The space-fish are back! Darius had been off the gaming radar since the PS1 G-Darius, only getting trotted out for compilation discs and mobile remakes, but there’s finally a new entry in the series with DariusBurst Chronicle Saviours. The Belsar armada’s war against the peaceful human world of Darius continues without end, almost literally thanks to a game with over 3,000 different levels to play through spread across multiple game modes. There’s a massive amount of horizontal shooting action here, including the original arcade mode, an online and offline quest, several different types of player ship and plenty of gameplay quirks to make each encounter unique.
- Developer: Pyramid
- Publisher: Komodo
- Release: December 02, 2015
While all modes are open from the start, there’s definitely a preferred way to approach all this content in order to best come to grips with the available options. The opening menus is divided between AC and CS modes, with AC standing for Another Chronicle and CS being Chronicle Saviours. CS is a single-player game mode that’s the new content for this release, while AC contains both the original arcade version and Chronicle Mode, each of which support up to four players either on- or offline. While nobody’s going to put a gun to your head to play the modes in a specific order, it’s probably best to start with the arcade Original Mode.
Original Mode plays out exactly like you’d expect a Darius game to- you start from a beginning area and on completion can choose a harder or easier level to go to next. Fly left to right, shoot down the fishy alien enemies, take out a giant end-level boss, repeat. The player ship comes equipped with a main gun, missiles, and a super-powerful burst weapon that’s charged by shooting down enemies and certain destructible bullets, and can also earn a shield with the right power-up. Power-ups come in red, blue, and green flavors, dropped by colored enemies, and they boost the strength of the main gun, missiles, and shield respectively. Death doesn’t affect power, thankfully, so the initial pop-guns quickly grow in power to be nicely effective. As a direct port from the arcade, Original is a bit heavy on the quarter-munching bullet patterns, but if you blow through all its levels then Original EX Mode is available to really ramp up the difficulty level.
Enemies fly out in waves, and killing them all earns a nice score bonus. Initially it’s a bit tricky to take everyone out, but once the main gun is upgraded to piercing lasers and you’ve got missiles going in all directions it gets easier to rack up the bonuses. For proper enemy wave decimation, though, you’ll want to call on the burst laser, and here’s where the shooting gets nicely strategic. The burst laser of the main ship (there’s three different styles of burst available) shoots out in a massive blue beam that makes quick work of anything it touches. Because each enemy killed adds to the burst laser gauge, that means you can take out a swarm with a sustained shot if you time it right. Alternately, there’s a weaker version of the burst laser available by dropping a stationary drone, which can be highly effective when multiple enemy waves are crossing the screen. While the big burst shot is flashy, the drone burst is incredibly helpful when you’ve got a tough enemy in the middle of the screen and a couple waves of popcorn critters riding the edges. Place the drone to shoot the bigger critter, concentrate on keeping the burst gauge full by taking out the smaller guys, and everything sorts itself out nicely.
Picking the right burst type is also vital for boss encounters, which can take a while to wade through without a decent strategy. The drone is helpful there too, especially when the boss is firing a type of bullet you can shoot down to keep the burst gauge full, but the real fun comes when the boss fires up its own burst laser and you counter it. It takes very careful timing but if you hit the boss’ burst with your own it activates an even more powerful counterattack. Most ships have this option available, but the Gaiden and Assault craft have different types of super attacks that don’t allow counterattacking. On the other hand, there’s definitely something to be said for dropping a screen-clearing black hole that sucks in enemies and bullets, so it’s a fair trade-off.
The arcade mode does a great job of teaching the basic mechanics, but it’s in Chronicle and CS mode that everything gets a proper workout. Chronicle is the third mode available in the AC section (there’s a fourth mode too, Event, but it’s a leftover from the arcade game and nobody knows if it will get used on the home version) and it’s a giant collection of 3,000 levels shared among a set group of players. When the game first fires up it assigns you a “cabinet”, which is basically a virtual arcade cabinet that everyone playing on contributes towards opening up the levels. Challenges are divided up among star systems, and each hex in the star system is a set of levels with individual requirements required to beat them. You might start off with a specific ship at a pre-set power level and only get point powerups, for example, or play normally but against a boss rush mode. Some levels require multiple players to beat and others only a single credit. That latter requirement is particularly challenging seeing as the difficulty is set to the same quarter-eating level as the arcade mode. Credits are endless, though, and quarter-feeding quickly becomes a somewhat guilty second nature in both Original and Chronicle modes.
The final section of the menu, though, is CS Mode, which is easily the best part of the game. CS Mode is the all-new section designed specifically for the home version, with several notable differences from its arcade counterparts. The first and most obvious one, of course, is the screen format. The arcade game came in a giant cabinet with an ultra-wide screen in a 32:9 format, which a bit of basic math reveals to be two wide-screen monitors side-by-side. This is replicated with heavy letterboxing to preserve the format, making for a generous vertical play area at the expense of detail. CS Mode, on the other hand, is standard 16:9 tv-style format, losing the width but gaining a full screen. It’s a single-player quest through over 200 multi-level stages, identical to Chronicle in that each area is its own unique challenge but with a different level select screen. It’s also designed around home play, rather than arcade, so the challenges are both a bit easier but also bring with it more tension. This is because no continues are allowed, so each run has to be completed with the set number of ships and shields allotted at the start. Chronicle is weighted heavily enough towards the arcade that abusing the continues almost feels like the only way to complete an area, but CS Mode’s balance of challenge and lack of continues makes each area feel like a more reasonable test of skill, with failure a real option and victory feeling all the better because of it.
While the gameplay is classic arcade, with fantastic enemy designs and an excellent soundtrack, the presentation in AC Mode is a bit rough around the edges. Original and Chronicle are arcade-perfect, which sounds good on paper but leaves a little to be desired in practice. All that black space from the letterboxing would be far better served with status information, such as scoring and weapons power, rather than sitting there black and empty. Beating a mode gets you credits and then throws you back not to the mode select screen but all the way to the developer info, because you can never see the Taito, Pyramid, and Cri-Ware logos often enough. This is particularly obnoxious on Chronicle mode, because with 3,000 levels that little bit of unnecessary clicking through multiple screens adds up. Additionally, the ship selection text is tiny, frequently putting its white letters over the grey part of a ship, and it would be nice if the words weren’t broken at whatever random point the line ran out of letter space. Finally, once you’re in AC’s mode select you’d better be happy there, because there’s no backing out until you’ve chosen a sub-mode, ship type, and started the level. Then you can hit start and quit, which promptly throws you back to the Taito logo again. Oddly enough, none of these issues with presentation are in CS Mode, which seems to have stolen all the polish from AC.
DariusBurst Chronicle Saviours is a massive shooter with seemingly endless gameplay in its multiple sections. The arcade game was already pure Darius action, which is always a welcome experience, but the Chronicle and CS modes add an incredible amount of content. True, the enemy attack patterns get very familiar after a few hundred games, because thousands of levels doesn’t equal thousands of enemy types, but the different ships, weapon loadouts and completion requirements go a long way towards making each encounter engaging. The huge, creative fishy bosses in particular put up a strong fight, with multiple attack patterns that pack serious firepower, and figuring out the best way to use the burst laser against them is always a good challenge. There’s even an illustrated, if untranslated, history of Darius in the Options menu, filled with 175 pages of designs and art from the series history. DariusBurst Chronicle Saviours is a welcome return for one of gaming’s longest-running series, digging deep into its history to create a modern shooter with a depth of content unmatched in its genre.
- Challenging retro shoot ’em up gameplay that’s fine-tuned to perfection
- Great replay value with loads of ways to play
- Up to four local players can shoot together
- You need a very big television in order to play arcade mode effectively
- Only caters to hardcore shmup fans with little appeal for newcomers