The horizontally scrolling shooter has evolved very little from its early days. Sure, graphics and sound have certainly come a long way since games like Defender and Scramble kicked off the genre at the turn of the 80's, but the fundamental concept of flying a ship armed with lasers and rockets against hordes of enemy attack craft goes all the way back to the very earliest days of the genre. Bosses and power-ups became standard during the mid-80's, but side-scrolling shooters have remained largely unchanged since then.
Playing DariusBurst Chronicles Saviours is a reminder of just how much that's so. While today's technology enables enormous swarms of enemies and screen-filling salvos of bullets and laser beams that would otherwise melt the processor of an arcade game of the 80's, I'm still ultimately flying from left to right, shooting at enemy ships in the same way that I did on the original three-screen Darius arcade machine back in 1986. This is classic gaming with a soupçon of modern trappings – and I'm enjoying it.
DariusBurst CS is the latest iteration in a series that hearkens back almost three decades. Famous for its aquatic-inspired robotic boss ships, the Darius franchise is synonymous with gargantuan multi-screen arcade cabinets and branching stages that enable players to plot different paths through to a variety of boss endings. It's also known for being very challenging – a tradition that DariusBurst CS continues.
The original DariusBurst launched on PSP six years ago, and was the first new Darius game since the 1997 arcade and PS2 title, G-Darius. It proved to be quite popular, and a new version of it was released as an arcade machine known as DariusBurst: Another Chronicle, which came complete with twin 32 inch monitors to give the game its trademark widescreen appeal. That gave rise to a newer arcade game called DariusBurst: Another Chronicle EX, and it's this coin-op upon which DariusBurst CS is largely based.
When you boot up the game, you have two basic modes to choose from: AC and CS. The former offers three options: Original, Original EX, and Chronicle. The first is an easier version of the arcade game, the second is a much tougher mode that has three higher difficulty settings than Original, while the third is an expanded version of the coin-op that features around 3,000 levels to conquer – which sounds impressive, but they're all ultimately remixes of what the other modes have to offer.
Chronicle mode has an element of multiplayer to it in that you're assigned a cabinet number when you first open the game, and essentially share the 3,000 levels with other players who are assigned the same number as you. That group works together as a team to beat those levels – some of which require specific challenges to best them. It's an interesting premise, but not one that alters the gameplay in any meaningful fashion.
In all of the AC modes, the game plays out using the same original 32:9 visual presentation as the coin-op, which means you have a super-widescreen game with thick black letterboxing along the top and bottom of the screen. Maintaining the original arcade machine's aspect ratio is a neat effect, and one that helps give it an air of authenticity in the way that it looks and plays.
CS mode, on the other hand, is a little more like a story mode. It's presented in regular widescreen format and has you conquering the game three levels at a time. As you progress, you unlock new ships (in AC mode you can choose which ship you want to use from a choice of nine – they're all largely similar with slightly different armament loadouts), as well as opening up new areas. There are around 200 levels to beat, which add up to a fairly robust challenge – even though, like AC's Chronicle mode, they remix hazards, enemies and bosses from earlier levels.
All this combines to deliver smorgasbord of shooting, with plenty of content to get your teeth into. The game offers unlimited continues, which somewhat trivializes the challenge, but then most modes are essentially the arcade game on free play, so that does make some kind of sense. I did find that most of the arcade modes were exceptionally tough, and especially on higher difficulty settings I was constantly getting nailed – which made me thankful for the continues. I didn't get the chance to play multiplayer – the game supports up to four simultaneous local players – but I imagine that adding a few extra participants to the action would make it a little more manageable than flying solo against DariusBurst's enormous, relentless swarms of enemies.
I certainly enjoyed playing DariusBurst Chronicles Saviours – it's a throwback to bygone years, and a classic shooter in every respect. From its multiple power-ups to giant aquatic-inspired robotic bosses, it couldn't be mistaken for being anything other than a Darius game. The level of challenge is quite high – especially in AC mode where the game quickly becomes a bullet hell – but assuming you make use of the unlimited continues, plowing through the game becomes more about endurance, rather than skill.
A big disappointment for me is that the PS Vita and PS4 games are cross-save, but not cross-buy. I'm surprised that this isn't the case, but if you're interested in either game, be prepared to invest a triple-A game sized amount of cash: DariusBurst Chronicles Saviours costs $39.99 and $59.99 on Vita and PS4 respectively, which seems to be a little on the pricey side to me. There's a also PC version available that costs $49.99 (which incidentally supports multiple screens for a truly authentic arcade experience).
DariusBurst Chronicles Saviours certainly offers plenty of excellent old school shoot 'em up action, and it looks and sounds great – but I think its price essentially puts narrows its appeal to only the most ardent fans of the series.
Basic arcade-style presentation screens, but the game also includes a wealth of digitized lore to leaf through.
Chronicle and CS modes offer stacks of content to get your teeth into, even though much of it feels recycled.
Terrific tunes and effects accompany the action.
Good quality visuals - but it's nothing you haven't seen before in other Darius games.
DariusBurst Chronicles Saviours perfectly replicates the original arcade experience, and delivers a ton of old-school-feeling shoot 'em up content in the process. However, despite looking and sounding excellent, the action doesn't vary much, meaning that it will likely only appeal to hardcore fans of the series.