TAITO’s shoot’em up sequel is gunning for CAVE’s crown, and it’s going for the throat!…
I seem to have become the go-to-guy for reviewing shoot’em ups. Strange really, as I was never a huge fan of them growing up. Instead I always preferred a good old platformer any day of the week.
But, in recent years I have found myself appreciating the slightly simplistic joy of a shooter, particularly those with tonnes of bullets and a whole lotta’ bangs.
Despite their lack of physical controls, the iDevices has been witness to somewhat of a resurgence in the genre, with many a good shooter thriving on the busy AppStore. I’m not exactly sure why this is, but it’s possible that the pick-up-and-play nature of a shoot’em up, mixed with their tendance for in-your-face presentation, makes them perfect for that mundane train journey to work, or while waiting in line at the local post office.
To regular readers of this site, it is no secret that I rate the shooters from CAVE as the best that the AppStore has to offer. With their balls-to-the-wall attitude and signature ‘bullet hell’ gameplay. But, we must not forget the Godfathers of the genre, the creators of Space Invaders itself, TAITO. In particluar the excellent – and five star rated – Space Invaders Infinity Gene.
It’s hard to believe that was three years ago now, but while they have released other great games since then – such as the sublime Groover Coaster – they have not recently challenged CAVE for the shootem’up crown. That is, until now!
The Darius series began in 1986 as an arcade sidescroller, and spawned dozens of sequels. DariusBurst Second Prologue is a mix of both the PSP and Arcade game of the same name. Of course this isn’t the first time the Darius name has been on iOS. In a release of DLC for Infinity Gene you could unlock the ‘Silver Hawk’ ship from the Darius games as a playable craft, along with the appearance of some of the signature enemies, including the giant fossil.
For those unfamiliar with the series however, and I count myself as one of them, the game sees you piloting the Silver Hawk in a bid to to destroy a deadly armada that is threatening your home plant of Darius.
The original was well known for offering up non-linear progression through the game. Something that most shooters don’t do. DariusBurst is no different, and so instead of hitting you with the same levels in a set orer until you reach the end, you are given the choice of two branching paths after completing one level – or in ths case ‘zone’. This eventually results in four different end levels, four different bosses, and four different endings to the story. This is something you rarely see in shoot’em ups which can put people off, particular in the area of replayability.
Less unusual, but no less appealing, are four possible ship types to choose from. Two of these are available from the outset while the others are unlocked after completing certain levels or missions (from an extra mission mode). The ships are essentially the same, but offer up a different take on their secondary power weapon (of which one of these, dubbed ‘origin’, omits the secondary weapons completely).
Like pretty much all shootem’ups on the appstore, DariusBurst is controlled by dragging a lone finger on the screen to move your ship, while activating the weapons with another. There is no tilt option, which may annoy some players who like their screens clear of fleshy digits, but to be honest it is the best control method for the genre (on touch screens that is).
Your ship automatically fires a mix of front facing lasers and missiles that fire up, down and towards the back. To increase the power of both these weapons you can collect orbs, dropped by destroyed foes. Red orbs increase your shot level, blue for shield level, green for bombs and silver for bonus points. If you are lucky enough to get a gold orb, then all enemies on screen will be destroyed.
Perhaps the most useful feature of your ship though, and one that will get you out of trouble on many occasion, is the secondary weapon, or ‘burst’. This powers up the more enemies you kill, and can be activated with the press of the ‘burst’ button. Depending on your chosen ship, you will unleash an almighty shot which will not only increase damage to the enemy, but also take out any incoming bullets.
Speaking of enemies, they are some of the best and most varied I have encountered in a shooter. I love that while they are all mechanical, they have a fishy theme to them. From laser spewing goldfish, to ship squishing eels. The majority of the smaller foes are pattern based, coming at you en-masse in metallic flowing ribbons. While larger craft feature more unique attacks and, dare I say, personalities.
Even more impressive though are the boss encounters. Each of the 11 levels has one, which takes the fish theme to another level. From giant shark-like mech fossils, to whale-like behemoths, the battles with these beasts are epic to say the least.
Played on easy mode, the game is – unsurprisingly – easy. Particularly if you set the continues in the settings to unlimited. I myself had the excuse of wanting to experience every level of this game within my limited review time. However, to get the most out of this game, and experience what I believe is the intended way to play, I would advise you crank the difficulty up to hard mode and turn off, or turn down, the continues, for CAVE rivalling ‘bullet hell’ mayhem.
Many shooters, particularly CAVE’s, rely on sprite-based visuals. It transports you back to the arcade shooter heydays, but more importantly allows for a tonne of onscreen action; where bullets and intricate patterns of enemies invade both the screen and you senses. What is impressive then is that Dariusburst is all rendered with 3D polygons. While it does mean that everything has a very clean and clinical look, it allows for more intricate animation, particularly for the bosses, which adds even more to their level of scale and threat. This also means that the game scales up well on iPad, on which it looks every bit as good as it does on iPhone.
On par with the great graphics and design, is the music. Featuring elements of rock, techno and Asian classical, with an eerie vocal, each of the 11 levels has its own unique aural flavour. TAITO have impressed us in the past with their grasp of composing music in gaming, with excellent examples in both Infinity Gene and Groove Coaster. The music in DariusBurst is possibly my favourite so far.
TAITO have served up a perfect portion of shoot’em up action. The non-linear fashion of the levels, multiple endings and the addition of a bonus mission mode gives you a good reason to return for repeated plays. Combined with the excellent presentation and music it’s one of the best shooters to grace the AppStore thus far. It comes at a price though, and for many a hefty one (in AppStore terms that is). Considering this is essentially a remix of a three year old PSP and arcade game I would have expected this game to be priced lower. Having said that, you get what you pay for, and even at a higher price I would argue that it’s worth every penny.