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Darius R (Game Boy Advance) artwork

Darius R (Game Boy Advance) review


"Captain Neo's Sorrow"


The Game Boy Advance was a very unique breeding ground for ports, as developers were willing to release some interesting classic games to the portable, regardless of whether the device or said teams were capable of pulling it off successfully. Doom, Sonic 1, Street Fighter Alpha 3, Contra 3, and many others were shoved onto the handheld's screen with varying levels of quality. Even Taito's first Darius game was converted to Nintendo's gadget and renamed Darius R; I shouldn't have been surprised by this revelation... but I was, because such a concept actually frightened me.

In order to understand why a port of Darius to the Game Boy Advance may sound like a ghastly idea, one needs to understand the original arcade version. Released in the mid-1980s, this horizontal shoot-em-up created a template its successors mimicked without fail, such as a branching path system, abstract enemy designs, goofy boss creations that mimic sea creatures, and catchy music. However, it also did something unique for an arcade release. Encased in a thick cabinet, the game presented itself in a widescreen format, allowing players to fight on a vast field. Though, in actuality, there's three monitors positioned together, giving the illusion of a huge screen, and even then, some mirror manipulation was required for the three monitors to display properly.

Darius R handled this element by... um... it essentially chopped off the two side monitors and trimmed the remaining monitor to a controllable pan-and-scan screen.



Sounds bad, doesn't it? But does that translate into a poorly-designed game? Well, the other immediate, noticeable change is the reduction of the enemy's speed, which was likely made to compensate for such a small screen ratio. The urgency of fighting and dodging fast-moving enemies across a wide spectrum, whether it'd be two formations suddenly springing to action from opposite ends, or just a cluster of spacecrafts, rows of turret fire, and haphazard formations attacking in unison, is absent. Now they just... casually appear, and do so without cluttering the screen too much. Here's the thing about this complaint: enemy speed can return to normal if set on the hard difficulty setting. Great! Except it's too overbearing for the small screen. Before you know it, your limited lives are wasted and you're right back at the title screen; Darius R prohibits the ability to continue.

Moreover, the diminished screen makes it difficult to see projectiles coming from the ground and ceiling, since it usually happens as your spacecraft hovers over those spots. And even after you've memorized some locations in future sessions, the game often tries distracting with an unrelated enemy formation getting in your face. It's a far cry from the original, widescreen format, where you can tell what you're encountering, perform constant dodges across the entire screen when bullets start flying, and live to tell about it if you're capable. Not surprisingly, the aspect ratio also changes how boss battles are fought. Before, you had a lot of space to navigate; helpful for the aggressive, rapid manner in which bosses tossed projectiles. But in Darius R, many more times than not, you need to hover beside these bosses to avoid damage. It feels less like a viable tactic and more like an exploit.

Adding to the ridiculousness, certain branching paths seem lazily put together. For example, Zone B takes place on a moon-like surface, rocky structures galore, and if you decide to choose Zone D afterwards... it's the same stage, same music, and same enemies! All they did was add one new enemy type for Zone D. Same goes for Zones C and E, as both share the same yellow tunnel location with extremely similar enemies and patterns. Speaking of the yellow tunnel designs: the devs ruined them in this port. In the arcade game, you actually had to fly up, down, and around huge wall structures while avoiding a hail of firepower and weird, giant orbs that could easily crush your ship. In the GBA version, the walls aren't huge and don't require much effort to fly by, and shockingly, the orbs are absent. Instead, they're replaced with more plodding enemy formations.



The quality of the remixed soundtrack is such a shame, as well. I wasn't expecting a masterpiece from the GBA sound chip, but still: hearing modern-day, muddled melody renditions of Zuntata's classics is... is certainly an experience. As if they're amateur fan arrangements made by someone who doesn't know how to use a Casio keyboard. Weirdly, the game also has a few Darius II, Gaiden, and G-Darius reworks thrown in. If you ever wanted to hear what Olga Breeze sounds like being played by broken musical instruments, or VISSONNERZ sung by a moaning cat, then here you go.

Darius R is not a completely unplayable product, sure, but it's such a huge disservice to the vision of the coin-op. I mean, the port's biggest improvement, the ability to respawn on the spot after losing a life, is vastly overshadowed by all the problems. And they're intentional flaws, just to make the game function on the handheld. Which begs the question: why attempt a port in the first place? Why not make an original Darius title similar to what Taito did with Darius Twin and Super Nova for the Super Nintendo? This way, the game could work well within the limitations of the console, not to mention possibly create something unique and entertaining due to these handicaps. But I guess the devs thought this would be a worthwhile endeavor, instead.

Such a bizarre blunder...

2/5

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (April 17, 2018)

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Masters posted April 17, 2018:

Good stuff, Pick. You need some pictures!

I do have some catches, though:

I can't say this is an error or anything, but the way I read the first paragraph, I thought you meant that Darius 1 in addition to this game, Darius R, was also ported to the GBA. Which is to say, I didn't realize they are the same game until a bit later. Could be I'm just slow, though.

Before you know it, your limited lives is wasted...

Should be "are wasted..."

Instead, have more familiar, plodding enemy formations.

I think something is missing from this sentence.

Anyway, I always love reading about shooters, especially ones I haven't played. I did play Darius Plus though, which is the PC Engine port of the arcade game. Have you tried that one? I didn't know about the three-screen arcade layout, so I have no idea how they compensated for the PC Engine version, but I seem to recall it getting pretty decent reviews.


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pickhut posted April 17, 2018:

Thanks for catching those mistakes. For that second error, I was trying to go for something like "Here, have more crappy food." I can understand why that wouldn't go over well for the reader, so I changed it. Never sounded right, either...

Never played Darius Plus, but I have watched gameplay video of it. I think that was the one thing I wanted to do in my Darius R review: compare other home ports of Darius to the GBA version. But I never played them, so I left that aspect out. From the look of it, though, Darius Plus seems to pull off the one-screen thing better than the GBA port did.

Thanks for reading! Sorry about the lack of images; I actually imported the game from Japan, since I wanted to experience this... thing... in all its tiny-screened glory.
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Masters posted April 17, 2018:

Yes, I remember liking Darius Plus well enough. Have you ever heard of Darius Alpha? It's a super rare version of Darius Plus but only with the bosses. It cost a fortune on eBay last time I checked. But, of course, there are ways to play it. How many Darius games have you played and how would you rank them? I think my ranking goes something like this:

Darius Twin > Super Nova > G-Darius > Darius Plus > Sagaia

I haven't played enough Dariusburst CS to rate it, and I never got to play what most people think of as the best of the series, Darius Gaiden. One day.
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pickhut posted April 17, 2018:

Never heard of Darius Alpha, though it doesn't come as a surprise that its obscurity makes it very valuable.

As for games played, its mostly the mainline games. Though, I would like to play the "spin-offs" or variations some day. My current ranking from top (best) to worst (bottom) goes:

Darius Gaiden
Dariusburst AC Mode
Darius
Darius II
G-Darius
Darius R

The thing about Gaiden is that... it doesn't necessarily do anything special when compared to the other games in the series. It's the first to go single screen in the arcades, it's the first in the mainline to add manual, screen-clearing bombs, and it's the final 2D game before the series jumped into 3D with G-Darius. Some might even consider it the most casual experience out of all the Darius games. Even so, it's still entertaining in its "simplicity," and has some very catchy music.

Darius I is a very dated and flawed game when compared to the others, and for some time, I ranked Darius II/Sagaia over it. However, the more I played it, the more it won me over. Maybe I'm just weird? For some reason, I can't truly get into Darius II; it has a memorable opening stage, but a lot of what comes after feels kinda bleh.

Ranking G-Darius so low on that list hurts. It's the first game to go 3D, has some of the best music in the franchise, and the whole "capture enemy" concept is unique. But I can't enjoy the game. There's such a thing as being too difficult to the point of not being fun anymore, and G-Darius leaps into that territory.
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Masters posted April 17, 2018:

Re G-Darius difficulty... I thought maybe I was alone in that, and I just didn't give it enough of a go (that may still be the case), but I thought the game was hard and... not fun.

You haven't played the SNES games??
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pickhut posted April 17, 2018:

I played Darius Twin briefly years ago, but not enough to form a solid opinion on it. Other than that, my only experience with the two SNES titles are with video clips and reading up on some of their features. I would like to give them a go some day, but that would have to be for another time. I fear Darius might be this year's "River City" if I try to review too many of them.
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EmP posted April 18, 2018:

I tried to grab some screens, but that dumb green flame shield made every capture I tried for look like absolute arse.

I'll try a different way once my patience reestablishes.
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pickhut posted April 21, 2018:

If you haven't done screen grabs by now, I'll do them. Finally have some actual free time to get it done!
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EmP posted April 21, 2018:

I don't mind skipping this because, I have to say, I wasn't enjoying this game very much.
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pickhut posted April 21, 2018:

It's a pain. And I forgot how much the squished screen was annoying until I had to get these screen grabs.

For comparison's sake, check out these videos, how Gradius Galaxies handles screen size compared to Darius R:

Gradius Galaxies

Darius R

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