I swear, just about every Darius port ends up being cursed. For such a legendary series, it’s such a shame that so many of the games that make up that series come with crippling issues. Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+, for example, is ravaged by an aspect ratio so bad, the game is practically unplayable. G-Darius HD doesn’t suffer the same fate as THAT game, but it comes with its own baggage that hampered my enjoyment substantially.
Once More Into The Fray
As always, you command the legendary Silver Hawk – an all-terrain fighter craft sent to fight humongous robot fish and save the world from aquatic destruction. If you let the game run for a bit without hitting a button, you get a brief bit of story that goes into a bit more detail, but this is a shmup, and story ain’t the reason you’re here…probably.
Gameplay is king, and G-Darius HD takes the established Darius formula, such as being a horizontal shooter and throws in a few tweaks for good measure. The Silver Hawk can fire its lasers directly forward, and in the process, will drop a missile to deal with ground troops. Unlike most shmups, the Silver Hawk is not made of paper and can take a beating due to its shield system. Your pew-pew laser, missile and shields can all be upgraded by picking up colour-coded orbs. Once you hit certain thresholds, the Silver Hawk becomes substantially more powerful, durable and versatile. You lose a chunk of your upgrades on death, though, so avoiding that is a pretty good idea.
G-Darius HD’s biggest change is the slight tweak made to Darius Gaiden’s monster capture system. Where in that game, if you destroyed certain parts of a miniboss you would gain a timed AI companion, In G-Darius HD, you get Capture Balls. Throw out a capture ball, and you gain control of whatever it conks on the bonce. Each enemy provides a unique buff, such as becoming a powerful shield or expanding your attack spread. Providing you weaken stronger enemies, you can even capture mini-bosses who serve as these devastating powerhouses that absorb – and deal – incredible amounts of damage before going down.
Ikaruga Review – Glasses Off
The final use of the capture mechanic is how it interacts with bombs. G-Darius HD doesn’t have a traditional bomb system – aka, a mechanic that clears the screen of enemies and projectiles. Instead, you need to sacrifice your enslaved fish-friend. It’s not a full screen either, so timing and positioning are important if you want to get the most out of it. When everything’s taken together, G-Darius HD’s gameplay is top-tier. The core shooting is satisfying and rewarding, and experimenting with the capture system is a joy.
Being an arcade Shmup, G-Darius HD is a hard game. Old-school hard. Enemies come in thick and fast, bullets fill the screen and death is inevitable. Thankfully this port of G-Darius HD comes with difficulty options and save states. This makes practising stages, or just playing for fun, a breeze. The default settings are pretty darn brutal, and if you want a real challenge, you can bump it up to ludicrous levels. There is a setting for anyone of any skill, which is nice. The port also comes with online leaderboards so you test your mettle against the best the world (Japan…) has to offer.
In an attempt to avoid talking about the game’s killer flaw, I want to talk about graphics and whatnot. The game looks brilliant. Whilst this is an Arcade port of G-Darius HD, it has a striking resemblance to the PS1 generation. It’s full of angular polygons and chunky designs that scream nostalgic beauty. Enemy designs, especially bosses, are fantastic too. They retain their classic sea-gribbly designs but have been expanded to be these ginormous screen-filling marvels that take an ungodly amount of firepower to take down.
Impressive – But At What Cost?
The way the camera moves, even on a 2D plane, and how animated the backgrounds are, is truly impressive too. You could be flying through space and an off-brand Deathstar could destroy an off-brand Alderan. You then need to navigate through the debris of the now-deceased planet. Each level has something cool like this, and it was a joy to discover them all. I mean discover too, since G-Darius HD has multiple routes through its campaign, greatly expanding its replayability.
G-Darius HD also comes with some of the best music the series has ever produced. Darius doesn’t often have catchy music, often leaning on surreal electronic sounds to make something very alien. G-Darius HD is no different, but the jump to better hardware helps nail this robotic – almost industrial – soundscape that gives the game a very unique feel.
I’ve put it off enough. I need to talk about the elephant in the room. G-Darius HD runs like crap. The frame rate is abysmal. It dances between chugging like a train and lightspeed at the drop of a hat. It’s so bad, I’d say it’s impossible to play this game seriously. Forget trying to 1CC G-Darius HD. The game is difficult enough without having to deal with frames this inconsistent. I played this on the Switch, but after conferring with PS4/5 owners, they have the same issues.
Upon further investigation, this is because the developers, M2, wanted to make an arcade-accurate port. M2 does God’s work when it comes to shmup ports, but they missed the mark here. Arcade/system accuracy is all well and good when the hardware the game was originally built on could run the game. Bringing it over to modern hardware, unchanged, when the game can barely maintain double-digit frame rates, is unacceptable. It only gets worse the further you progress too.
G-Darius HD is a fantastic shell of a game. Everything about its design is addictive, fun and challenging. There is more content in G-Darius HD than most shmups on the market, and that content is all good. It all falls apart due to a baffling decision to maintain arcade accuracy. In a genre that demands consistency in its performance – ideally, a consistent 60 – G-Darius fails to perform anywhere near acceptably. Pick this up on a heavy sale, or wait for a patch that, honestly, will probably never come.
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