Monday, February 15, 2010

Super Darius

NEC Avenue / Taito

I didn't get around to buying Super Darius until I had already played and enjoyed its sequel, so I set my expectations for it at what I believed was an appropriately moderate level. Consensus seemed to indicate that SD was little but a solid shooter that essentially laid the groundwork for its flashier followup. There's no question that its graphics are not as impressive as SD2's--a quick glance at side-by-side screens makes this quite apparent. And I discovered upon playing SD that its bosses can't compare to the end-level monstrosities who star in its successor. In fact, many of SD's gate guardians are utilized in severely shrunken form as mini-bosses in SD2, mere yes-men to powerful new titans.

But it's no big deal that SD isn't as impressive as SD2 with its visuals (as its graphics are still very nice) or its bosses (as SD2's bosses are flat-out incredible). No, Super Darius' real issue is the problem caused during boss fights by its compacted playfield. The decision to stick with the brand of enormous sprites present in the three-screen-wide arcade game leaves players with precious little breathing room when the gigantic bosses arrive, and it doesn't help that said bosses typically fire super-fast spread bullets that leave only the tiniest gaps to slip through. Reaching a level's last battle is something to be dreaded, as the bosses are much more frustrating than enjoyable to deal with.

But if you can accept the cheapness of the boss fights, you may end up loving the game, as I did (surprisingly enough). You see, SD2 doesn't beat up on its forerunner in every way. In fact, Super Darius crushes its sequel musically with a raucous, industrial-style soundtrack. It's abstract stuff, a bit spooky at times, distorted and powerful. And some of its awesome low-end sounds bring to mind the memorable basslines of Mystic Defender for me. (How's that for an unlikely comparison? Bear in mind I'm the only nutter who would ever make it.)

Even more importantly, Super Darius boasts level action that's actually much more exciting than what you can experience in SD2's strips. Enemies and projectiles are so much faster here, and while you're dealing with them, you must note where the special foes who drop power-up gels appear. You need to strengthen your shot, bombs, and shields as quickly as possible, so it's critical that you nab every gel you can. There are also secret one-up, smart-bomb, and bonus-point icons to find. While SD2 often feels like an uncomfortable blend of play styles, Super Darius perfectly combines elements of extreme speed and strategy, making for an engaging experience. The only problem with the way things proceed is that your main weapon actually regresses from an effective missile to a piddly laser before you ultimately earn the almighty wave beam.

In typical Darius fashion, SD allows you to travel numerous paths and reach multiple endings. I must mention that its concluding sequences are nowhere near as entertaining as the goofy epilogues in SD2.

Still, SD actually provides more fun for me on the whole than does its superb sequel.

Comparisons, comparisons. That's what this was pretty much all about, I guess. I feel it was necessary in light of the rap Super Darius takes as SD2's supposedly weaker kinsman. But really, considering that they're both great and both must-gets, it doesn't matter all that much which one is "better." The obvious, sensible thing to do is get both!

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