Although the Darius series began life in the arcades, Taito's popular shoot' em-up series slowly made its way to home consoles. Darius Cozmic Collection Console features nine releases from the early nineties, including fan-favorites and a couple of obscure titles spread across the 8-bit and 16-bit era. In the arcade, Darius featured a vastly unique cabinet, a triple-screen setup (and later a double-screen variant), producing an ultra-wide display perfect for two-players playing side-by-side. With televisions/monitors at home being limited to 4:3 (at the time), porting these titles required redrawing of character sprites and other changes for the game to work within the smaller screen real estate.
After the Darius system came under siege by Belsar's invasion forces, hope seemed all but lost for the peaceful civilization. Their saving grace, the appearance of a Silver-Hawk, a spacecraft created by the Amnelian, using Thiima technology. The backbone of the Belsar's forces is massive robotic battleships, believed to be sentient. Their designs match known marine biology, namely octopus, fish, crustaceans, sea horses, and the recurring boss King Fossil (and face of the series), resembling a coelacanth. Darius Cozmic Collection Console features fully customizable controls per game, smoothing options, a quick save/load, and the standard slew of display settings that you'd find in these types of collections. The aspect ratio can stay true to the original release, altered to be pixel perfect, fit to screen to maximize the height, or stretched to fit across a 16:9 display; if you have a chaotic evil soul.
The first game in the series, Darius, never received an exact port to popular home consoles around its height in popularity. Instead, the PC Engine (released in the US as the TurboGrafx-16) received a port, Super Darius, that stayed true to the original, releasing on a CD-ROM, and even going as far as using sound effects and music from the PCB. It included all bosses from the original, including those that were cut from the arcades, bringing the total to 26. However, some of those would eventually be added to Darius II. A downgraded port released later that year in 1990 on a HuCard, known as Darius Plus. This version of Darius had some bosses removed, and others were altered from where they appeared in the original version, as only sixteen, ten less than Super Darius where included.
As a shoot em' up, players take control of a Silver-Hawk, navigating through a scrolling stage, and destroying enemy fights, ground vehicles, turrets, and more. Your ship is equipped with two different upgradable attack weapons; the missile, a forward-facing gun, and the bomb, which droops from the craft. The control scheme features buttons mapped to activate each one separately, discharging both weapons, or acting as a customized turbo button (dependent upon the game). Power-ups are obtained by destroying specially colored enemy ships or by destroying entire formations. The process of gaining power-ups varies, as well what is gained from each colored power-up. Generally, red represents your missiles (the forward firing weapon), green for your bombs, and blue for your armor. However, later games alter the approach, and the handling of power-ups is unique and also adds additional power-up types. Power-ups are reset once you die, however, the games featured a tier system. Reach the next tier, and you will return to that level. Successfully navigating through a zone, and you'll reach the boss's area. These massive battleships are not only powerful but resilient. If you overcome their massive firepower and defenses, you'll be presented with branching paths, which become more numerous the further you progress. For example, a game may have 28 different zones, but you'll only see seven in a single playthrough.
The only other PC Engine title in the collection, Darius Alpha, is a bit of an enigma. It was used as a limited promotion and wasn't available for direct purchase. Instead, it was a mail-order exclusive for those that purchased both previously released games on the PC Engine. Only 800 were produced, making it one of the rarest games in existence. Like in Darius Plus, Alpha featured SuperGrafx support, which reduced the sheer amount of flickering that plagued many titles (you can turn it on and off in the collection). The game played much like the hidden boss rush mode from Super Darius, except it only features the bosses from Plus, but it includes an optional 4-minute time trial mode.
The series sequel in the arcades, Darius II, made its way to home consoles, releasing on the Mega Drive as faithful to the original release as possible. Darius II was still a multi-screen arcade game, so extra work went into redrawing the spirits to work on televisions. Two-player co-op was removed, but players were given an option to select between two pilots; Proco Jr. and Tiat Young. The North American release on the Sega Genesis renamed the series to Sagaia, and as the first game did not reach these shores, it became the first game in the series here. This incorrect numbering of games was quite frequent when not all titles in a franchise were released outside of Japan. Due to the popularity of the Sega Master System in Europe, an 8-bit port was developed and released as Sagaia a year after the Mega Drive release. The 8-bit version was heavily changed to work with the aging (and weaker) console, removing some of the stages, and once again only featuring single-player. While serviceable, it lacks the charm and appeal of the 16-bit build and features much smaller bosses, weaker animations and visuals.
Four titles in the collection graced Nintendo platforms, Darius Twin (the Japanese release and North American release), Darius Force, and Super Nova. Darius Twin is the first original entry into the series released on consoles. As it was not an arcade port, it was designed for a single-screen experience and can be played cooperatively. The game played much like Darius II, and many designs appear to be quite similar. However, upon dying, you don't lose any of the Silver-Hawks power-ups, and you continue exactly where you died, but the game lacks continues. It also slightly alters the colors of power-ups and adds a special one that switches the shot style of the primary weapon to match Darius and Darius II. You'll still play through seven zones, but not every stage includes optional branches. As the Japanese build released only months into the Super Famicom's life, the localized version, which released months later, had time to improve the sound quality. From the music to the level design, and intense enemy ship formation, Darius Twin, is one of the best games in the collection.
The fourth game in the series, Darius Force, profoundly alters the series gameplay formula. There are three separate ships to choose from, with two being based on the first and second games in the series, and the third being an original design. The enemy boss designs have been expanded to include dinosaurs. Firing both weapons simultaneously produces a weaker shot, but the red power-up improves both weapons instead of each one having a different collectible. The option to play a two-player co-op is missing from Darius Force. In other Darius games, once you die, you'll respawn where you are, granted you have additional lives. In Darius Force, you are sent back to a checkpoint, which may be the beginning of the zone. While picking up armor power-ups gives you a better chance of survival, being sent back to the start is quite a departure from the series. The lack of co-op and the inclusion of the checkpoint system hurts the Darius experience, making it one of the weakest releases in the collection.
Darius Cozmic Collection Console features a robust selection of the various Darius ports; however, there are some odd decisions. The amazing port of Darius included in the Sega Genesis Mini, which was based on a build that was initially canceled, is absent. I understand it didn't have a home release back in the day, but it is still one of the best ports of the original. I thought the inclusion of games from three different regions was smart, especially considering how popular the Sega Master System remained in Europe well into the life of the Mega Drive. It certainly must have been quite a task to convert/port the arcade games to home consoles over twenty years ago.Note: Darius Cozmic Collection Console was reviewed on PlayStation 4. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.