Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade/Console review: an admirable history lesson on Taito’s shmup past

During one of our weekly phone conversations, my brother pointed out that when we talk about video games I have a tendency to lean into vintage titles rather than talk about newer ones. While I like to keep up with the medium, I feel like there’s such a plethora of information on each new release that a lot of the magic of discovery is gone. That’s not to say hidden gems aren’t still being unearthed, it’s just that for the most part, everything is a known quantity. And to stretch the analogy further, I find more joy in digging up fossils than diamonds. While I enjoy having recognized classic games to hand at any given time, I’ve also unearthed a love for the deeper cuts and underappreciated treasures as something of an amateur gaming historian.

Somewhere in the basement of my wheelhouse resides the Darius Cozmic Collection, a duology of releases that minutely chronicles Taito’s 1980s library of aquatic-themed shoot ‘em ups, all polished by the ever-helpful hands of port-masters M2. While I’m well aware of Taito’s biggest arcade hits, such as Space Invaders, Arkanoid and Bubble Bobble, I’m out of the loop when it comes to Darius and its various tweaked versions, sequels and ports. As far as education goes, the Cozmic Collection is as solid a 101 class on the subject could be.

For whatever reason, the collection is split into two releases: one focused on the arcade side and the other one for consoles. It would have been nice to see them all bundled together, especially given the price of each as a standalone (see below), but I can also appreciate the delineation. The Arcade release is the best place to start, because the games included are the baseline, while the Console collection feels better suited for those who are more interested in the minutiae of the series. Arcade includes the original Darius as well as two iterations that smooth out some wrinkles, Darius II/Sagaia (named differently depending on what region it was released in) and its subsequent updates, and Darius Gaiden, the third game in the series in all but name. On the Console side we have Darius II/Sagaia ports for the Genesis/Mega Drive and Master System (of all things), Super Nintendo originals Darius Twin and Darius Force/Super Nova, as well as a PC Engine port of Super Darius called Darius Plus and a boss rush version called Darius Alpha. I know I know, that’s a lot of Darius and/or backslashes.

There isn’t a dud in the whole bunch. Each game has that crisp, pristine pixel-art representation that port-house M2 is known for, with various filters to try and keep it as close to the original incarnations as you’d like. Unfortunately some of the effect of the arcade game’s two- or three-screen display is lost on anything but a big screen TV, but the multi-screen representation here is fair and still very playable. Each game has a simple move/shoot/bomb play style that translates well no matter which version you play, with an auto-fire option as well for those of us who aren’t as adept at jabbing the fire button as others. I wish there was a rewind feature, but I think some of the game’s charm would be lost without that personal sense of progression one gets from arcade games of this ilk. There is a handy quick-save feature though, which at the very least you could use to record your progress after finishing particularly harrowing segments.

Typically when I play retro game collections like this I tend to turn off the sidebar artwork, but the arcade versions have a very nice overlay that feels not only in tune with games of the time but also has functional bits such as letting you know where in the segmenting map you’re going. Even without the overlay, just hitting the menu button does the same thing, which helps you track how many of the levels you’ve played through. You can also save and download replays, and for those of us just getting our shmup legs, it will be great to see real masters sharing their triumphant runs. Still, I was hoping these collections would have more historical artifacts or at the very least art assets, but instead all we get is a succinct but descriptive overview.

While a single run might only last you an hour or so in any given Darius game, they all have an underlying depth when it comes to choosing your path that makes them all worth returning to. I actually jotted down my paths under the pretense that I will return to them again and choose a different route the next time. All in all, there’s a lot of meat on these bones – I just wish the steak wasn’t cut in half and served at a premium price. Even so, if you have any interest in either the history of shoot ‘em ups or video games in general, the Darius Cozmic Collection is an adoring look back at one of the medium’s less-well-remembered series.

Finally, for ease, here’s a full list what you get in each game, and their RRP:

Darius Cozmic Collection Console

Price: 54.99€ / 44.99 GBP / 59.99 USD. Includes 6 titles (9 versions) from the Darius home console series.

  • Darius II (Mega Drive, JP version)
  • SAGAIA (Genesis, US version)
  • SAGAIA (Master System, EU version)
  • Darius Twin (Super Famicom, JP version)
  • Darius Twin (Super NES, US version)
  • Darius Force (Super Famicom, JP version)
  • Super Nova (Super NES, US version)
  • Darius Alpha (PC Engine, JP version)
  • Darius Plus (PC Engine, JP version)

Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade

Price: 39.99€ / 34.99 GBP/ 44.99 USD. Includes 4 titles (7 versions) from the Darius arcade series.

  • Darius (Arcade, original version)
  • Darius (Arcade, new version)
  • Darius (Arcade, extra version)
  • Darius II (Arcade, Dual Screen version)
  • SAGAIA (Arcade, ver.1)
  • SAGAIA (Arcade, ver.2)
  • Darius Gaiden (Arcade)

Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade and Darius Cozmic Collection Console were developed by M2, ININ Games and Taito, and are available on PS4 and Switch. We played the Switch versions.

Disclosure statement: review code for Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade and Darius Cozmic Collection Console was provided by PR Hound. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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