My experience with the Darius series is somewhat limited. As someone who was never overly keen on the genre in general, partly due to lack of skill and partly because of my aversion to the oh-so-common bullet hell, I’d only really played Darius Gaiden on the Sega Saturn due to its stellar reputation.
When given the opportunity then to cover G-Darius HD – a HD remaster of the 2.5D attempt at the series, I went in with both intrigue and hesitation. It looked great, but would it make me suffer?
Many thanks to the ININ Games for the review code.
Whilst the game’s description includes some pretext at story, I’m not going to go into detail describing the “conflict between the Amnelia Kingdom and the merciless Thiima Empire”. When it comes to the Darius games, the only thing you need to know is that you control a ship called the Silver Hawk and you shoot space fish. That’s about it. There’s little point dwelling on the story, so instead I’ll fill you in on a brief history of the game instead.
Ten years after the release of the original Darius, G-Darius entered the arcades. Whilst still keeping the general core principles of the series, such as the branching paths after each level and the power up system, it also saw the introduction of something new to the series: 3D polygonal graphics. 3D was all the rage back in the 90s, with many gamers and outlets shunning anything two dimensional, so it was a natural shift. It wasn’t really proper 3D and it still maintained its 2D sidescrolling nature, but it did add a little extra visual depth. It was positively received and also ended up getting a home console port – and now we have an enhanced HD version. The game also was recently updated to include ‘Ver. 2’ mode, which includes quite a fair bit of extra content, so now seems a perfect time to check it out and see if it is worth your hard earned cash.
SOMETHING FISHY GOING ON
On the surface, G-Darius HD is what you’d expect from the genre. Controlling your ship on a horizontal plane, you shoot down enemies and dodge incoming attacks. As you proceed, certain enemies will drop powerups that can increase your power, add shields, give one-ups, etc. It all looks and sounds great, with the low poly visuals making it stand out when compared to the usual 2D sprites you may be used to seeing. It also has a killer soundtrack, which is just as weird and trippy as you’d expect from the franchise – it goes from slow and psychedelic to frantic intensity within a moment’s notice, and it’s glorious.
It’s not just the audiovisual presentation that sets the game apart from its contemporaries, however, as the game also features a neat gimmick that hadn’t appeared in previous entries before: the capture ball. Instead of firing the black hole bomb that you had in previous games, the B button will fire out a ball on a leash that will capture (most) enemies that it touches. This will tether them to your ship, providing additional firepower. Each enemy has its own effect, and you can even capture minibosses too. It’s a technique I refer to as ‘fishing’, since you’re literally throwing out a fishing line to capture your fishy foes.
In addition to providing additional firepower, you can also sacrifice them with another press of the button to activate a mini bomb that will damage/destroy anything in its radius. It’s not as powerful or as cool as the black hole bomb, but its handy for getting you out of a tight situation. Alternatively you can hold down the attack button and instead use up the tethered enemy to activate a powerful beam attack that provides extreme damage to anything in its way. What’s more, this beam can be used to duel with bosses to counter their beams and provide a devastating counter attack. All in all, the ‘fishing’ mechanic in the game is a simple concept that is extremely satisfying to use – but if you get hit and lose a life, your captured ship is gone. It’s pretty well balanced to help give you a slight advantage, although unfortunately it’s only use against bosses is laser duelling; it’s a shame, as it would have been nice to capture parts of a boss which could then be used against them.
Those worried that this mechanic is a bit too overpowered needn’t fret as the game is still arcade-hard. The first couple of stages are easily manageable for novices such as myself, but things ramp up considerably in the later half of the game. You have unlimited continues, meaning that you can just brute force your way through, but amateur players should expect to die a lot in the final couple of stages. Losing a life also means that you lose any upgrades, which unfortunately means that if you start dying then you’re more likely to continue dying. Thankfully there are many stages to choose from, with 20 in total – although there are only 5 on any given path. There’s branching paths within many of the stages too, so there’s an absolute ton of replayability here for those who want a fresh experience every time. Achievements are also present for you to earn along with a ‘fishing dex’ of sorts that not only shows you what you have caught, but also contains some basic information about the enemies and their attacks too. It’s a really nice touch and is probably my favourite addition to this HD remaster.
The game features multiple difficulty options (although I found Very Easy to be pretty challenging!) and you are able to save whenever you like. Playthroughs only take around half an hour, but having the option to save is still a welcome addition regardless. Additional tweakable options include game borders, rapid fire, and so on. Nothing too revolutionary, but they’re there regardless. The least impressive addition is probably the main feature: the HD visual overhaul. At the start you can choose between the HD version and the original version; whilst the former does have a smoother sheen to it, it doesn’t feel like a massive improvement and I can’t even say whether or not I prefer it. Both versions have their own charm, so I found myself flicking between the two instead of just playing the HD version. I suppose that’s the advantage of having both options available!
Ver 2.0 also gives you the option to play the home console version of the game, as well as the standard and HD versions of G-Darius Ver 2.0. As far as I am aware, this was also available in the arcade and is essentially a slight modification of the main game to cater towards beginners. Instead of the five stages, you now have the option to choose one that’s limited to just three and – importantly – you no longer lose all of your upgrades upon death. Losing a life will power you down a single level, which felt far more enjoyable for me since it meant that I was less likely to die again afterwards when compared to the main game. No doubt veterans will turn their collective noses up at this, but this mode would be nothing more than a warm-up for them anyway! What Ver 2.0 does provide though is an an extra incentive for amateurs like myself to boot the game back up for some quick fun without having to worry about dying all the time. It’s still tough, and unfortunately the initial menu hasn’t been translated, but it’s a nice addition nevertheless.
The Ver 2.0 update also adds in a bunch of extra features too, from new wallpapers to handy new gadgets (including one that shows the bosses health and weak points). and even a training mode too that allows you to practice the levels as you see fit. Overall, there’s a wide array of additions with the update that helps make it feel like a bulkier package even if there’s nothing too revolutionary added to the game.
Whether or not you think the asking price is worth it for a slightly enhanced version of an arcade game, G-Darius HD is still a fantastic shmup with a unique compelling gimmick. The addition of Ver 2.0, the achievements, and a variety of other QOL improvements only help to make this a very replayable package.