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Darius Twin (SNES) artwork

Darius Twin (SNES) review

"Shooters. The darling of the hardcore croud, the games those elitist gamers heap praises upon. I've never cared for them, personally. Gradius, R-Type, and the like just never appealed to me in any way, appearing too unforgiving, too dependant on rote memorization, too much a twitch type game for a person like me who can't even get past the first level in Contra. But I figured the genre deserved a second chance, that I had better actually give it a shot before I could feel completely justifie..."

Shooters. The darling of the hardcore croud, the games those elitist gamers heap praises upon. I've never cared for them, personally. Gradius, R-Type, and the like just never appealed to me in any way, appearing too unforgiving, too dependant on rote memorization, too much a twitch type game for a person like me who can't even get past the first level in Contra. But I figured the genre deserved a second chance, that I had better actually give it a shot before I could feel completely justified in ignoring all of them. I think the last one I played was 1942, so you can imagine how far behind I am in the genre. And so I played Darius Twin.

It certainly seemed a strange sight to me. Like practically all other shooters before it, you and your tiny little ship is the only hope against a vast armada of intellectually deficient pilots of the evil empire. In this case, the peaceful people of the planet Olga are being invaded by the evil Belser from Darius. So you must fight through the hordes of bad dudes, fighting your way from your home planet all the way to Darius to take them out once and for all. Clearly, a deep and exciting plot never ranked high on Taito's itinerary, but then again it'd be silly to think this game needed one. But there is one little gem that stands out. Our friend Belser seems to be a a student of oceanography, as all of his biggest and baddest ships are designed after marine life. Yes, after facing down streams of vaguely ship-like objects, you'll come face to face with a giant robotic fish. Your biggest fights will be against turtles, sharks, squid, shrimp, and even a seahorse. It boggles the mind how this idea ever got through, but you can't deny it lends the game a certain charm. All these derivative spaceship type things get kind of boring after a while, so why not? Evil empires using fish in their military makes as much sense as sending one tiny ship to save your planet, so there's no point in worrying about the inanity of the situation. Just enjoy it.

Enjoying it means fighting your way through seven levels of doom. You supposedly have a variety of routes to reach your final destination, although the only difference between these routes is the powerups you'll recieve. Yes, these staples of the shooter genre are vital if you wish to suceed. Your ship that is armed only with the equivalent of spitballs, barely hurting even the dinkiest of enemies. But when you break open certain capsules that fly into the scene, your pitiful pea shooter will upgrade. First lasers, and then a wave beam will be your primary weapon. Upgrade them enough and they will eventually become a tour de force, simply mowing down the weaker enemies and quickly making filets of the fish you fight. Your secondary weapon, which shoots out at 45 degree angles, can also be upgraded to provide a devastating four way attack. With these weapons you must make it through the scrolling levels, avoiding or blasting away at the waves of enemies coming at you from all different directions. In other words, it's pretty much your average shooter.

So why did I pick this game to begin my shooter odyssey? Quite frankly, because it's apparantly one of the easier ones out there. The biggest boost this game has is that you don't lose your powerups when you die. Like most shooters, the tiniest scratch will blast your little ship to smithereens (making me wonder yet again what your world was thinking letting you be the only pilot to save them all). But thanks to the magic of reincarnation, you appear again, in the same place that you died, with a few seconds invincibility (very helpful!), and just as strong as you were before you died. I think a lot of my revulsion against the genre is the harsh penalty for dying, as you usually lose a lot of your enhancements. When that happens, you're practically dead in the water, as you'll have little chance gaining them all back before tackling a gigantic and overpowering boss. This is bad design, but fortunately Darius removes that annoyance. On the other hand, perhaps it is too lenient, as losing a life means nothing more than, well, losing a life. Perhaps your laser could be knocked down one level instead? I guess it's hard to get a good balance when the only thing to the game is moving around and shooting, but I won't complain much. The fact that the game is much easier thanks to keeping your weapons is undoubtedly a good thing.

And, although I'm not the best judge of these things, I'd have to say that the game itself is a bit on the easy side too. You have unlimited ammo for both your main and alternate weapons, so you have no reason not to hold down those two buttons throughout the entire game. On the other hand, that means practically the entirety of your gaming experience consists of moving around, either trying to get in front of enemies to zap them or running away from them before they zap you. It makes me wonder why it's called a shooter, besides the fact that "Move around-er" sounds stupid. But seriously, firing away is not the focus; staying out of harm's way is. And when all the enemies, even the bosses, attack and fly in predetermined patterns, it starts to become pretty obvious how to go about maneuvering to get maximum killage and minimum deathage. Sit here and you can blast all of those enemies, hide up here and no one will get you, shoot that guy for a few moments and then dodge. A game reliant on having pinpoint control, requiring you to have perfect timing and execute complicated maneuvers at specific areas? Nope, not at all. Shooter fans may disdain the fact that getting through the first few levels is a breeze (even for me!) once you have a good idea of what's going on, and even the rest of us may wonder if the game is a bit too much on the easy side.

Well, fortunately Taito tries to move it beyond such an elemental level. Even though you can get to the boss in level 1 without pressing a single button, even though your weapons are aproaching mass destruction levels, things start to get more hectic. No, you won't just be facing enemies that take more shots to kill. You'll be facing harder enemies with multiple waves coming at once and a rapidly increasing scroll rate while navigating your way through a maze of deadly structures and attempting to avoid debris and bullets. Not quite so serene anymore, is it? Minibosses with simple patterns will be replaced by creatures that rush you and even get behind you (thus eliminating any advantage your main weapon gives you); bosses that require nothing more than dodging 2-3 slow moving attacks will make way for creatures with tons of blasts moving in every which direction. Suddenly, that "move around-er" game becomes a shooter again, as there's simply going to be too much on screen at one time that you must focus on thinning the herd a bit. As the game moves on, it becomes more and more hectic, and more and more reliant on quick reflexes and knowing the enemy patterns perfectly. No, it never becomes extremely hard, but hard enough for me. I can't say the ramp up in difficulty is nice and evenly paced though. The first few levels are just too ridiculously easy and the last few quite hard, meaning you may feel some rapid progress through the game before ramming into a brick wall. And then you have to sleep your way through those first few levels every time you try again. I'm certainly not advocating that saving would be a good idea, but a better progression of difficulty wouldn't have hurt.

But that's not all there is to this game. Grab a friend and double your chances! Yes, the twin in the title refers to a 2-player mode, where both of you are on screen blasting away. I kind of wonder why more shooters don't do this; it's not like the mechanics of it are difficult. The only issue is who grabs the powerups, but since there are more possibilities for upgrades than necessary, it's not a big deal. Why don't more shooters have this?

So, just how should I rank this game? I doubt it would receive heaps of praise from fans of the genre, and as far as I can tell there's really nothing special about it. It's a bit on the easy side, weapon upgrades are simple, there's no special gimmick (outside of the fish thing) or hook to keep the player interested, and the game itself doesn't appear to do much that can be said to be innovative or outstanding. But at the same time, it doesn't do anything wrong either. You do have to memorize enemy patterns, you still blast through a billion ships, levels still get progressively harder and you still have to move quickly or die. And, of course, the ability to keep your upgrades after you die. It seems, when I went looking for an introduction to the shooter world, I picked the right game. A bit easier than normal while adding a nice quirky style means that it is palatable to everyone, even if it may not be amazing. I'm not sure if I'll continue with my quest for shooters, but at least my starting point turned out to be decent.


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Featured community review by mariner (October 05, 2004)

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