There’s not much fishy about this premium-priced space-seafood buffet
If you were an arcade goer or general gamer in the 16 bit era, you’re probably aware of the Darius series by now. Seen on many home consoles from the Genesis to Super NES, Playstation, Saturn and more, Darius made a name for itself with myriad branching paths, a relatively huge number of stages and deadly, hulking… uh, space fish. We never really got that either.
Regardless, Darius as a series has remained strong, particularly in Japan, where several entries in the series have been released to arcades and, oddly, exclusively to the PSP. Well, until now that is. Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours – or CS for short – is the latest home release of Taito’s venerable shooting franchise. Released in the west by publisher Degica who, earlier in the year, brought shooting game fans some truly excellent content in the form of Triangle Service’s XII Zeal and Delta Zeal, Qute’s excellent Eschatos and even Cave’s Mushihimesama, Darius Burst CS is the latest in what seems to be a western PC shooting renaissance. However, what sets this release apart is its appearance on both the Playstation Vita handheld and the Playstation 4 home console, which is where we’re picking up.
Before we get into the finer points of Darius Burst CS’ gameplay, we need to address a ridiculously huge white elephant sitting in the corner over there. His name is $59.99, which just so happens to be how much Darius Burst costs on the PS4 (with the Vita version being $39.99 and the Steam version weighing in at $49.99.) That’s a hefty price tag no matter how you slice it to be sure, but hear me out on this; you’ll see why this is a comparative bargain soon enough.
Like many other shooters of this kind, the controls are pretty simple to grasp. All of the following controls and features are mapped with the Vita in mind, so nothing is lost with its fewer buttons in the case of the handheld version. As always, eight-way control gets your ship around the screen in a pretty easy fashion. By default, the Square button handles the rapid shot, and the Cross button activates your ship’s burst attack. Other ships may also have their missile or bomber attacks mapped to this button as well. Meanwhile, the R1 button will switch the direction of your Silver Hawk allowing you to shoot backwards and, with some ships like the Legend and Legend Next ships, the L1 button activates the F-Burst module which stays in a fixed position and can change direction relative to your craft while you aren’t firing. Care should be taken though, as the special attacks usable in Darius Burst CS are dependent on a gauge that appears just below your craft. Killing popcorn enemies does a pretty great job of refilling it, but much more difficult during boss battles. Speaking of bosses, some huge boss attacks can also be countered Dragonball style with a perfectly-timed burst attack, which is beyond satisfying.
Upgrading your ship is done in a fairly straightforward way as well; red orbs boost your main shot, green enhances missile attacks and blue will power up your life-preserving shields. The more you collect, the better off you will be, but in the case of the main shot, as it changes so will its ability to cancel enemy shots of the same type. Bullet style shots nullify red enemy bullets and lasers will nullify yellow enemy lasers. The cutter style shots do not nullify enemy attacks but do break through to enemies behind the first hit. They also apply to all modes.
There are two main modes to Darius Burst CS: The 4-player AC Mode, which is a 32:9 Aspect Ratio ultrawide Yoko representation of the arcade original and the single-player 16:9 CS mode, which is comprised of a series of missions and features unlockable ships and branching paths through its many, many sets.
First up is AC mode, which in this release is complete with the much more difficult EX stages and Chronicle mode intact. Even the Event mode is present. In the original game mode, a series of stages ranging from A to L are available, with A, B and C selectable to start. Your starting stage determines how difficult they can get, with A being easiest and L being the hardest of the mode. From there, the game is played through a three-stage set complete with branching paths that result in different boss fights. For shmuppers looking for an insane challenge, the EX stages are also available, with letters O to Z available for those that have the skill. I do not. Each stage can be taken on with a standard lifestock or with infinite ships. When infinite ships is selected, a player’s score in not recorded, so you get no glory from life-feeding your way on through. That can make for serious replay. Player score is dependent on enemy destruction through multipliers, silver orb pickups ranging randomly between 50 and 51200 points and time bonuses and armor stock on your shields at stage end.
Players also have access to a wide range of Silver Hawk ships to use in AC mode as well, including some from other games. Ships like the Origin (Darius), 2nd (Darius II), Gaiden (Darius Gaiden) and Genesis (G-Darius) offer players classic weapon systems in a new setting, though they often lack the attack flexibility of the new Burst ships.
Perhaps the coolest mode in AC has got to be the Chronicle mode though. Comprised of literally thousands of stages, players around the world work together to liberate each world on a specific Darius Burst AC cabinet. Each hex on the grid of every planet has its own unique stage set with certain conditions for success. Some require multiple players (up to four) while others have a 1CC rule. Others still have only certain weapons or ships available. Some have no power ups. It’s a crazy challenging, superdiverse mode that, all told, just hasn’t been done in a shooter before.
But since you’re not the only one chipping away at these stages, there will definitely be times where a lot of it is already complete. If too much of a game has been completed for your liking, selecting another cabinet in the options menu (from 64) may yield more unfinished stages. You can see how much of the cabinet is complete by scoping out the little emblems at the title screen. When a stage is completed, more open up, allowing both you – and other players as well – access to new stage sets. It’s such a vast mode that if we were to play through it all for this review, it would likely be three years late, which is far from exaggeration.
If all of that is too daunting though, there is the second main mode of Darius Burst CS: The Chronicle Savior mode. This mode is quite a bit more lenient in a few different ways. The overall aspect ratio allows players to see what’s going on onscreen with more detail, despite the shorter playfield. The 32:9 aspect ratio can make for very tiny shots and ships without the dual-screen mode present only in the Steam version. But more than that, players take on stage groups that ae made up of specific challenges to open up new paths and missions. Each stage block on the map has a default ship mapped to it, but players can unlock more ships by collecting points. These new ships can also get numerous upgrades at the cost of more points before each mission. A skilled player can get over 100,000 spendable points out of the first mission set, so grinding can sometimes help.
Scoring high is the key to getting more points to spend, as the spendable points awarded are derived from the main score at a rate of 0.001%. That means you will need to score 100,000,000 or higher to get that 100K in the first mission set. Sound tough, right? Well, not if you;re equipped the right way. Different ships have different maximum multipliers. The Origin, for example, can have a multiplier as high as 60x, which is pretty great overall. The Gaiden, meanwhile, has a maximum multiplier of only 16x, but can be boosted to a ridiculous 96x if a black hole bomb is used just the right way. These multipliers also apply in AC mode as well. Stage end bonuses also contribute to your score in nice ways; getting through any one stage unscathed nets a 3,000,000 bonus and your life stock yields a hefty score of 5,000,000 per Silver Hawk. Time bonuses for quick boss destruction are also applied. Unlocking more ships and boosting them up to completely unfair levels definitely helps in getting further into the CS mode, and with over 200 stages as well, there is a hell of a lot to play through.
As always, the presentation to Darius Burst CS is pretty darn cool. The music can sometimes leave a bit to be desired – the opening track to CS mode, “Freedom” is largely bad and there’s one in here somewhere that’s basically a hard rock track with awful native american-style wailing that I find particularly offenseive – but these hiccups are heavily outweighed by some simply amazing music, which I fully expect from Taito’s masters of sound, Zuntata. There are even throwbacks to other Darius games as well; the excellent Darius Gaiden soundtrack gets more than a few good nods. Great effects round out the sound in the end. The visuals are also something else in Darius Burst CS. Pretty good but not especially mind blowing in AC, the CS mode has some really cool effects in particular. They aren’t exactly bleeding edge overall, but they do run at a solid 60 frames per second on both the PS4 and, surprisingly, the Vita as well. Heck, we even got it running at that rate in dual-screen mode on our under-speced alternate PC, meaning that Darius Burst CS is one super-well optimized game. Sweet.
Outside of some really stupid music selections sprinkled among the awesome ones, there’s only one really nitpicky thing I can think of that might be a bit of a turn-off; all of the stages in Darius Burst CS are reused extensively, but with so many combinations and conditions, it all feels pretty fresh throughout. This can also be helpful in taking on the more advanced paths and missions. The difficulty is up there though, meaning that it may not be a game that novices will appreciate, but veterans will likely embrace and decimate its thousands of stages. I came away frustrated quite a few times, but in all honestly it’s just me, not the game. I like these sort of games, but I also kinda suck at them at my more, uhh… “advanced” age.
Finally, there are some nifty features to the PS4 version that you won’t find anywhere else. The controller’s light bar will actually light up the same color as your ship in multiplayer. Small, perhaps inconsequential, but cool nonetheless. Meanwhile, the Vita version lacks multiplayer completely but is sold at a much more reduced rate as a result. And while Darius Burst is not a cross-buy title, it is a cross-save title, so if you end up getting both versions, you can play on the go, upload your save and download it to your PS4.
This review has been going on for a while, but holy crap, there’s just such a stupid huge amount of stuff to play here. Which brings us back to the price. $59.99. Worth it? If you like horizontal shooters, then hell yes. Darius Burst might just have more content in it than perhaps the rest of my 300+ shmups combined. Ridiculous. If it’s still a bit out of your price range though, the Vita version can save you 20 bucks if you don’t mind the lack of multiplayer. So do I recommend it? Yes, I damn well do. Buy Darius Burst CS and you could probably play out your days without buying another shmup in sound theory!
Final Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Available on: PlayStation 4, PC, Vita; Publisher: Taito; Developer: Degica; Release Date: November 30, 2015; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $49.99 (PC) $39.99 (PS4,Vita)
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Dariousburst: Chronicle Saviours provided by the game’s publisher, Degica.