Review: “G Darius HD” (PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch)

Taito’s original Darius game landed in arcades in 1987, making the series one of the oldest space shoot ’em up series out there. The game’s contemporaries include the likes of R-Type and Gradius, both of which seem to have more name recognition than Darius ever did. Is that because Gradius and R-Type received solid ports to 8-bit consoles of the era, while the Darius series wouldn’t see a release until the Super Nintendo port of the sequel, Darius Twin. Even then, Darius was always a bit lost in the crowd of 2D space shooters. As a kid, I remember thinking that Darius was “the one with the robot space fish.” While I wasn’t wrong, that alone isn’t enough to make for a compelling hook.

Nonetheless, the Darius series endured, and in 1997, a new installment hit the arcades in the form of G Darius. This time around, the developers at Taito took advantage of the 3D graphics craze by replacing the pixel-drawn sprites with polygonal models. This certainly gave G Darius a unique, modern look at the time, but like many other early experiments with 3D graphics, G Darius aged rather quickly.

Fast forward to 2021, and the folks at Taito have entrusted an HD remaster of G Darius to the capable hands of M2, who are widely recognized for their mastery of retro ports. So, how does G Darius fare now that it has received a modern coat of paint and polish?*

It’s a giant robot space shrimp

Smells like fish

G Darius is set in a sci-fi future where mankind is embroiled in a war against a civilization of cybernetic creatures known as the Thiima, which are the aforementioned robot space fish. After suffering a number of punishing defeats, humanity manages to craft a unique ship based on Thiima technology: the Silver Hawk fighters. Now you (and possibly a friend in the role of 2P) must take off across the galaxy and destroy the Thiima home base.

That’s enough plot for now. This is a shooter, after all.

As the pilot of the Silver Hawk fighter, you must dodge, damage, dash, destroy and dodge through hordes of robot space fish Thiima who come in the form of jellyfish, shrimp, er, carp, maybe. I don’t really know fish all that much. All I know is that they smell, so pound them as hard and as mercilessly as you would anything with a fishy smell. Your ship comes equipped with missiles and bombs, both of which can be upgraded by collecting power-ups, such as bombs shooting in multiple directions, your missiles being upgraded to lasers, etc.

Most uniquely, however, your ship also has a capture ball weapon which allows you to snatch an enemy fish Thiima and make it your unwitting slave, harnessing its attack power as it flies alongside the Silver Hawk fighter. Most captured enemy abilities are offensive, but some provide protection, too. You’re not limited to just the small fry either, because you can even enslave the larger mini bosses after destroying their armor, each of whom have special attack. No matter what type of enemy you subdue, your ship gains the ability to fire the alpha beam, which can counter the otherwise devastating beta beam attacks of the final bosses from each stage.

Flying alongside an enslaved miniboss

These boss fights themselves are very entertaining battles. These come in the form of giant manta rays, shrimp, fish (of course), and sea turtles (not a fish!). Most of them take up a great deal of the screen, but maneuvering around them is seamless as your ship will automatically change direction if they get behind you. They all have quite a few different attack patterns, too, which makes fighting them a bit more complicated than the simpler pattern memorization from many other 2D shooters.

Slippery when wet

The game ends after you complete five stages, which should take you somewhere around 30-45 minutes, depending on your skill level. You can “add credits” and continue as much as you like, so there’s not much challenge to simply seeing the end of the game. However, you can select multiple paths as you complete each stage, and with all of the variations, there is a total of fifteen uniques stages to play through, each with their own environment and boss fights. There’s also a different ending depending on which route you take, so there’s actually quite a bit of incentive to replay the game despite its short length.

As far as the stages go, there is a decent amount of variation. There are the old standbys, of course (i.e. asteroid fields, decimated space colonies, etc.), but there are also stages where the screen does not scroll from left to right, and not even from right to left, but diagonally, too. Plus, there is a world of giant flying dinosaurs, which was a nice change of pace from all the fish. I didn’t find any particular path through the stages to be particularly more or less difficult than the others, but the game certainly becomes punishingly difficult by the end, no matter which path you take.

See? A diagonal stage. Keen!

Graphically, G Darius HD offers a crisp, clean polygonal package over the standard definition visuals of the original arcade version, but the higher resolution appears to be the primary upgrade. While the soundtrack is adequate, I didn’t find any of the tracks to be particularly remarkable, and they were honestly pretty quiet. I definitely recommend going into the options and cranking up the music volume before taking off on your first flight. I also noticed a bit of slowdown at times, which was admittedly slight, but nonetheless inexcusable when playing an upscaled version of a 25 year old game on a PS4 Pro.

In addition to the typical gameplay options, M2 has also included a few other options to tweak the G Darius experience to your liking. There are multiple visual options for the screen border, and if you’re particularly nostalgic, you can play the game in its original arcade format, but I imagine that most will opt for the upgraded visuals. There’s also a checklist-style gallery of all the game’s enemies, with each being checked off when you snare them with your capture ball. The gallery even tells you the stages in which each enemy can be found, too, so completists and trophy hunters alike can map out their next playthrough to complete their collection.

Aw! Shell shock!

Does it hit the G-Darius Spot?

Overall, G Darius is a solid game with a great hook. By modern standards, there’s nothing remarkable about the aesthetics, even after M2’s HD polish, but the creative mechanics make it well worth playing. The $29.99 asking price might seem a bit steep for a 45-minute game, but snaring all of the different enemies across multiple playthroughs adds a lot of replay, as does seeing all fifteen stages and boss battles. If you’re a fan of the the 2D shoot ’em up genre and have largely missed out on the Darius series until now, then G-Darius HD is a great way to get your feet (fins?) wet.

*Disclosure: A copy of G Darius HD was provided to The Splintering for the purpose of this review.

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