Darius Gaiden is the fifth installment in one of the truly classic series of the shooting genre. After a couple of new titles and various ports during the 16-bit era, Darius finally returned to arcades with this game, half a decade since the last release. Not long after this, Aisystem Tokyo (known for their ports of popular Taito arcade games) was charged with the task of porting the game to the still relatively new Sega Saturn console. So how does the port (and the game itself) hold up against the Darius legacy?
As you might expect Darius Gaiden plays similarly to previous Darius games; colored power-ups are collected to enhance your ships ability (e.g. red, green, and blue shield icons upgrade your rapid fire, missiles, and force field, respectively,) level progression is non-linear and split into zones labeled A through Z, and of course you'll face off with trademark HUGE BATTLESHIPS! based on aquatic animals. There are a few additions to the formula, namely the screen clearing "black hole bomb" weapon, and the ability to capture mini-bosses (a.k.a. captains and use them to your advantage). The scoring mechanics have also been elaborated, with an assessment at the end of the game. You'll be awarded points based on your Silver Hawk stock (1mil per ship,) black hole stock (300,000 per bomb,) and amount of captures (200,000 per captain.)
Having originated on the Taito F3 arcade board, Darius Gaiden looks and sounds impressive. You can expect plenty of visual effects at almost any given time (sprite scaling and rotation, parallax scrolling, alpha blending, etc.) This does cause some slowdown problems during a few points, most noticeably when a black hole bomb is activated. It's a rare occurrence but still worth mentioning, and I'm sure it's due to poor programming rather than hardware limitations. The game is just as lavish in the sound department. Taito's Zuntata sound team really did a great job with the soundtrack. It's not something I'd put in my CD player mind you, but it's very distinct and works well with the atmosphere.
Darius Gaiden has 28 levels in total, 7 of which comprise an actual run through the game. At the end of each level you're given a choice between two routes. Depending on the routes you take the game changes in various ways. Some are more difficult than others and have more scoring opportunities, as well as determining the final boss. This layout adds quite a bit of replay value. After playing the game regularly for months trying to perfect a particular route, it still feels like I've only scratched the surface. Another way the game changes is through the rank system. Rank means that after certain conditions are met, the game becomes harder. In Darius Gaiden's case the more red power ups you collect the harder the bosses become (more life, more attacks, faster projectiles.) The upside to this is that you'll have more chances to exploit them for points. It's a relatively basic system but gives the game a little more depth.
Aside from the slowdown issue mentioned earlier, there's only one other flaw that deals with the game's auto fire. The default firing rate is appalling. Luckily, this can be remedied with either an auto-fire controller or a code (hold B, press Y, right, left, X, Z, L,R at "Game Start" screen.) What's odd is that during the attract mode demo, there's an obvious increase in the firing rate from the default, so you have to wonder why they didn't change it for the actual game.
Darius Gaiden on the Saturn is arguably the best home conversion of the game available to date. That's including the more recent Taito Memories Joukan version that uses filtered and upscaled graphics, something that seems to bother a lot of people. Along with Layer Section, Darius Gaiden is one of the cheapest 2D shooters you can import. It's also one of the few shooters that got an American release (turns out there is something we can thank Acclaim for.) Which ever route you choose, Darius Gaiden is sure not to disappoint.