Darius (Arcade) Review

By Gabriel Jones 24.02.2017

Review for Darius on Arcade

Nobody really knows what Belsar is. Is it an alien battalion, a nation hellbent on interplanetary conquest, or a purely destructive force of nature? Whatever the case, its destructive capabilities can't be underestimated. Tiat and Proco of the Silver Hawk Squadron are the last hope of the planet Darius. It's unlikely that they'll survive this mission, for it involves fighting off Belsar's armada. Well, if worst comes to worst, hopefully their noble sacrifice is remembered.

Released back in 1987, Taito's Darius drew a lot of attention. It probably had something to do with its large cabinet, which housed three screens. In order to achieve a seamless effect, two of the monitors - the first and last third - are placed in the bottom of the cabinet facing upwards. Their displays are reflected into view using a one-way mirror. The monitor in the centre is the only one that's actually facing the player. It's an illusion sure, but a very clever one. It highlights the inspired techniques arcade developers implemented in order to share their visions.

Seeing as how this game is a 2D shooter, one would expect the extra real estate to be a boon. After all, it's common for players to stay near the left side or bottom of the screen, giving them as much time as necessary to react to enemy ships and their bullets. With this game, however, that strategy does more harm than good. At first, the Silver Hawk is limited to having four shots on-screen at a time. This means that no matter how much the player mashes the fire button, they have to wait for one of those four shots to leave the screen or hit an object in order for another to be fired. Thus, it's better to stay close to the centre or even the right side of the screen.

Screenshot for Darius on Arcade

Unlike almost every other STG in existence, the Darius series blesses the player-ship "Silver Hawk" with a shield. Yes, there is a hyper-futuristic legendary prototype that actually takes basic defensive capabilities into consideration. Shields are awarded via power-ups, and allow the ship to take multiple hits. The thing to keep in mind is that since shields are so common, situations where the player is without protection are pretty rare, and that usually means destruction isn't far behind.

It's entirely possible to dodge everything until another shield power-up makes an appearance, but players tend to find themselves mentally shaken when their shielding is gone. It's interesting, considering that anyone familiar with the genre should be used to their ships being destroyed by a single bullet. Perhaps it's a matter of comfort. Some people are used to gliding effortlessly through a sea of bullets, but it's that one shot from out of nowhere that keeps them awake at night.

The large playfield and presence of shields makes for a rather intricate game. Essentially, pilots are expected to take on both an offensive and defensive position. As mentioned earlier, they'll want to stay towards the right of the screen, so they can effectively wipe out the opposition. However, as the enemy swarms continue their assault, the Silver Hawk will get pushed back. The pilot's offensive opportunities diminish due to the ship's shot limitation, and more enemies get an opportunity to attack. It takes a skilled pilot to escape these dangerous situations and resume the offensive, before their shields fall and they become vulnerable.

Screenshot for Darius on Arcade

Other power-ups increase the strength of the Silver Hawk's cannons and bombs, so it's important to collect as many as possible. However, there are a couple factors worth noting. As the cannons power up, they can actually put five shots on-screen at once. Naturally, this is a major boon. Unfortunately, five slips back to four when the cannons reach the next level of power. Furthermore, it can take a little while to adjust to the damage capabilities of the higher-level weapons. The second level lasers seemingly aren't as effective as bullets every ship starts off with, but the wave shot - obtained at the highest cannon level - is pretty much essential to completing the game.

One of the other aspects that set the Darius series apart from other STGs is its level structure. This game is divided into 28 zones, though pilots only have to survive seven of them to win the game. This is accomplished via a branching path system. Everyone starts at zone A. Upon defeating the boss, they can choose to go to zone B or C. The lower routes tend to be more difficult, so anyone seeking an easier time should stay near the top. Although the game has a massive number of zones, they typically aren't very complex, unique, or throw any curveballs in the form of "gimmicks". Basically, zones consist of enemies and walls. There isn't going to be the one zone that features lasers that fire from out of view or a vortex that suddenly destroys any ships that float towards the left screen. It's basic, but it's also consistent, and that's good.

Screenshot for Darius on Arcade

"Basic and consistent" also applies to the bosses. These aquatic-themed battleships stick to simple yet constant patterns. In the face of such an unrelenting assault, it's important to establish a rhythm. However, the Silver Hawk can't stay on the defensive for too long, because enemy satellites will appear and start to overwhelm the ship. One of the bosses, "Fatty Glutton," can be especially aggravating due to its unique weapon. It fires smaller fish that explode into spread shots, when they get close. They must be dealt with immediately, which requires careful aim. Oh, and due to this game having checkpoints, deaths at bosses are extremely punishing. If the player can't defeat a boss when they have full shields, how do they expect to win with no shields at all?

The checkpoint system seems more like a product of its era than an actual part of the game's design. Even if the player has a few lives in stock, a single death in the wrong place can all but ruin their chances of winning. The level of difficulty is overall a bit uneven, if players can surpass the roadblock that is Fatty Glutton, they have a very good chance of reaching the final boss. Despite this issue, Darius never really feels easy. There are never any points where the action just stops for several seconds at a time. The action is constant and pretty satisfying.

The appeal of this game, besides its solid game design and mechanics, can be found in the wonderful soundtrack. Hisayoshi Ogura aka "OGR" composed the music for most of the Darius games. In this entry, he showcases a sound that meshes well with the on-screen action. The vibe is experimental and chaotic, but also melodious. It definitely stands out compared to other shooters of the mid-80s. As it's been said many times before, a good soundtrack can elevate a game, and it certainly applies here.

Screenshot for Darius on Arcade

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

Like the beginning of any other series, Darius marks the humble beginnings. It establishes the core rules that future titles will follow, while still remaining distinct and playable. The balance between offensive and defensive play is really inspired. There are some aspects that feel a little dated, like the checkpoint system, but this is a game that can still be enjoyed today. It doesn't take hours of play time to figure out how everything works, and there are enough nuances for the skilled players to appreciate. In conclusion, this game has aged quite nicely over the past thirty years.

Developer

Taito

Publisher

Taito

Genre

Shooter

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date None   North America release date None   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date None   

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