Darius II (Arcade) Review

By Gabriel Jones 24.02.2017

Review for Darius II on Arcade

Hundreds of years after the events of Darius, the remnants of civilisation moved to a distant world known as Olga. Unfortunately, the intergalactic evil entity Belsar is the sorest loser in the galaxy. Rather than accept its defeat at the proverbial hands of the Silver Hawk Squadron, Belsar has arrived at Olga, determined to crush humanity once and for all. Darius II follows the exploits of Proco Jr. and Tiat Young, descendants of the ace pilots that saved mankind centuries ago.

Released in 1989, Darius II appropriately follows the formula established in the previous game. The Silver Hawk must blaze a path of destruction through Belsar's considerable forces. Over the course of seven zones, pilots will have to contend with new enemies, a myriad of traps, and impressive bosses that defy explanation. Perhaps this is the reason why most of the enemies in Darius games have nonsensical names. It's not like there has been any intelligence on Belsar's armada. When they approach the massive (and bizarre) battleships, the pilots probably just blurt out the first two words that come to mind. Hence names such as "Hyper Sting", "Alloy Lantern", and "Mother Hawk".

Unlike its predecessor, this game was designed with two screens in mind. There is a three-screen version, but it was created mostly to benefit arcade operators, who didn't want to throw out their old cabinets for the sequel. Also, there are a couple gameplay differences between the two versions. For example, in the two-screen version, power-ups float downwards when they appear, rather than upwards in the other version. It's a minor detail, sure, but when it comes to STGs, survival is dependent on the minor details.

Screenshot for Darius II on Arcade

One aspect that has become more prominent as the series progressed is the ending, or rather, the endings. Since there are multiple routes and final bosses, it only makes sense that there are multiple conclusions to the story. Granted, these endings are still single-screen affairs that mostly rely on badly translated text, but they offer a bit of insight into the universe. Not only do they present something besides "the pilots saved the universe and destroyed all the baddies", they push boundaries that were never even considered. A number of endings are poignant; a couple even break the fourth wall.

In many ways, Darius II improves on the original. The graphics and sound have received quite an upgrade. The visuals are more distinct, with livelier backgrounds and more impressive enemies. The composer Ogura outdoes his previous work by a wide margin. Stand out tracks such as the first zone's "Olga Breeze" really set the tone for an exciting shoot 'em up. Overall, the presentation is just stunning.

The levels are far more intricate, utilising obstacles beyond mere enemies and walls. Mid-bosses will also make regular appearances. It's notable that these foes were originally bosses from the previous game. The zones have more pronounced differences between one another, rather than just slightly more ships and bullets to contend with. The opposition is also a bit more creative in the ways they ensure the Silver Hawk's destruction. New enemy types are commonplace.

Screenshot for Darius II on Arcade

Boss battles, a trademark element of the series, have undergone a serious overhaul. Now, many of the bosses have multiple patterns and methods of attack, rather than just float about, and fire the same set of projectiles over and over. Some of the battleships have an additional form, and require a bit more finesse in order to effectively destroy. The "Red Crab" scuttles across the ground while spewing bullets. It's in the pilot's best interest to shoot out its legs. Since bosses can move between both sides of the screen, the Silver Hawk will automatically turn to face its rival. This makes for encounters that are more dynamic and interesting.

However, despite being an improvement in every practical way, the second game actually turns out to be worse than its predecessor. How is that possible? Well, it's simply because this sequel is a nightmare that causes teeth to gnash, expletives to form, and fists to fly. The following design decisions have led to the creation of a shmup that just wants to be hated.

The weapon system is a severe downgrade. When fully powered, the Silver Hawk is nigh untouchable. There's a phrase that goes with this level of power known as "How could you ever die?" Basically, if a ship is firing bullets out of every orifice and melts everything on sight in seconds, then the pilot would have to make a monumental error in order to lose. Furthermore, the shield system is retained from the prequel. Shields also stack, so grab as many as possible.

Screenshot for Darius II on Arcade

The amazing arsenal and shields make for a 2D shooter that's nearly impossible to lose at. Unfortunately, now that the game has given seemingly every advantage to the player, it has to employ the nuclear option to retain a semblance of balance. Thus, if the player loses a ship, they might as well just turn around and walk away from the arcade machine. What happens is that all of those precious power-ups are lost to the ether. The Silver Hawk, without its superb weaponry, is quickly overwhelmed by insurmountable odds.

It's laughable really. Unlike most other shmups, extra lives are pretty common here. There are at least two hidden 1ups in every route, and a few more are awarded via score. However, once that first life is lost, the only purpose the rest serve is to delay the inevitable, because they will be gobbled up like Pac-Man to dots. The weapon system is so integral to survival that missing a single power-up is the equivalent of a game over.

There are numerous other issues. Zone E features a horrendous orange background that is superb at hiding enemy bullets. Several zones rely on cheap enemy placements, such as laser cannons behind rock outcroppings in Zone L. This is especially annoying because shortly beforehand, the Silver Hawk obtains missiles that travel across the ground, but they still can't hit those cannons. The second mid-boss is extremely hard to destroy for whatever reason. After enough practice, much of what happens in the game is inconsequential. The only dangerous parts are the three or four moments in each route, that are specifically designed to destroy the player's first ship.

Screenshot for Darius II on Arcade

Cubed3 Rating

3/10
Rated 3 out of 10

Bad

The major failing of Darius II is that it eschews a clear and consistent vision for a lot of meaningless flair. There are a handful of brilliant boss fights and clever zones, but they're lost due to level designs that are either ineffective or absolutely insane, depending on whether the Silver Hawk has any power-ups. Balancing difficulty is an arduous task, but that's no excuse for relying on shortcuts. If the weapons are too powerful, make them less so, but the player should always have a chance to recover. It's too bad, really; with enough tweaks, this game could have been something other than a disappointment.

Developer

Taito

Publisher

Taito

Genre

Shooter

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  3/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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