Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade an Console review – packed to the gills

Fish-obsessed 2D shooter series Darius gets two separate compilations, one of which features one of the rarest video games ever made…

2020 might not be good for much else, but it has provided plenty for fans of obscure 2D shooters to get excited about, with the recent PC Engine Mini being absolutely jam-packed full of them. Then there was the Psikyo Shooting Stars Alpha and Bravo compilations from earlier in the year, which featured a number of excellent vertically scrolling shooters that most people have probably never heard of.

If you know your retro games you’re more likely to have heard of Darius though, which is famous (relatively speaking) for the fact that the enemies are always robotic fish and other sea creatures and that the original arcade game used an unusual three-screen set-up to create an ultra-wide view of the action. The games also have some wonderfully unique soundtracks, that together with the strange visuals help to give the series a peculiarly distinct atmosphere.

Darius was always an extremely rare sight in UK arcades though and none of the home versions ever made much of an impact in the West. And unfortunately, much like 2015’s Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours, the problem with being able to play the games nowadays is not so much their availability but their price. These two compilations are extremely expensive and while they have some surprising inclusions, they also have some disappointing omissions…


Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade review

The very first Darius game was released in Japanese arcades in early 1987 and this compilation includes three versions of that original game, plus three versions of Darius 2 (alternatively known as SAGAIA) and just one of Darius Gaiden. That’s all of the old school entries in the series but it doesn’t include 1997 revival G-Darius or the previously mentioned Dariusburst – which although it started on PSP did eventually become an arcade game and represents the most recent entry in the franchise.

Although the three-screen approach certainly turned heads, the first Darius is somewhat controversial in fan circles, as while the boss encounters are fun, and still graphically impressive, the design of everything in between them tends to be much more mundane.

You’d think maybe the three-screen display would be perfect for the Switch but the screen is still nowhere near wide enough to comfortably fit everything on without needing a magnifying glass. Unfortunately, the only way to play in fullscreen mode involves squashing the image so much that it looks like the game’s been put in a vice, but it remains surprisingly playable even so.

By the time of Darius 2 the number of screens has been reduced to two (the game mentions a three-screen version did exist, but unless it’s some kind of unlockable it’s not included as an option) and by the time of Darius Gaiden it was just a normal single-screen game.

But while the technical gimmicks slowly disappeared over time the games themselves consistently got better, evolving the series into an unusually fast-paced and hectic style of shooter that nevertheless remains surprisingly accessible and, within the standards of the genre, fairly forgiving for non-hardcore players. Missiles, bombs, and shields can be upgraded by collecting dropped power-ups, with the latter allowing you to avoid some of what would otherwise be one-hit kills.

Darius Gaiden is especially enjoyable, with its almost surreal visuals and a fantastic soundtrack that sounds like it blasted in from a role-playing game or anime. Bullet hell had only just become a thing in 1994 and Darius Gaiden can’t quite be classified as that, but it has similarly frenetic pace and its visuals can still be surprisingly impressive.

All of the games have an unusual branching structure, similar to OutRun, which adds a great sense of exploration to your progress and means you can avoid stages and bosses you’re not very good at. And while some of the differences between the different versions are fairly trivial others are not, with Darius 2 and SAGAIA almost feeling like separate games.

That doesn’t make the absence of G-Darius any less strange though, especially as it’s not easily available anywhere else. It was the first game to use polygonal graphics rather than sprites but really, if you’re going to make a console compilation and leave out what is arguably the best entry then it’s hard not to see that as a missed opportunity.

Score: 7/10

Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and PlayStation 4
Price: £34.99
Publisher: ININ Games
Developer: M2 and Taito
Release Date: 16th June 2020
Age Rating: 7


Darius Cozmic Collection Console review

Although it’s even more expensive than the arcade compilation, the console equivalent does have a greater number of games. Although many of them are direct conversions of an arcade game (there are three versions of Darius 2/SAGAIA for the Mega Drive and Master System) and most of the others still borrow heavily from them.

SNES game Darius Twin introduces a new power-up system that, unusually for any 2D shooter, doesn’t disappear completely when you die. It’s still closely based on SAGAIA though and very repetitive even outside the context of these compilations, although it does have a simultaneous two-player mode.

Darius Force – known as Super Nova in the US but never released in Europe – is the best of the bunch, with the option of choosing between one of three ship types at the beginning and enemies that aren’t just based on sea animals but also include everything from dinosaurs to Gradius style giant bacteria. That does lose something of what makes Darius so unique but at least it’s an attempt to expand the franchise’s scope; it’s just a shame it’s so ruthlessly difficult from the very start.

Darius Plus on the PC Engine is back to just being a variation of one of the arcade games – the first one in this instance – although as the compilation itself admits this is really just a downgraded version of Super Darius, which is one of the games on the PC Engine Mini. Neither it or its sequel are included here though, which is disappointing.

Instead, space has been found for Darius Alpha, which is one of the rarest commercially produced video games ever. Only 800 were made for a promotion in Japan, although the game itself is just a boss rush mode of Darius Plus.

Given the price and the fact that the compilation still isn’t completely comprehensive this is a hard sell for all but the most obsessive Darius fans and we’re really not sure how many of them there are in the world.

It’s still nice to see the franchise hasn’t been forgotten, but with so many variations on the same games, across both compilations, it’s clear that if Darius is to have any kind of future it has to concentrate on new games, not old ones.

Score: 5/10

Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and PlayStation 4
Price: £44.99
Publisher: ININ Games
Developer: M2 and Taito
Release Date: 16th June 2020
Age Rating: 7

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