Taito might seem like a major games company that disappeared into relative obscurity past the late 90s.
Yet, they’ve continued to find success in arcades and on mobile for many years since, able to live off a rich vein of IP.
Puzzle Bobble and Space Invaders chief among them, sure, but games like Cooking Mama have proved to be a massive hit, as well as Grove Coaster, and Darius.
Darius has had an interesting lifespan, originally appearing in the arcades in the 80s as a three-screen sit-down cabinet. It was incredibly unique for the time and, as such, proved to be very difficult to convert to home consoles.
It eventually appeared on PC Engines in the 90s, though, with a Super and Plus version developed. And before long, Darius would find home on the likes of the Mega Drive, Super Nes and Master System, though these releases were limited in number.
It’s the side-scrolling shooter that some believed was lost to history, few having the chance to experience it for themselves. Until, that is, two new collections were released to modern formats to reintroduce them to the world.
I’ve been spending time with the Darius Cozmic Collection Console which includes Darius II, Darius Twin, Darius Force, Super Nova, Darius Alpha and Darius Plus, and I’ve both been in awe of how good these games still feel, but also how hard as nails it is to move from stage to stage.
Seriously, making any sort of progress feels like … well, progress.
But the collection has clearly been lovingly stitched together, providing players access to special modes, replay functionality so you can watch your best runthroughs, as well as the option to tweak screen types – adding in scanlines and smoothing.
The games themselves are just lovingly recreated versions of some of the best dynamic action side-shooters of all time and they have been allowed to thrive as close to their originally intended selves as possible on modern formats.
Through that, I think the game really ebs and flows in the best possible way in handheld form on Switch, a fascinating thing considering the three arcade screens that first defined the original game.
It’s some miracle this collection even exists, though. I say that as one of the games – Darius Alpha – was limited to just 800 copies at one point. It was intended to be rare, played only by a select few. Yet a vault has been opened, suddenly allowing more people than ever intended to experience this gem for the first time.
So not only is this collection trying to stay authentic, but they’ve even made it so that you can feel like you’re playing a true piece of history.
Each game follows a similar pattern of you moving your ship freely around the screen, avoiding all sorts of projectiles and enemies, never really staying still for longer than a moment. But each game manages to set new challenges for the player, doing something different with the established theme.
Perhaps the key selling point for these games are the multi-layered paths to create for a unique playthrough and the epic boss battles that were way ahead of their time. Each has a different strategy, sometimes requiring you to actually turn your ship to fire in the opposite direction, but always being aware of the ever-changing screen.
I also love the necessity of power-ups, requiring you to make best use of them in order to survive, as well as the look and feel of each world, with the environments moving freely in the background and the feeling of uncertainty of what you’re going to go up against at each turn.
The Darius Cozmic Collection is so silky smooth, with rarely any dips in frame rate or issues with the emulation save for one or two hiccups, though mostly it’s in keeping in tune with the format the game launched on. The Master System version, for instance, feels really sluggish compared to everything else, which ties in with what you’d expect on the system itself. Frankly, this is about a good of a translation as you can hope for.
But for the hefty price tag, one can expect no less. That will, undoubtedly, be a stumbling block for many, and a tough sell especially for those who’ve never played the games before or don’t have much of a retro appetite.
But it’s important to note that this is a piece of history. Darius doesn’t always get uttered in the same breath as games like Galaga, but its creativity, stylish aesthetic, and pulse-pounding soundtrack, certainly make the case for a game that still has plenty to offer players all these years later.
Across the different versions offered in this package – each retaining an admirable level of authenticity – you will wonder why it’s taken so long for a great collection like this to come together but appreciate what has been accomplished here.
Each version is more polished than the last, with the franchise showing the player more and more maturity as you move through numbered installments.
Your reactions will need to be faster, the enemies will lay it on that much more, bosses will take more of a beating, and the aesthetic will seem more vibrant and alive.
But as such, each Darius game feels very different and if you’re really struggling, there’s always a Quick Save/Load system to take advantage of.
Darius Cozmic Collection is also available on PS4, but to me, this feels best placed on handheld. Whether you decide to stretch the screen out across the Switch screen, or want to go true old school with scanlines and at original resolution, the game still manages to look great in its traditional 16 bit form.
Each boss needs its own strategy, and every level ups the ante, even when you think that isn’t even possible. You’ll always be on your toes and having to think fast. For an old school game, you’ll be surprised at the lightning fast reactions you’ll need to stay alive.
If you want a taste of just how tough a true side-scrolling arcade shooter can be, look no further than the Darius Cozmic Collection. It’s a lot of cash and it’s not going to be an easy ride, but you’ll come out the other side impressed by the quality.
The Darius Cozmic Collection Console feels like a piece of history every retro enthusiast must own, and every gamer who wants to understand the legacy of the industry has to try for themselves. At least once.
Darius Cozmic Collection Console is now available on Switch and PS4
Played on Switch
Code provided by PR