Yep, that’s the single most cliched opener to a Darius review possible. I couldn’t leave it alone, though. Let’s push on past it, eh?

The Darius series of games are horizontal shooters, created by arcade stalwarts Taito. The original game — debuting in arcades in 1986 — was plonked in a gigantic cabinet housing three CRTs to form a super-screen.

Aside from the frm factor’s wow factor, Darius had a few more unique features up its sleeve: gigantic enemy sprites modelled after sea life, acid-laced visuals and a branching selection path similar to Outrun.

Then and now, though, classic Darius is a bit of a bore. The deflation you felt when you popped-in your 50p, only to die seconds later, was as legit in ‘86 as it is today. Adamantium enemies constantly come at you, your slow-moving ship with its feeble laser breems… sorry, beams… feeling inadequate. The expanded screen view does very little to help, just giving the impression of a format in search of a game to stick in it. 

The Collection contains the original, sequel and third game — Darius Gaiden — plus ROM revisions including rebalanced Darius II release Sagaia. Darius II (Switch version) features the superior two-screen setup and, although the visuals are only slightly better than its progenitor, the enemy patterns are more readable; weaponry more effective. Darius II is still unbalanced, but Sagaia trims the fat and further dials-down the challenge to introduce some much-needed flow. 

On paper the first two games’ wide selection of levels seems incredible, promising tons of replay potential as you explore the void aquatic. In reality, though, Taito went for quantity over quality. Most stages are simple, swirly backgrounds with a basic foreground landscape scrolling in parallax. Navigating your route is generally a choice between custard-flavour creme, or vanilla-flavour custard. 

Third entrant Darius Gaiden is still punishing but its solo screen presentation, streamlined routes, beefed-up firepower and an awesome black hole-creating super weapon make it the series’ Star Wars against classic Darius’s Dune. Die-hard fans may miss the LSD-fuelled artstyle and cathode ray real estate of old, but Gaiden is the primo Darius of the arcade era. 

Special mention has to go to the series’ audio, as it’s bonkers: pseudo-operatic warblings with jazz fusion backing tracks. Hey, at least it’s a refreshing alternative to the cod-metal (pun definitely intended)soundtracks featured in other shmups of the era.

As a package, then, the Darius Cozmic Collection is an essential purchase for fans, at least. The conversions are by M2, the studio famous for bringing old duffer titles back from oblivion, with substantial quality of life improvements — marquee artwork, visual filters and more. Plus you get three unique games for your money… two of which are even playable! I jest, but both Sagaia and Darius Gaiden are solid arcade blasts, even if the rest range from curio to controller-crushing irritant.

Even though unfair difficulty and a stately pace stopped early Darius releases gaining the appeal (an profits) of R-Type or Gradius, there’s always some spectacular design on display. The iconic Silver Hawk spaceship you pilot, and screen-filling bosses like ‘Prickly Angler’ and ‘King Fossil’ are fascinating (those names…!) They keep you coming back to see which kind of cephalopod or crustacean you’ll battle next. And hey, any series that features a fish foetus as an opponent is OK in my book. Still, it’s apposite there’re so many underwater creatures, as you’ll probably flounder and spend the entire time getting battered… 

If you get in phase with Darius’s ‘space-psychedelia ‘n’ seafood’ vibe you’ll probably become a fan(tail) and will wait with baited breath for the upcoming G-Darius/Dariusburst collection. If not, you may discover Darius Cozmic Collection to be a load of old pollocks.

Sorry, not sorry!

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