Taito’s Darius burst into arcades, complete with its unique three-screen cabinet, in 1986 followed by three sequels, three console-only titles and three spin-offs. In 2009 DariusBurst was given a Japan-only release on Sony’s PlayStation Portable some 12 years after 1997’s G-Darius. This title was then ported to the arcade in 2010 under the name DariusBurst Another Chronicle, which then also got an upgrade in 2011 to become DariusBurst Another Chronicle EX. There were also iOS and Android ports of the 2009 game under the name DariusBurst Second Prologue. In 2015, DariusBurst Chronicle Saviours arrived on PS4, PS Vita and PC, and is essentially a port of a port of a port, which mixes in parts of all the previous titles to create an uber-game.
The game is split into two main parts: AC Mode and CS Mode.
First up is AC Mode, which contains four play modes and shares the same 32:9 aspect ratio with the arcade cabinet.
- Original Mode
- Original EX Mode
- Chronicle Mode
- Event Mode
Original Mode is your standard arcade offering. Up to four local players can participate simultaneously. Players are required to beat three bosses over branching paths to finish a play-through. Original EX Mode is a more hardcore version of the standard mode offering a greater challenge and is designed for expert players only.
Chronicle Mode is where the most fun lies, offering some 3000 stage variations. Upon initially booting up the game, you are assigned a virtual cabinet number. Everyone who shares the same virtual cabinet number plays towards liberating planets under specialised rules (think limited lives or choice of ship), which unlocks more content for other players. It’s a sort of huge, virtual community all playing the same cabinet together. There is an element of competition involved as players race to be the first in the world to complete a mission.
Event Mode is currently non-functional, but it is based around downloadable missions.
AC Mode isn’t particularly suited to the PS Vita. The small screen coupled with the 32:9 aspect makes text hard to read. The game can be played successfully, but it might be a strain for some after time. This isn’t so much of a problem if you are playing on a PS Vita TV, but you will still need to sit dangerously close to your panel, which may prove bad for your health.
CS Mode is a “Home Mode” of sorts. It is presented in a PS Vita-friendly 16:9 aspect ratio and features a different HUD to AC Mode. CS Mode follows the same mission structure as Chronicle Mode, but is designed for single players and offers “only” a few hundred challenges. This mode is a history lesson in the Darius universe and features classic themes and bosses. The new ship Murakamo, which is based on a ship from Taito’s Scramble Formation, is exclusive to this mode. A DLC pack has been released, which offers the use of the ships from Taito's Night Striker, Metal Black and RayForce. Another pack is due, which will offer the use of ships from Sega's Galaxy Force II, Space Harrier and Fantasy Zone.
Game play in both modes is just as you would expect from an old-school side-scrolling shooter, and is indeed similar to Darius of old. While it shouldn’t be considered a “Bullet Hell” game, the enemy attack patterns are more varied than the older titles and there are more bullets to deal with than before. There are certain parts of the game, which are a struggle to get through due to some tight spacing combined with on-screen bullets, especially if you are not adept with the turn button and your shields aren’t plentiful.
The controls are quite simple, yet very responsive. You’ve got a shot button (which also fires homing missiles or bombs), a beam button and the new turn button (a feature that was automatic in previous games), which allows you to shoot in the opposite direction and proves useful against a number of bosses. The “Beam Duelling” from G-Darius has also been expanded upon, and is now known as “Burst Counter”. The timing has been adjusted and is now considerably less forgiving, though it is very satisfying to pull off and results in a huge beam that deals massive damage to anything it comes into contact with. Practice is the key to this game though. Once you are able to pull off a Burst Counter with a degree of regularity, then the game starts to become more enjoyable to play. At first you will find yourself dying a LOT. You also have an R-Type-style drone that can be used as either a shield or as a lesser beam attack. Learning how to use this drone effectively is the key to keeping your beam meter charged up and surviving when multiple waves of lesser enemies and/or debris hit the screen.
Each relatively short stage consists of taking out waves of standard enemies (at the same time as collecting various power ups to expand your firepower and shield) before sometimes facing a mid-boss and then the end of stage boss, with the famous WARNING!! screen. These are huge robotic fish or other ocean dwellers and feature awesome names including Hyper Jaw, Phantom Castle and Thousand Edge. They are armed to the teeth and feature varied attacks. At a certain point during a boss battle, there comes the time when you are given the opportunity to “Beam Duel”. The boss will initiate its own beam attack, and you can either choose to “Burst Counter” or avoid its attack and try to pummel it to death with your standard gun.
Unfortunately neither mode offers online play outside of leader boards. While it does truly replicate the arcade cabinet, I wonder how often four people will gather around locally and play together. Online co-op could have made for a different game entirely. It does feature a cross-save function, so you can continue to play whilst out on the road if you happen to own both the home and portable versions.
Overall, DariusBurst Chronicle Saviours is a fantastic package. There is a wealth of content to see, and hours upon hours of classic gameplay, but updated with 2015 shiny HD visuals. The Chronicle Mode especially is hugely enjoyable to take part in. However, it is a niche title and likely to only appeal to a limited audience. Namely those who were around back when the earlier titles were popular, and those who are big into the horizontal shooter genre. It doesn’t have too much of a mainstream appeal, but it would captivate a lot more people should they give it a try.