Darius II was developed by Taito who were pivotal in the early stages of video games releasing hits like Bubble Bobble and Space Invaders. The sequel to Darius, this was originally an arcade only game, but through popular demand found itself being ported to cater for the Eastern audiences. So, 7 years after its original release, we have the copy I will be reviewing today: Darius II on the Sega Saturn.
The game itself is an arcade shooter and with very few coming to current gen consoles is considered a must have for many retro games however it is worth mentioning if you don’t have a Sega Saturn lurking in your cupboard, you can purchase this game on the Wii store.
Before switching on this game I decided to take myself back to 1996 – I was 11 and heavily gaming, however not a Saturn gamer. PlayStation One was a year in and releasing hit after hit. So there is no nostalgia in this review, just a 30 year old man who wants to document his opinions on Darius II.
As I switched the game on, I was surprised to see no downloads or updates before I actually got to play the game. A common rarity, and within 1 minute of this, I was playing it. Bliss.
The screen flashed with a little shooter vessel of sorts in the corner and a brief outline of the thin plot raced across the screen before I had time to read it. After three attempts at this, I gathered that there are two protagonists: Proco Jr and Tiat Young, and they had left a ruined planet and are responding to an SOS call. Quickly checking the options, I put the difficulty in normal, engrained the controls in my mind and clicked ‘game start’.
Five minutes later, and it draws me to the first key point to recognise: this game is hard. I was pleasantly surprised to say that the background was interactive and you can’t fly straight into the raging lava at the bottom of the screen, although I did try. What will frustrate some is that your ship has two states which are either ‘alive’ or ‘blown up’. You can’t take any damage, and as I continued to play this really got me shouting at the poor old console. Another irritating aspect of this game was that you would spend half a level getting a number of really cool upgrades to the point where you are shooting at all angles possible, then you will get caught out by some puny vessel sending you back to the mundane world of single fire.
Persevering and improving, I started noticing the finer aspects to the game. The graphics are average and definitely nothing to write home about. However, arcade shooters have never really been about the graphics. The gameplay itself was okay; after a few hours I started developing a few pains in my thumb where I believe I was pushing too hard (I definitely would have increased the sensitivity if it was an option). I feel my experience would have differed if I was in a Japanese arcade back in 89.
Something which I really enjoyed was the sound. Each zone had its own quirky song which managed to be enjoyable but not too catchy. I found myself bobbing my head in unison with the music, that is, until I gathered it wasn’t helping my rescue mission!
Over the course of playing the game, I kept taking a breather and debating how much I was enjoying it. It was frustrating due to the challenging difficulty level, however, I kept on coming back to it and, three hours later, I found myself on zone D (how the levels are named). Though to give it some perspective there are 28 levels – all the way up to planet V. Somewhere along the line someone decided to put in two Z zones and two V zones. It is fair to say if you are new to gaming, this is not the type of game to start out on. And if you get easily frustrated, save the broken TV. However if you are a seasoned gamer looking for a challenge, I present you with one right here.
It is worth mentioning that you can play Darius II in two-player mode which is pretty cool but in no way does it make the game any easier, so I hope you have an expert gamer friend who has finger reactions faster than the game’s loading times.
Darius II is a typical side-scrolling shooter and it does everything you would expect a side scrolling shooter to do. I realised this very quickly. There are a good range of power ups including shields and a great variety of enemies for you to blast into space. And similar to most, the story is… well… pretty much non-existent. The bosses are a real challenge but are creative in their own different ways. The level design is a little boring and you will find it to be quite samey however this is another quite common theme across this genre.
Overall, I wouldn’t say this was a bad game, just not as good as I was hoping for. It has its faults: mainly the difficulty and the lack of damage resistance. But also has great depth and for some, the challenge presents a ladder to climb and not a rope to fall off of. There are a number of cheats to help you succeed but, personally, they spoil the fun. If you do decide to try this, expect to see a number of grey hairs as well as a few broken controllers, but also the enjoyment of finally beating a boss you have been stuck for hours on is incredible.
Darius II is still available on Sega Saturn, and click on the packshot for the full-size version.
Thanks to KollisionBR for the gaming footage below.
- Developer: Taito
- Publisher: Sega
- Players: single player
Director: Hidehiro Fujiwara