Darius Gaiden
by sunburstbasser

Darius Gaiden is a horizontal shmup which has a story involving blowing stuff up. The attract mode has some Engrish which attempts to explain the setting.

Darius Gaiden is the first game in the series that really manages to go beyond being a bland horizontal shooter. None of the earlier games were outright bad, but often they had bland levels and the only really good parts were the music and boss fights. That changed with Gaiden, which has very good level design, intense gameplay, fantastic boss fights and the strangest music Zuntata could come up with.

Darius Gaiden is set immediately after the first Darius. With that in mind, let the screenshots tell the story.

Darius Gaiden puts tremendous firepower at your fingertips as you power up. Button A fires both your gun and your bombs, while B uses the new Black Hole Bomb. Collecting red shields powers up your gun, green shields your bomb, and blue shields give you the classic Darius force field. Yellow shields erase all enemies, and grey ones give a score bonus. Purple shields give another Black Hole Bomb, and finally a Silver Hawk in a bubble awards an extend. At full power, you will have homing missiles, auto- targeting options, and red crescents that pierce enemies and walls all firing at once. The maximum number of projectiles you can have on screen is high enough that around half of the screen will have weaponry on it.

Scoring is relatively simple. Shooting down a whole group of enemies gives a fixed score bonus. The grey shields have a fluctuating point value, based on where they are in their little orbit when you collect them. Upon completing the game, any Silver Hawks or bombs left give major bonus points. Beyond that, just shoot stuff.

Graphically the game is immense. Darius Gaiden was originally made for the same F3 system that Ray Force runs on. Backgrounds fade in and out, and the landscape is rendered to give a sense of distance. Enemies will hide in the background, and shoot lasers out at you. The rotating tube in Stage 1 of Gekirindan originally showed up in Darius Gaiden. More impressively, the number of sprites on screen at any time can get very massive. Many bosses are made of many sprites, and can fires bullets all over the screen. The game doesn't lag at all, even with so much intensity.

Sonically the game is a bit of an odd one. Explosions and sound effects don't often have a lot of punch. The ones that do are usually enemy attacks, which helps avoid them a little. The music is very strange. Dance beats are mixed with warbling melodies and sampled vocal tracks. I happen to like a lot of it. It isn't really all that good for listening to by itself, but it fits the game quite well.

Darius Gaiden does have a rank system. It is fairly easy to control. Each stage has a pre-determined rank. Powering up your gun to the next form on any stage will increase rank to that stage's pre-determined value. To keep rank relatively low, simply stop powering up once you reach wide green or red crescents. Rank will be higher than the beginning, but not so high as to make later sections nightmarish.

Like other Darius games, Gaiden allows you to select the next stage. Each tier is given a theme. I'll explain the theme, and show you what one playthrough looks like.

Zone A is the Vadis Base. This level is pretty easy, and should let you get accustomed to the game. No really impressive graphical tricks, although instead of simply entering a new section the background morphs into it. The midboss shoots a flamethrower and is pretty easy to capture.

Golden Ogre is an ogrefish and Taito seems to be quite proud of it. You can see him in the background while the WARNING screen flashes, then he smashes a building when the fight actually begins. The F3 system wasn't made to draw polygons, but it could draw and manipulate a ton of sprites and Golden Ogre is made up of many sprites animated in unison to look like a 3D boss. He doesn't have much in the way of attacks. He shoots scales at you (shoot through them), he shoots a big beam at you (move up a little), and he has a bullet spread that is easy to dodge. Pathetic.

The second tier is the Vadis Wilderness. Zone B is a fight over the unpopulated lands of the planet, including plains, sea and forest. The ground is rendered to give a sense of depth. The midboss is again easy to capture, stay on top of him and he'll go down quickly. Some enemies zoom in from the background, a nice touch. If you collect every powerup up to the boss without dying, he'll go down much easier than if you died even once and lost your weapon level. Of interesting note, the music track from Zone A continues right up until you meet the boss.

Ancient Dozer the horseshoe crab drops down and begins plowing through the forest. I don't think I've met a more intense logger. On his back are a couple turrets and a hatch that fires missiles. He can dive into the background and fire blue balls at you, and then potentially run into you on the way back. When he takes enough damage, he'll go airborne and start hitting you with lasers and more blue balls. You can shoot off his little legs in this form.

Tier 3 is the Vadis System Open Space. These levels tend to be pretty heavy in the debris department, with scraps of spaceships or asteroids flying about. Zone D has asteroids, and part way through you'll enter a space cave. Darius Gaiden does not award extends for score, but any stage in Tier 3 will have an extend that you can find by shooting the scenery.

Folding Fan the fanfish looks relatively tame when he shows up. For a HUGE BATTLESHIP, he's only about the size of some of the midbosses you've taken down by now. He can throw out orbs that shoot at you when destroyed. He has a bullet spread that if you sit just in front of it in the right spot, you can dodge these. His signature attack is his lightning spine attack. When he spreads his fins, each spine will fire an arc. He is very mobile and can run into you as well.

The fourth tier is the Dimensional Corridor. Each zone starts the same, in open space being surrounded by enemies. Control is taken away from you, and just as the enemies close in you warp into the real level. Regardless of which zone you choose, the levels tend towards the organic. Zone G has sections with fallen pink gooey things. The level design looks a bit like Salamander 2, and it even has waving tentacles that retreat as you shoot them like in Konami shmups.

Prickly Angler starts out as just a little minnow like the ones you fought throughout the level. It changes into a small anglerfish and starts pelting you with some lasers. Nothing too awful. When it takes enough damage, it turns into an adult. It now has blue lasers that expand and contract in a circular pattern and the straight lasers are more menacing. It also has many animated parts, such as the fins.

The fifth tier is the Darius system. More space levels with some debris. For Zone K, the beginning of the stage takes place over a space station, with enemies hiding in little nooks and shooting at you. A good chunk of this stage takes place inside of a space fortress. At the beginning and end, you have to destroy a wall firing bullets at you, which is actually really easy.

Fatty Glutton guards Zone K. Being a classic Darius boss, he gets little orbs that precede him in battle for points. He has some classic attacks, like the anchors, but also gets some new bullet spreads and lasers to bring him up to the level of other Gaiden bosses. Like the original Fatty Glutton, even with just a few attacks he manages to keep you moving at all times.

Tier six is Planet Darius, Part 1. Zone P takes place mostly either above or below the sea. The effect of diving into the water in this game is very cool, with water splashing everywhere. The midboss here has a gatling gun and a lot of health, but if you capture him can be good help.

The crusty hammer is a mantis shrimp that loves to bounce around. While all of his back scales indicate damage, you have to aim for the face to kill him. He has some very danmaku-esque attacks, like when he rotates all over spraying the place with skinny straight lasers. Even when he isn't rotating, he can fire straight lasers at you. He will also try to slap you down with his arm. When he does die, he spins around for a moment before exploding.

The seventh tier is the second Darius stage, and the last stage of the game. Zone Z has a city for a background, though most of the level is spent fighting through tight corridors. It's not too bad.

Great Thing is another traditional Darius boss, and one of the hardest in every game. This guy is a flying sperm whale fitted with enough weaponry to take on entire fleets without being underarmed. He has a ton of attacks and never stops shooting at least one. He can fire a yellow homing laser salvo that moves very fast. He has a twisty laser that isn't so bad. He also has nose drills. His worst attack is his death ray. A cannon on his back activates and a laser sweeps the stage, trying to follow you. If you move too fast or don't have enough room when it starts, it will get you every time. Great Thing can also add some big bullet spreads which are a little hard to dodge.

Beating Great Thing gives one of the games better endings. Watch the credits as Golden Ogre swims around.

Darius Gaiden has been ported to numerous systems over the years, usually in compilation packs. The best is the Saturn version. It is nearly arcade- perfect. It also allows autofire by special code. The firing rate in the normal game is high enough that you can't really press the button faster, but too slow to get through enemies quickly. The Saturn version bumps it up to a full 30/second. It's possible to kill Golden Ogre before he fires his beam at this speed, and the first four stages all become really easy with this amount of firepower. Of course, various emulators like Raine and most versions of MAME besides the basic one allow the same autofire rate.

Darius Gaiden still stands as my favorite side-scrolling shmup. Check it out.


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