises is Darius. Released in 1986 to arcades, Darius put the player into the seat of a “Silver Hawk” starfighter, battling robotic fish creatures in exotic sci-fi environments.
It came with a number of influential features to make for a distinctive game: binary tree branch level select, a staggered power-up system for your main gun as well as your bombs & shields, a boss warning alarm and an incredible synth soundtrack produced by Taito’s in-house band Zuntata. The game also incorporated certain elements that made it difficult to properly translate over to the home console side, such as an ultra-wide display made using angled glass and three CRT monitors.
To celebrate the legacy that the game has given to gamers over the decades, Taito has recently released the Darius Cozmic Collection for the Nintendo Switch & PlayStation 4. Released in separate collections, one for arcades and another for the console editions, this collection is a veritable love letter to the series for fans. The Arcade Collection allows you to properly enjoy the original arcade classics: Darius, Darius II (Sagaia in the US), and Darius Gaiden; Along with distinctive (but official) variations. This does feel a little bit like padding it out, but if you’re a fan who likes to explore such variations, there’s nothing to complain about. One of them, Sagaia Ver. 2, is rare enough to the point that it is looked at like a prototype. I do wish that they would have included the more obscure G-Darius from 1997, but that will be rectified later this year when Taito launches the Darius Cozmic Revelation.
The Console Collection is focused solely on Darius ports to consoles. As mentioned previously, certain changes and sacrifices had to be made to bring the series to the consoles of the ‘80s & ‘90s, enough so that these titles were more sequels than they were straight ports. In some instances like Darius Twin & Darius Force, they really were wholly original entries. Included in this collection are: Darius II (Mega Drive), Sagaia (Sega Genesis), Sagaia (Sega Master System), Darius Twin (both Super Famicom & SNES editions), Darius Force (Super Famicom), Super Nova (SNES), the extremely rare Darius Alpha (PC Engine), and Darius Plus (PCE).
Both collections were developed by M2, thus carrying the quality in emulation and extra features that M2 is known for. By what I can tell, emulation is perfect, so that all you’d need for that arcade experience is to plug it into an ultra-widescreen cabinet. Both collections feature two modes that you can play the games in: Normal or Trainer/Special; Console versions might be slightly easier, but if you haven’t played these kinds of games in a while, you’ll need to give it some practice regardless.
The available options are a nice touch; In both editions, you can adjust the screen in a few different ways to manipulate the size and appearance of the image (smoothing & scanlines available for the latter). You can also save progress and see where you stand on the worldwide leaderboards. You can also upload/download replay data, allowing you to watch some impressive runs among the top players. Don’t let that discourage you though – use it to better learn the game!
I have been playing this on the Nintendo Switch, where the Arcade Collection makes occasional use of the HD Rumble feature. It is only used during the boss battles on the first two games, being oddly absent in Darius Gaiden. The effect is ok, but all it seems to do is constantly shake the controller like you are feeling he rumble of the boss in the vicinity. This seems to be a way to try and recreate the bass sound integrated into the arcade versions that would cause the entire cabinet to rumble, but that would occur for every bassy explosion. This is one place where they could have expanded on, but it’s not big deal.
Overall I’d give both the Arcade & Console Collections two thumbs up. Recommending it for Darius fans goes without saying, but it’s also worth it if you enjoy STGs in general, or if you are the type of gamer that seeks out challenges to hone your gaming skills.