Darius Gaiden

Darius Gaiden
Game Name: Darius Gaiden
Media: 1 CD-ROM
Publisher(s): Acclaim
Developer(s): Taito
Genre(s): Classic Shooter
Release Date: 1996
Serial Number: T-8123H-50
Region: PAL

Darius Gaiden is one of the 3 excellent 2D shooters that are available in PAL format. The Darius series of games are horizontal 2D shooters with a couple of distinctive features:

Darius Gaiden Title Screenshot

Firstly there is the aquatic theme – the bosses of these games take the form of different aquatic mechanised creatures.

Secondly there is the level branching structure – The levels in Darius are laid out in a pyramid shape; the player starting at the apex of it and then selecting one of two available levels after completing each level to progress to one of many different endings (not unlike level progression in the classic driving game Outrun).

Darius Gaiden is one of the best in the series and it has all of the usual shooting game features. Certain enemies leave powerups behind that when picked up increase the firepower of your ship which fires horizontal lazers and also drops bombs; the colour of the powerup dictating which element of your firepower gets intensified.

Some powerups give your ship with a shield while others award the player with a smart bomb, extra life or just a large point bonus.

Darius Gaiden Opening Sequence Screenshot

The graphics are excellent – the smart bomb (called a black hole bomb) being a particular highlight. When it is activated it creates a vortex into which everything is drawn (except for bosses), including any bullets – it then evaporates with a flurry of damage dealing streaks of lightning.

Each level has plenty of enemies and bullets flying around with no discernable slowdown and while it isn’t a “bullet hell” shooter, it certainly isn’t that far from it – your shield and black hole bombs are usually required at some point if you want to get through a later level without losing a life. Having said that I can remember seeing videos of hotshots completing this game without using the bombs – a challenge for the hardcore only though. Control is slick and there are no cheap deaths in this game though some of the bosses throw surprises at you that can probably only be dealt with the benefit of a prior encounter.

Darius Gaiden Gameplay ScreenshotDarius Gaiden introduces a novel idea that I haven’t seen in any other shooter. Each level also has a mini-boss that you encounter about half way through each level. This can be defeated in the normal way but each mini-boss has a control sphere which if shot often enough will become detached. If you pick this up then the mini-boss becomes a turncoat and starts fighting on your side. You don’t really have much control, and unfortunately it disintegrates before the main boss battle, but it’s an interesting idea that would be nice to see developed further.

The soundtrack deserves special mention. It is so overpowering that there is little room left in the sonic spectrum for spot effects which can sound a bit tinny. It has a real epic feel and some of the tracks feature bizarre opera singing. The tracks are reused in later levels but given the large number of levels this is forgivable.

Darius Gaiden Boss ScreenshotSo it’s a great shooter. It’s got great visuals, sounds, plenty of levels and some novel ideas – what’s the downside? Well for the high score chaser (which means almost all 2D shooter fans) there is a rather big downer with this game. It doesn’t save your high scores. There really is no excuse for this – its lazy – and it hurts the game as it reduces the desire to revisit it after a break from playing it. Some may say its a minor issue but for anyone who is into 1 credit completions and high scores it is a big deal. The high score screen is there , and it even records your path through the levels, but what is the point if it isn’t saved? A great pity.

If you can get over that point, this is a great shooter that has that intangible Japanese feel to it.

This game is available in the Taito Legends 2 collection for PS2 but the Saturn port of the game looks, feels and plays better.

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