I have fond memories of arcade games, and so I jumped at the chance to play DariusBurst Another Chronicle EX+ (henceforth referred to as DariusBurst as that is one super long title). I remember having G-Darius as a kid, and really enjoying it, and seeing as this is made by the same developer, I figured it would be a fun experience. The problem is, I think the reason I enjoyed it so much as a kid is because there wasn’t really anything else to do. Whereas in this day and age, there are just so many better games out there.
Don’t get me wrong, DariusBurst isn’t a bad game. It’s well-made, and it’s committed to the theme; it’s just… kind of there. I can’t picture any moment where I would deliberately choose to play this instead of one of the myriad of other titles available that are much more fun to play. I expect that it would really appeal to fans of arcade games, and it’s undeniably a strong entry in the genre. But for variety gamers, I’m not sure that this hits the mark.
Story – I Hope You Like Space!
So, there’s not much of a discernible story as far as I can tell, but there is an ever-present theme. I guess it would be hard to have a consistent story in a game with no narration, dialogue, or cutscenes. The game is pretty much just a case of ‘other spaceships are the bad guys’.
As you play through the game, you encounter various bosses. It’s never explicitly explained, but I always took it to be the case that they occupied that particular sector of space, and it’s my job to clear the sector of enemy forces. There’s definitely a sense of intensity and excitement when the bosses come on screen, and it feels like you’re about to do something epic.
DariusBurst also has a mode called Chronicle, which is probably the most story-focused of the game modes. You choose between various missions, and it’s your job to liberate the space systems from the oppressive force of the enemies. Some of these missions have a very small percentage of occupied territory for you to recapture, others are almost entirely occupied by the enemy, and present a greater challenge. I like the idea of being a liberator, and it made me feel more determined to do well.
Gameplay – A Study in Frustration
The gameplay is simultaneously really simple, and really difficult. The only controls you need are moving on a 2D plane, shooting, and changing directions. However, in practice, it’s a big ask, as you require such fine-tuned abilities within the limited control set. The Darius series has always felt like Space Invaders on steroids with the relentless onslaught of enemy ships, but DariusBurst takes it to another level.
Many parts of the game are so difficult that they feel impossible to do without dying. And I don’t just mean that my skills aren’t good enough yet. I mean that I genuinely cannot picture any way that you could physically manoeuvre into a place where you wouldn’t be taking damage. There is a co-op mode available, so perhaps I would have had more success with that, but alas if you’re a single player, then you’re in for a tough time.
The selection screens before you even start playing seem needlessly complicated. I’m never really sure what’s going on, and the presence of an ever-decreasing timer just adds to my stress. I understand that it’s part of the arcade theme, but I don’t think it’s necessary in a console version. There’s nobody waiting in line behind me to play, after all. You can select your ship on these screens, and depending on the mode, you can also select the sector that you want to spawn into.
The game also feels very repetitive, even in the different modes. Although they have different methods of progression, and the story beats are slightly varied, the basic premise is always the same. You spawn in, you move up and down, side to side, and you hold down the shoot button. That’s it. There’s constantly enemies on the screen, there’re constantly projectiles to dodge. It’s just one long, hard challenge.
I don’t know what I was expecting from a game based on an arcade classic, but I just know I didn’t get it. I kept waiting for it to feel fun, but it just felt exhausting, although to be fair to Taito, I don’t think that’s on them. As I mentioned earlier, DariusBurst is a decent game, the problem is that I think it would only appeal to a very specific subset of players, and clearly I don’t fall into that group.
Bosses, Power-Ups, and More
To set up a game, you first need to select the campaign type. I usually just chose the Original Mode, but I also tried out Chronicle Mode and Event mode. Honestly, they all boiled down to the same thing, although I suppose of the three, Event mode was most enjoyable as it felt at least a little bit different.
When you’re in the game, you’ll occasionally find enemies that are either red, green, or blue. When you kill them, they emit a coloured orb that acts as a power-up. The problem is, I’m not entirely sure what said power-ups do, although I think green maybe strengthens your shield, and blue could be related to your Burst weapon. I would have liked a quick tutorial just to explain all the different power-ups and game modes.
At the end of each section, you face a boss, and these are pretty cool. Each one has different attacks, so you need to adapt your playstyle depending on who you’re facing. There are also plenty of bosses available, and I didn’t have any repeats the entire time that I was playing. Unfortunately, there’s no bar with enemy health, so you can’t see how close you are to beating them.
The game also lets you respawn infinite times if you die, either during a boss fight, or in the pre-amble. In a way this is a good thing, as DariusBurst is so difficult that I’d never get through a level if death really meant death. But on the flipside, it basically means the highscore table is purely about who can play for the longest without quitting. The timer between levels continues even if you press the PS home button (I lost my progress when I stopped to take a note for the review). I understand that they want it to feel like an arcade, but this was overkill, and you should be able to stop for a quick break.
Graphics and Audio – Committed to the Arcade Theme
Everything about DariusBurst screams arcade, and it’s an incredibly nostalgic game. You genuinely feel like you’re playing in one of those cheesy arcade booths with the joysticks. Everything – the sound effects, the music, the visuals… it all is 100% committed to the theme. This game has set out to achieve a retro aesthetic, and it’s hit that on all fronts.
Unfortunately, that does mean that some setup choices are not exactly the best. In committing to the theme, they’ve prioritised look over functionality. It’s all good and well having flashing words everywhere, but not so good when I can’t really read them, and they’re placed really unintuitively on the screen.
However, despite my gripe about the layout, I do approve of their A/V choices. The sound effects are so realistic and immersive, and they give the game an extra layer of excitement. The music too is of high production value, and adds to the atmosphere. The spaceships all have their own different styles, which gives the game a personality despite sticking rigidly to the established genre. I also am very impressed with the colour scheme, as they use pretty much every hue imaginable, and yet somehow manage to avoid any clashes. You’d think it would be overwhelming, but it just works. They’ve been very careful to balance out the colour with grey and black.
DariusBurst Another Chronicle EX+ was reviewed on PS4, using a key provided by PR Hound.