G-Darius HD – Review
Follow Genre: Arcade game, 2D shoot-'em-up
Developer: TAITO, M2
Publisher: United Games Entertainment
Platform: Switch, PS4
Tested on: Switch

G-Darius HD – Review

Site Score
8.3
Good: A faithful recreation of a classic arcade shmup
Bad: Tedious boss battles
User Score
9.0
(1 votes)
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Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)

It seems like only yesterday that we took a look at Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+, so the arrival of G-Darius HD caught us somewhat off guard. Granted, the HD re-release of this 1997 shmup classic has been out in Japan for quite a while now, so the Western release was somewhat overdue, but we expected TAITO to wait a little longer before unleashing G-Darius HD on American and European fans. We’re not complaining though, as G-Darius is generally considered a better game than Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+. It’s been freshened up for modern audiences but beneath the bells and whistles beats the heart of a bona fide shmup classic. So, how does G-Darius hold up nearly 25 years after its initial release?

Story

As is typically the case with arcade games, especially ones that originated from the time when actual arcades were still a thing, there isn’t a whole lot to G-Darius’ story. In fact, what was presented to us during the game’s intro was so brief and fragmented that we had to resort elsewhere to figure out exactly what was going on. We assume that the story was fleshed out in the game manual when G-Darius was first ported to the original PlayStation, but if you’re simply going by the story snippets that the game hands to you, then a lot of information is simply lost. Of course, this is a title that is all about gameplay and less about immersing you in a dramatic space opera. That said, G-Darius serves as a prequel to other entries in the series and revolves around a conflict between the humanoid Amnelia race and the Thiima, an army of cybernetically enhanced bio vessels. Using reverse engineered Thiima technology, the Amnelians create the Silver Hawk, which is the ship the player takes control of. With the Silver Hawk as their last resort, the Amnelians launch a desperate attack on the Thiima home base, in order to regain their freedom from their oppressors.

Graphics

Way back in 1997, G-Darius revolutionized the franchise, being the first 3D title in a series that up until that point used 2D graphics. G-Darius HD not only delivers a shiny new version of the original graphics but also offers players the ability to take on the game in its original, unaltered form. The original graphics hold up well, despite their age, not in the least because modern screens allow for an unprecedented look at these designs from yesteryear. Admittedly, these aren’t exact reproductions of what players saw in 1997, simply because we’ve moved on from 4:3 CRT displays, but thanks to a wide array of customizable options, you’re able to create something that comes pretty close. Of course, there is little reason to resort to the original graphics, as the “new” visuals look stunning, with the varied environments -ranging from pterodactyl infested skies to underwater vistas- occasionally looking so impressive that you’ll be distracted from the actual gameplay. We did notice an occasional slowdown when the action ramped up, which was a letdown, but overall G-Darius HD knocks it out of the park visually -provided you like the retro aesthetics in the first place, of course.

Sound

Once again, TAITO’s in-house band ZUNTATA provides the soundtrack. The retro rock tunes sound crisp and fit the adrenaline-fueled on-screen action to a tee. The sound quality is great, especially while playing with headphones, with the music sounding clear as crystal. The sound effects are crisp as well, even though they haven’t been updated since their original release and feel somewhat dated as a result. There is no voice acting present here either, so ZUNTATA’s soundtrack is the only real highlight when it comes to G-Darius HD’s soundscape.

Gameplay

If you’re even vaguely familiar with the Darius series, you should already know what to expect from G-Darius HD from a gameplay point of view, but for the uninitiated: G-Darius HD is a remastered version of an arcade shoot-’em-up (or shmup) that sees you take control of the Silver Hawk as you traverse side-scrolling levels, firing lasers at everything that moves. The levels feel like gauntlets, and the key to defeating a level usually lies in memorizing where and when enemies will pop up so that you can appropriately react to their arrival. The levels are bookended by boss battles and these are where the game’s real challenge lies. Of course, given the arcade origins of G-Darius HD, the fast-paced gameplay and reliance on memorization are by design, as the aim was to get players to spend as many credits as possible while playing on arcade machines back in the day.

As we’ve come to expect from the Darius franchise, whenever you reach the end of the level, you get to choose which level to tackle next from a selection of two. A single playthrough of G-Darius HD consists of five levels, selected from the fifteen in total included in the game. It’s something that already irked us when we looked at Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+ and it’s perhaps something that’s inevitable with arcade shmups in general: there is a very limited amount of variety. Of course, the game wasn’t designed with dozens of levels in mind: the aim is to replay the same levels over and over again, memorizing them and doing everything at your disposal to improve your own high score but it does limit the appeal to anyone looking for an experience that feels more like a space adventure and less like an arcade machine looking to gobble up your coins.

One of the more memorable features included here bears -perhaps somewhat surprisingly- a remarkable similarity to Pokémon. Using devices known as Capture Balls, you’re able to catch most enemies after weakening them. Successfully doing so results in that enemy fighting on your behalf for a limited time. It’s a mechanic that certainly makes G-Darius HD stand out from the competition and it feels like more than just a gimmick. With different enemies offering different benefits, ranging from a boost to your own shooting power to defensive shields, a large part of G-Darius HD’s fun comes from figuring out which strategies work for you. There is a seemingly infinite number of combinations and mastering the capture mechanic can be the key to victory.

Of course, the most important moments where you’ll rely on captured enemies is during boss battles. Unfortunately, this is where G-Darius HD drops the ball somewhat as these feel tedious and stretched out if you don’t have the right tools at your disposal to take them down quickly. The fastest way to take down a boss is through a Laser Duel, which is where you’ll counter your opponent’s laser blast with your own, rapidly tapping the fire button to overwhelm the opposing shot. It’s a difficult trick to pull off though, and most of the boss battles are spent simply spamming shots, but the game doesn’t really give you an indication of progress here. There is no life bar, nor any visual cues to show how close a boss is to being defeated, which adds to the feeling of the fight taking ages to complete.

Despite the tedious boss battles, however, G-Darius HD’s reputation as the better Darius title compared to its predecessor is well deserved. It’s more challenging, so if you’re a genre aficionado looking for a title to really sink your teeth into, this is going to be your next best bet. Of course, this is a niche title for a niche audience and if you’re not a fan of shmups or simply seeking to dip your toes into the water, this isn’t going to be the title that is going to convince you of the genre.

Conclusion

G-Darius HD offers a faithful recreation of the arcade classic. Despite its age, it holds up as one of the best shmups on the Switch and retro enthusiasts shouldn’t have any doubts about adding it to their collection. Granted, the game won’t appeal to everyone, because of the limited amount of content and the difficulty level and reliance on memorization -which is inherent to arcade titles. Given that the price is a little too high for an impulse purchase or to simply to give it a try, we suggest waiting for a sale if you’re still on the fence, but if you’re already a fan of the Darius series, or arcade shmups in general, this should be a no-brainer.

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Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)
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G-Darius HD - Review, 9.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating
SebastiaanRaats


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