Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 03.07.2020

Review for Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade on Nintendo Switch

To better understand where the Darius series is coming from, it's important to consider the state of the shmup genre in February 1987, when the first game was released in the arcades. The classic era of single screen shmups like Taito's own Space Invaders, or Namco's Galaga and Galaxian, was over, and even early examples of scrolling shmups like Defender and Xevious or tube shooters like Gyruss were seriously starting to show their age. The Golden era of scrolling shmups initiated by the likes of Gradius in 1985, Salamander in 1986, or R-Type which was looming on the horizon that was the summer of 1987, all heralded a big step forward for the genre. In all of this, Darius fits just as this shift was happening and tried to make its place not so much by revolutionising level design or gameplay cues, but by presenting itself not on a single CRT monitor, or even two... but on three screens sitting side by side. Subsequent games would start to veer more towards single screen display and this shift makes sense when considering console ports of the time, but the Darius series started off that way, for better or for worse - and now, these uncanny classics are making the jump to consoles, for the first time in arcade-perfect form, or as close to it as ever anyway.

It is important to understand that this collection only features really three individual games and that the long list of titles on display are merely different romsets displaying regional differences or gameplay tweaks. The original Darius is then included in three of its releases, Darius II and its western counterpart Sagaia, and then last but certainly not least, Darius Gaiden. The original Darius is the first of those three then. At its core, it is very much a bare-bones horizontal scrolling shmup, with repeating scenery devoid of much in the way of level design where patterns after patterns of the same enemies keep flying towards the player with a boss at the end of each stage to take down. In that sense, Darius didn't do much to revolutionise - the single screen shmup roots of the likes of Galaga can be felt throughout. It distinguished itself by its design philosophy, however, where bosses and much of the overall theme of the game is around sea creatures.

Giant bosses looking like squids or lobsters were quite the sight indeed, and the fact that at the end of each stage the player was given the choice of two routes to reach two different stages à la Outrun, was pretty unique. Darius is also very much a co-op game. Not every shmup under the sun at the time allowed for simultaneous gameplay, so that was quite a feature to have. All in all then, despite its flaws that show more today with hindsight, the original Darius managed to make its mark on the shmup genre, even if it was with quirks that didn't stick with the genre in the long run outside the boundaries of the franchise itself.

As previously stated, this one was displayed on three CRTs in normal "landscape" orientation, giving the overall game display an extra-ultra-wide aspect ratio of 4:1. As one can guess, displaying this at the correct aspect ratio, let alone with a pixel-perfect scale-up on modern HD TVs presents quite a problem. This results, sadly, in what can be seen on the screenshots below. Even with a stretching to fill the 16:9 viewport, and a smoothing filter to avoid any nasty scrolling shimmer due to non-integer scaling, the size of enemy ships and bullets is very tiny, especially on the Switch's handheld screen.

Sadly, nobody can be faulted for this, the original Darius is a weird beast to begin with, and all of its gameplay is built around this aspect ratio, so to release a faithful conversion today, this was the only way to achieve this. It is also possible to stretch the image to fill the whole 16:9 area, but the aspect ratio is then horribly wrong, so this is not recommended. Beyond that, two more versions besides the initial release are included: the "New" version which rebalances difficulty so bosses don't get extra health when the ship's primary weapon is upgraded to lasers as so forth, and then an "Extra Version" which makes the early stages easier, through various tweaks, but it also ups the difficulty of later stages to compensate for the fact that players should reach those with better armament in tow, due to not dying as much early on.

Screenshot for Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade on Nintendo Switch

Darius II is next on the list. This one was also released as a conversion kit for Darius cabinets using three screens, but the versions included here (all three of them), are all based on the two-screen version. Having just outlined the problems that the 4:1 aspect ratio presents for modern 16:9 displays, it's easy to understand why this was the better choice. Generally, the 8:3 aspect ratio of this game more gracefully adapts to 16:9. In this age of ultra-wide PC monitors for gaming, presenting a title in this aspect ratio is not such a foreign concept after all, and Darius II is all the more enjoyable and playable as a result. It also helps that sprites are generally bigger in the sequel, making the action a lot easier to read. The area of the screen covered by the background image is also populated by extra "gadgets" that give the player extra information that the original arcade game wouldn't have given away, such as the time left before a boss flees, its health, as well as the game's difficulty-rank.

Indeed, Darius II, released two years after its predecessor, is a nice upgrade in every way. It is visually more impressive, and in fact better balanced as well. Level design is still not much to write home about, but this is sadly a mainstay of the franchise that individual stages are rarely more than a scrolling background and a few repeating obstacles to mind in the foreground. Nevertheless it's still very enjoyable, especially with two-players, and this is a game that has aged much better. The sea life theme and branching path system is still very much in place, and the weapon upgrade system is made in such a way that permanent upgrades are easier to reach. Other than the basic initial Japanese release of Darius II, two versions of the international port, Sagaia, are included (Versions I and II with not much to report between the two). This one had some stages removed entirely, and branching paths in stages 1, 3 and 5 removed, bringing down the overall amount of stages playable, which means this lacks much of the content of Darius II. This was made to make gameplay loops shorter, and therefore cycle players faster in the arcades to make more money. Difficulty was also increased to compensate for the shorter game. In this reviewer's point of view, the base game is unquestionably better.

Screenshot for Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade on Nintendo Switch

Lastly, only one version of Darius Gaiden is included. This game was released much later, in 1994, and is arguably the best included. It was the first arcade release to feature a single CRT monitor for display, which at a time where the genre was seeing a decline in popularity and had to rely on sales of console ports, made the latter a lot easier when it came to bringing this one to Sony's PlayStation and Sega's Saturn. It is still very much a 2D side-scroller, but with lots of effects to fake a sense of 3D in some places. It also features a lot more variation in the environments visited, and is the first one to have a map of branching levels where no boss gets repeated, and every single level is completely unique, which makes repeated play-throughs a lot more captivating. As old schools shooters go, this one is quite the looker, even if it does not break the mould too much. After all, Konami released Xexex two years prior, and that one was still more impressive. Nevertheless, it is still very pleasing to look at, and the amount of things happening on screen, without sacrificing readability, was impressive in its own right. This is also the time when the series started to show more detailed level designs with less repeating elements, bringing the series more up to speed with the rest of the shmup industry.

The soundtrack, featuring vocal tracks is also a highlight. Darius games tended to have at least good music in general, but here the quality is otherworldly. This is decidedly the turning point where the series started becoming more memorable for its intrinsic quality, and not for being just good games that stood out because of their multi-screen gimmicks and branching paths. Sadly, it is the only one of this calibre included in the collection. Indeed the price of this bundle, given the amount of content when repeats of the same game are taken out, should warrant a bit of extra content, but sadly that wasn't meant to be. There are two more arcade games out there in the franchise, G-Darius and Dariusburst Another Chronicle, the former having been ported to PS1, and the latter being an arcade adaptation of a PSP title. Those two are, sadly, nowhere to be found in here. Admittedly, those two are available in other forms on PS4 where Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade is also available, namely as a PS Classic for the former and as a bona fide PS4 port for the latter. This is however not the case on Switch at all, and besides the package is pricey enough that those two should have been included on both Switch and PS4 anyway.

Screenshot for Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade on Nintendo Switch

Again, like Darius II, the background area of the screen in Darius Gaiden is populated by informative titbits otherwise not available in the base game. It's fantastic to see, short of seeing this updated with new features like M2 does for Sega in its SEGA Ages series. At least all three games feature a training mode, designed to learn the ins and outs of what are otherwise very challenging titles. All these also feature the expected online leaderboard integration, which should reassure fans of arcade style gaming, who are likely to be the main target audience for this package anyway. Save states are also available, thankfully, and screen scaling options are well thought out. It's easy for games of that vintage and nature to not look their best when upscaled for HD displays, especially when dealing with funky or exotic releases such as these, but in this case, M2 delivered its expected level of quality.

For all the complaints towards lack of content in this collection in relation to the price, at least the release in the west has the merit to not be quite as messy as what Japan got initially. At least here, arcade games and console games are released separately as clear and comprehensive SKUs, and the console games are not relegated as exclusives part of the priciest of the retail options, so those who only want either of those releases, Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade or Darius Cozmic Collection Console, can make their choice. Still, even if it sounds like hammering the same subject again and again, this collection would prove much more valuable if it was priced more sensibly. SEGA Ages releases feature extra content, and are comparatively much cheaper "per-game," while still featuring alternate releases as in-game options. Everything is great about this collection, except this: pricing. This being literally the biggest point of contention after missing games, it really had to be hammered in.

Screenshot for Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

All three games available in Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade, in all of their included versions, are well worth playing for any fan of shoot 'em ups out there. Those are the best ports anyone could hope for, and there is nothing wrong with them in their own right. The fact that running them on a home arcade cabinet is practically impossible because of the multi-monitor nature of the first two games included, makes this collection very desirable indeed for the sake of preservation alone. The price of admission, however, is pretty steep if one considers that only three games are truly included - no matter how great they are, and that the first neither has aged particularly well, nor is comfortable to play on modern 16:9 displays. G-Darius and Dariusburst Another Chronicle are sorely missing from this compilation, to the point of being outrageous. A very good collection then, just not priced very sensibly.

Review Copy provided by Taito Corporation

Developer

M2

Publisher

Taito

Genre

Shooter

Players

2

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

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    Also on Also on Nintendo eShop

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