The Darius series was one that I’d heard plenty about in my younger years, but never actually got around to playing. I already got my side-scrolling shoot ‘em up fix in the form of R-Type on console, whilst I wasn’t fortunate enough to have any arcades near where I lived that might have actually been the home to one of Darius’ arcade cabinets. It’s a shame, but I’ve never been a die-hard fan of the genre so it was something that I could live with.
Still, I couldn’t resist giving the games a try with the release of Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade on the Nintendo Switch, which brings together a selection of Taito’s original arcade releases of the series together into one neat package. I’m glad I did too, with each offering a fun and frantic side-scrolling shoot ‘em up experience – even if they don’t always make a completely comfortable transition to the console thanks to the dependence of multiple screens in their original arcade form.
If you’ve played a shoot ‘em up before (more commonly known as a ‘shmup’), you’ll know exactly what to expect from Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade. You’ll lead a ship through an assortment of side-scrolling 2D environments, all whilst blasting away at any enemies in your path, unlocking earning upgrades for your ship, and then facing off against powerful foes in mighty boss encounters. It’s a formula that we’ve seen in video games for years now, but it’s one that hasn’t grown old thanks to how satisfying the gameplay cycle works.
Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade is made up of seven different games: Darius (Original Version), Darius (New Version), Darius (Extra Version), Darius II (Dual Screen Version), SAGAIA (Version One), SAGAIA (Version Two) and Darius Gaiden. Calling it seven DIFFERENT games may be a bit of stretch considering that there are only four titles available that are spread across multiple versions (and Darius II and SAGAIA are technically the same too), though I’d imagine some of the variations on offer will prove pretty significant to die-hard fans of the series. Your average gamer, though? You might as well just consider it a three game package. It’s made pretty clear what each different version of the game offers though, with it typically boiling down to a change of difficulty and some balancing of the power-ups you earn.
Gameplay-wise, Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade doesn’t stray too far from the aforementioned shoot ‘em up formula. This isn’t a bad thing by any means though, with the shooting proving fun and satisfyingly challenging throughout, with a good level of skill and practice required if you’re going to battle through each game to their conclusion. The upgrades you earn along the way will improve the power of your gunfire, your shield that protects you, or the bombs you drop on ground targets (which acts as a screen-clearing special attack in Darius Gaiden), with a good assortment of all three required if you’re going to survive through some of each game’s tougher levels and boss fights. There’s a big emphasis on manoeuvrability too, especially since the game screen will fill with incoming bullets at times.
One of the core features of the Darius series comes with the fact that you can take different routes through the game following the completion of levels, which adds an extra sense of replay value to each title outside of chasing scores. The games aren’t particularly long so it won’t take too much time to see everything that they each have to offer, but it’s still a nice touch that’ll extend the time players will want to spend with the collection.
That being said, you can expect to spend a lot of time simply trying to survive through the game’s many challenges. Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade contains a tough assortment of games, and whilst the different variations of each release can make the experience a little easier, they’re never a cake walk by any stretch of the imagination. Darius and Darius II/SAGAIA have you re-play different areas of the game if you die for example, which can be particularly daunting during some of the tougher levels or boss fights – Darius Gaiden made this a bit easier by dropping you straight back into the action with each lost life though, so that’s a bit more forgiving. Of course, a save state system and unlimited credits do mean that the tough difficulty never becomes overbearing for players, but Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade is definitely not for the fainthearted.
It’s worth mentioning that some of the titles in this collection were set across multiple screens, with Darius originally played across three screens and Darius II/SAGAIA played across two screens. This means that these games don’t utilise the full screen when playing, but are instead presented in a wide-screen letterbox format – you can stretch them to fit the full screen if you prefer, but it looks pretty awful.
This screen layout could make playing on the Nintendo Switch’s handheld mode a little difficult, especially since the original Darius only uses up around half of the screen. It’s a bit more bearable when playing Darius II/SAGAIA since it was only spread across two screens and Darius Gaiden utilised a one screen setup so that’s fine, but it’s worth bearing in mind if you were planning on enjoying these releases on the go. Don’t get me wrong, they’re more than playable handheld… you just might have to squint a little to make everything out.
Each of the games in Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade are a lot of fun to play though, whilst the customisation options on offer really allow the player to tinker with the settings to give themselves the Darius experience that they want. The porting team at M2 have done a really good job of bringing these arcade classics over to console, with the visuals and performance of each game proving top notch too.
I can’t help but to think that the collection is a bit on the expensive side though, with £34.99 a pretty high price point considering that you’re only technically getting three different games here. Whilst I’m sure fans of the series or the shoot ‘em up genre won’t mind forking out the cash, general gamers who just want to try the games out might find it a little off-putting.
Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade offers a slick collection of the arcade releases in Taito’s famed shoot ‘em up series, with each game offering an enjoyable yet challenging experience. They’re all perfectly emulated, offer a decent selection of customisation options, and even allow you to save mid-game – what more could Darius fans want? My only real complaints come with the game’s high price point and the wide-screen setup when playing on the Nintendo Switch’s handheld mode, which might prove to be a little off-putting to gamers.
Fortunately, neither issue really tarnishes what is otherwise an enjoyable collection of games and one that die-hard arcade fanatics are sure to have hours of fun with.
Developer: Taito, M2
Publisher: ININ Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4