Darius is a side-scrolling shoot-em-up franchise, similar to the R-Type or Gradius franchises. Created by Taito in 1986, Darius was known for its branching pathways at the end of each level, allowing for variety with each playthrough. The series is very marine focused as well, with many enemies and bosses taking the form of large fish or crustaceans.
The series stars Proco and Tiat, and their Silver Hawks (the player controlled ships in each game). Taking place after all of the resources on Earth have been depleted, Darius is a newly inhabited planet, housing a thriving societal and technological community. After the Belser Army attacks the planet, it is thrust into chaos. It's up to Proco and Tiat to take out the Belser Army, which is the premise of each game in the series.
Since the series' inception in 1986, there have been a variety of releases spanning over a dozen consoles. The latest release in the series was Darius Burst: Another Chronicle, which was released in the arcades in 2010.
The gameplay of Darius is strongly similar to other side-scrolling shoot-em-ups of the 1980s, such as R-Type, Gradius, and Salamander. Part of what differentiated the original Darius from these games is the massive screen size. Compared to regular arcade monitors, Darius was nearly triple the size. Another aspect that differentiates the Darius series is its branching pathways; a defining feature of each Darius game.
After the defeat of each level's boss, the player is given the option between two pathways (this is done dynamically, by the player moving either up or down in a literal branching pathway). This moves the player onto the next level, depending on which path they chose.
Power-ups are structured similarly to other games of the time. The player has three different aspects which can be upgraded; the laser, the aerial bombs, and the protective shield. Certain enemies drop upgrades for each of these, which can be upgraded a varying amount of times depending on the particular game being played.
The first game in the Darius franchise was released in 1986 for the arcades, but was later ported to several other consoles. The massive three-screen arcade cabinet was known for its branching pathways and aquatic themed bosses. Darius had a grand total of 28 possible stages, but only a few are experienced in a single playthrough (due to the branching pathways). This game established many of the mainstays of the franchise, including the power-ups, wide playing field, themed bosses, and branching pathways.
There were several ports of the game, but a few are particularly notable. One of the rarest games for the TurboGrafx-16 is Darius Alpha, a boss rush version of the original Darius, available to those who had a copy of both Darius games available on the platform (there are an estimated 800 copies of Darius Alpha). Super Darius was another Darius port on the TurboGrafx-16, and is more of an expanded version than a direct port.
The second Darius game had a variety of changes, particularly in terms of the power-up system. Power-ups are now rewards for destroying waves of square-like enemies. The power-ups are also color-coded: red (for lasers), green (for missiles), and blue (for protective shield). Two power-ups are also added: yellow (new type of laser) and green (diagonal lasers, replacing the missiles). Darius II also marks the first appearance of minibosses, known as Captains.
The game was ported to a variety of systems, although there are a few ports that are more notable than the others. The Sega Genesis port was an altered version known as Sagaia, which was different on each platform it appeared on. A Sega Saturn port of Darius II was more faithful to the arcade original than other ports, containing multiplayer and the extremely wide screen as an optional feature. Super Darius II was an enhanced port of Darius II, similar to the differences between Darius and Super Darius.
One of the first Western developed games in the Darius franchise, Darius Plus is a redone version of the original Darius, developed by The Edge for a variety of home computers in 1989. This game cut many of the features from the original game, and only had four original bosses. This game was so poorly received that it is not considered canon by official Darius resources.
There was also an entirely different game titled Darius Plus, which is a port of the original Darius for the TurboGrafx-16. The Game Boy Advance game Darius R is, for the most part, a modified port of this version of Darius Plus. Darius R had a few added features, such as score attack and new music, but some stages from Darius Plus were also removed.
A version of Darius II released on home consoles, each version of Sagaia is actually fairly different from the other. This game saw a release on the Sega Genesis (1990), Sega Master System (1992), and Game Boy (1991), each was actually based on a different game. The Genesis version was based on Darius II, and featured an entirely new boss (named Nehonojia). The Sega Master System was also based on Darius II, but was severely simplified, and only had 12 zones in total. The Game Boy version was based on both Darius and Darius II, with some new bosses and areas.
Taking place after the plot of Darius II, Darius Twin follows the Silver Hawk fighting the Belser Army once again, this time in the far reaches of space on a planet called Orga. This game was fairly similar to other Darius games, but had some slight differences. These include power-ups which remain after death (bouncing around the screen available to be picked up again), color-coded power-ups, and several new bosses.
Also known as Darius Force, Super Nova was the second Darius game to be released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. This game allowed players to select which Silver Hawk they control. There are three Silver Hawks available; a green one (Darius), a blue one (Darius II), and a red one (an original Silver Hawk). Super Nova also includes a few new power-ups and bosses.
The third main game in the Darius franchise. The game was originally released in 1994 for the arcades, and later ported to the Sega Saturn, PlayStation, and PC. This added several new features that became mainstays of the series. In addition to the three regular weapons in the Silver Hawk's arsenal, Darius Gaiden added the black hole bomb, a screen-filling bomb that sucks enemies into it. This game also introduced the ability to take minibosses' abilities by assimilating into them.
The fourth game in the main Darius series, G Darius was released in 1997, and was the first Darius game to be in polygonal form. G Darius adds a variety of new features, including new weapons (such as a capture ball, which is similar to the capture feature from Darius III), and beam-dueling. Beam-dueling essentially means that the player can absorb enemy fire, charging up a massive beam attack. When the player uses a specific beam on each boss, a duel is engaged. The player must tap the fire button repeatedly in quick succession in order to overwhelm the boss.
One of the latest games in the franchise, Darius Burst was released for the PlayStation Portable in 2009. Removing the capture system from the previous two installments, Darius Burst introduces the ability to select between three different Silver Hawks, each with their own abilities, and the "Burst System", which is a detachable pod (similar to R-Type's force) that can be aimed to chain enemies.
Darius Burst: Another Chronicle
An enhanced version of Darius Burst appeared in arcades in 2010, titled Darius Burst: Another Chronicle. This version references the original arcade release by linking two widescreen monitors to create a incredibly wide play field, and adds four player support and an extra Silver Hawk to choose from. In 2011, an upgrade/conversion kit was released under the name Darius Burst: Another Chronicle EX. EX adds four new Silver Hawks, and a whole new "EX mode" with remixed bosses and increased difficulty.