Sagaia (Genesis) review
"Due to the path I'm taking, my objective is the sea urchin-like monstrosity known as Leadain — a foul contraption with multiple deadly attacks and seemingly more lives than a cat. It kills me, forcing me to re-enter the fray with only a pair of pea-shooter weapons. Not even the luck of the gods will allow me to see the next level under these conditions."
And the mighty ocean god Poseidon said, “Let there be giant robot fish monsters to put these foolish mortals in their place!”
While it was a somewhat flawed shooter by Taito, I have a soft spot for Darius Plus. This Supergrafx (upgraded TG-16) offering boasted gorgeous backgrounds and some of the best bosses I’ve ever seen in an old-school console game. Faithful to the original arcade Darius (with the exception of the really, really wide screen), the game’s big baddies were large, beautifully-detailed aquatic robots that easily stood out compared to the hordes of generic spaceship villains commonly found in this sort of game.
Another neat feature of Darius Plus was the way a player progressed through the game. After completing each horizontally-scrolling level, there would be a fork in the road. Taking the top path would lead to one stage, while the low road led to another. This would be repeated after every completed stage, as the game had nearly 30 levels, only seven of which would be seen during any playthrough. This gave Darius Plus a certain degree of replay value most shooters couldn’t boast, as it would obviously take multiple tries to see everything Taito had to offer.
Alas, mad with power, Poseidon set sail on a voyage that would lead to his ruin....
Darius II was the arcade follow-up to that game. Offering the same sort of action, it only seemed like a matter of time before some lucky console got the opportunity to host its own very accurate and enjoyable conversion. Unfortunately, that day didn't see light when the Genesis got its hands on it, as their effort to capture the magic fizzled.
“Wait a minute!” you might exclaim. “How can this be? Isn’t the Genesis the system with such respected and diverse horizontal shooters like Thunder Force III, Wings of Wor and Gaiares? Surely you must be mistaken!”
Sorry, I’m not. Yes, those games are very good, but Sagaia (as this port of Darius II was called) isn’t even decent. Taito wasn’t able to replicate the awesome aspects of the arcade game on this system like they did on the Supergrafx with Darius Plus. The bosses seemed pedestrian, the levels looked bland and the game was forgettable. And, as I alluded to earlier, the Darius games do have their flaws. With the best parts somewhat neutered, every imperfection seemed magnified until I couldn’t wait to complete one seven-level run and put it down for good.
”Confound this foul witchery!” cried Poseidon. “Every time one of my enemies touches me, my power is reduced!”
Taito’s biggest folly was creating a weapon system only a true masochist could love. In the Darius games, every once in a while, an enemy will drop a power-up, which (if collected) boosts either the ship’s main weapon, its secondary gun (shoots at angles) or bestows a shield that can absorb a small amount of damage. Now, this isn’t like Gradius, where skilled players can expect to have their vessel operating at peak efficiency within a matter of minutes. In Sagaia, as in many of this series’ games, one can only count on getting a tiny handful of power-ups per level -- making the development of a strong ship a task that can take much of the game to complete.
One problem: losing a life strips the ship of all its power, forcing the player to start from square one.
Not cool. Let’s say I’m cruising through Sagaia's fifth level, conquering the first four without breaking a sweat. Due to the path I'm taking, my objective is the sea urchin-like monstrosity known as Leadain -- a foul contraption with multiple deadly attacks and seemingly more lives than a cat. It kills me, forcing me to re-enter the fray with only a pair of pea-shooter weapons. Not even the luck of the gods will allow me to see the next level under these conditions. My only option is to hit the “reset” button and try again. And the sad thing is that even if I lost that life at the very beginning of the stage, I likely would still have no hope against Leadain, as there wouldn't be sufficient time to collect enough power-ups to be effective against any but the weakest of bosses. Things like that really sap a person’s desire to play a game, especially when one considers that, as far as gameplay goes, the Darius series tends to offer solid, but unexceptional, shooting action that neither reaches the frenzied pace of a Lightening Force nor becomes as intricate and claustrophobic as an R-Type.
”Egad!” bellowed Poseidon. “This truly is a dire fate. But surely there is still some hope of redemption for me, is there not?”
Not that my desire was sapped completely. Sure, Sagaia contained all the less-than-desirable elements of the Darius games while stripping away much of their appeal, but I still found the occasional reminder of how good the arcade version could get. Leadain and a few other bosses proved to be fun and tough challenges that took more than one try to overcome, while a couple of levels were designed quite nicely. Even so, I couldn’t look at this as anything more than a mediocre game after spending much of my playing time knowing I was playing something a lot closer to the SNES’ bare-bones Darius Twin than Darius Plus.
And so Poseidon faded into the annals of history -- one more of the elder gods lost in oblivion....
The problem with Sagaia isn’t that it’s a bad game, but that it’s an unexceptional one. On the various consoles of the time period, shooters of all shapes and sizes were released, meaning a game would have to stand out to truly be noticed. Very little about Sagaia accomplishes this. A couple of stages and bosses caught my eye in a positive manner, as did the large number of stages. However, I found it annoying that one mistake would take away all my ship’s power-ups, especially considering how long it takes to become truly lethal. All things considered, Sagaia is mediocre and flawed -- just one of many shooters lacking the necessary ingredients to be memorable.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (June 21, 2006)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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