If you’re a fan of shoot ’em ups, you should be familiar with the Darius series.
Appearing in arcades in 1987, the original Darius wowed gamers with its three-screen setup along with non-linear level design and multiple endings. Multiple sequels and home console ports followed, all retaining its core elements while also throwing in the odd new feature.
Getting hold of many of the Darius games has been a challenge for quite a while, especially if you’re not made of money. That’s why shoot ’em fans will perhaps be overjoyed to hear that not one but two Darius collections are now available. One bundles up a number of arcade releases, the other ports and sequels that were released on home consoles.
“With M2 in charge of the emulation, you can rest assured that they’re all presented respectfully”
At £44.99/$59.99, Darius Cozmic Collection Console is the more expensive of the two, but it also features the most games. It has the Japanese version of Darius II released on SEGA Mega Drive, the US Genesis and EU Master System versions of SAGAIA, the US SNES and JP Super Famicom versions of Darius Twin, the JP Super Famicom version of Darius Force, the US SNES version of Super Nova, and the JP PC Engine versions of both Darius Plus and Darius Alpha.
It all sounds impressive until you realise that a lot of those games are essentially the same. SAGAIA is simply the western version of Darius II, for example, with just some regional tweaks and balance changes. Super Nova is the western version of Darius Force. And Darius Alpha is a cut-down version of Darius Plus featuring just the bosses. Curiously, Super Darius, which Darius Plus is derived from, isn’t included in this collection. It’s a shame, as it features more bosses.
“It’s the non-linear structure of the Darius series that makes it stand out”
Ultimately then, Darius Cozmic Collection Console features just four games: Darius Plus, Darius II, Darius Twin, and Darius Force. Thankfully they’re all good, and with M2 in charge of the emulation, you can rest assured that they’re all presented respectfully. It’s perhaps Darius Twin and Darius Force that are the most interesting games here, having been made specifically for console. Darius Twin is notable for its changes to the power-up system, allowing players to keep their upgrades even when dying. Darius Force, on the other hand, lets players choose from multiple ships, called Silver Hawks.
Whichever game you play, the gameplay remains pretty much the same. The screen scrolls from left to right, enemies appear from both the front and the rear, and it’s your job to shoot them down while avoiding their attacks. Along the way, there are power-ups to collect that improve either your primary weapon or secondary weapon, or create a shield around you, negating a number of hits. And at the end of each stage, you face off against a powerful fishy boss. That’s right: for some reason, all the bosses in Darius games are based on aquatic creatures.
It’s the non-linear structure of the Darius series that makes it stand out in the genre. When you complete a stage, you’re given multiple choices as to which one to tackle next. That means there’s plenty of replayablity, with multiple endings to discover. These games are as tough as nails, however, so don’t go expecting to complete them all in a heartbeat unless you’re a shoot ’em up master. Though this collection at least throws you a lifeline.
Like with most retro collections, Darius Cozmic Collection Console allows you to make use of save states. You can also tweak the parameters of many of the games, making them a little easier by changing things like how frequently you acquire extra lives, and enabling rapid fire. That’s in addition to each game’s built-in difficulty options. Players will also be happy to find that they can remap the controls, change the screen size, and apply various filters to make the visuals a bit more pleasing to their eyes.
“Darius Cozmic Collection Console is a niche title that will thrill the people it needs to thrill”
Coming without any superfluous but value-adding features like a museum or sound player, Darius Cozmic Collection Console may appear to be overpriced to many. It’s a valid criticism; there are many great shoot ’em ups available on PS4 and Switch for a fraction of the price. For those who want a collection of Darius games they can easily access, however, it represents great value for money. Some of the titles included fetch a fortune on second-hand sites such as eBay.
Darius Cozmic Collection Console is a niche title that will thrill the people it needs to thrill. Meanwhile, the casual crowd will rightly scoff at its price. There’s nothing wrong with this collection apart from that it’s a bit by-the-book, though as a collection of Darius games released on console, you could take the absence of Super Darius and 2009’s PSP exclusive Dariusburst to task. Still, if you aren’t averse to spending a considerable bit of dough to acquire some of the best shoot ’em ups ever made, consider picking it up.