I am a recently converted fan of the Cult of Shmup, with the recently released Cotton Reboot being the catalyst to my indoctrination. Despite being a relative newbie, even I have heard of the Arcade Legend, Darius. When word reached my ear that a new title, lengthily named, Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+ was releasing for Playstation 4 and Switch, I was stoked to give it a whirl.
Not Just A Hefty Title
Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+ (just Dariusburst from now on) didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but that wasn’t for lack of trying. Dariusburst is jam-packed with content and things to do. Starting up the game you have access to four modes, Original, Original EX, Chronicle, and Event. Original tasks you, a plucky pilot helming the Silver Hawk line of starfighters, to tackle a string of stages, defeating mechanized aquatic gribblies along the way.
Each run consists of 3 stages, with each stage getting progressively more difficult as you go. Furthermore, you can alter your course through the game at each stage junction, giving you a bit of wiggle room when it comes to replayability and modular difficulty selection. Each stage even comes with its own devilish boss ready to steal your Continues. All in all, there is a decent amount of play to be had here. Each run lasts maybe 15 minutes and there are 12 stages to play around with, in a variety of permutations. Rounding it all out, there are 5 endings to be had based on your final destination, all of which are throwaway, but nice to see at least once.
Original EX takes the formula of the Original mode and dials the difficulty to 11. Stages are significantly harder, even on the easier routes, and bosses are changed up to keep you on your toes. This mode even has its own unique endings, rewarding you for slogging through the steep challenge on display. That said, the challenge is incredibly situational in Dariusburst. Every single mode can be played with infinite lives if you wanted, letting you explore the game without fear of being murdered by monstrous space fish. Doing so does prevent you from entering onto the online leaderboards, however. All in all, a nice expansion of the core experience that ramps up the completion time something fierce.
Speaking of completion time, Chronicle Mode is where Dariusburst wants you to reside – potentially forever. Chronicle Mode is essentially thousands of rejigged levels and bosses mixed with various restrictions or alterations arrayed on a fancy galaxy map. The core Darius experience doesn’t change much, but if that core is up your alley, Dariusburst could keep you busy until the end of time. There is a lot to dig into here, and I found myself jumping in a couple of times a day and blitzing through whatever challenge tickled my fancy.
The final mode Dariusburst has to offer is Event, which is very similar to Chronicle mode in terms of actual content, but it isn’t conveyed via a fancy star chart. These are a mixture of timed events found during Dariusburst’s stint in arcades and a few new ones exclusive to this version of the game. Again, this is simply more content to sink your teeth into, and, as you can probably tell, Dariusburst is exploding with it.
A Solid Core Experience
Now the overarching content is covered, how does Dariusburst play? It’s a bit of a mixed bag but I’ll start with the positives. Dariusburst is a horizontal shmup, so you will be flying left to right, blowing all kinds of mooks up with your space lasers. Controls are incredibly responsive, avoiding the trademark Switch slug that can sometimes infest the handheld’s Shmup ports. Blasting enemies is, well, a blast. Killing certain enemies will drop colored power orbs that increase your shields, upgrade your weapon or enhance your bomb/missiles. It’s very traditional in how it plays, and it pulls it off almost flawlessly.
Dariusburst has a bunch of ships to choose from, some new and some returning from earlier entries in the series. Each ship has its own upgrade path in terms of weapons and bombs, and some of them even come equipped with a powerful Burst ability. These allow you to drop a blackhole on enemies or unleash a powerful laser beam for added oomph. This further adds to replayability, and for the most part, each ship feels very different. I was a big fan of the Gaiden and Origin variants, which felt the most ‘out there’ in terms of their core mechanics.
This, unfortunately, is where I bring up the giant, screaming elephant in the cockpit – the aspect ratio. Darius as a series is renowned for having bonkers arcade cabinets, often consisting of two, or even three, displays at once. Dariusburst follows suit and this does not come across to TVs, monitors, or the Switch’s handheld mode unscathed. Less than a third of the screen is used for gameplay, with the rest being big, thick, black letterbox borders.
Going In Blind
At best, Dariusburst played on a decently sized TV had me feeling like I was squinting to see what was going on. Enemy projectiles are small and move very fast. When combined with such a small play space, I frequently felt like I couldn’t adequately see what was going on. It eventually gave me a headache from all the brow scrunching, and I fully expect Taito to pay for some botox to correct the wrinkles I contracted from prolonged play. The biggest issue, however, was that I found the game borderline unplayable on the Switch’s tiny screen. This means Dariusburst is not a great fit for anyone rocking a Switch Lite.
The final cherry on the legally blind cake is the fact you can’t read any of the in-game text. It was a struggle to figure out what each ship did before selection, because the writing was not only tiny but also written fairly poorly. It came across as flavor text at best, so I spent a lot of time just selecting ships blindly, and, after hours of play, I kinda knew what I was doing. It wasn’t a great introduction for a complete novice.
It all screams lazy, and this carries over to other aspects of the game’s design. Firstly, if you want to go back on a decision whilst navigating the menus, you are almost always thrust back to the title screen. Every time you finish a run, on any mode, you are also sent back to the title, not back to the mode you were just in. This is especially frustrating for Chronicle mode since you have to fiddle around and find the right star system and planet if you want to continue liberating space.
A Tad Lazy
Finally, the gameplay, especially the bosses, can start to drag. This is not a good feeling for a game whose runs last only 10-15 minutes. Bosses feel like they have incredibly bloated health pools, especially later bosses in any given run. This ends up making some of them feel boring, or even cheap, as you have to repeat the same patterns endlessly. A bit of rebalancing would have been nice here. As a side note, certain ships can engage in a Dragonball-style beam struggle, although this function seemed temperamental at best and usually resulted in my untimely death.
Despite all of these issues, however, I did have fun with Dariusburst. Its flaws are on full display at all times, but I did eventually get used to the tiny screen so that quality core did shine through in the end. Heck, I played enough that I actually broke a world record. Imagine the scores I’d be pulling if I could see what I was doing. The game can also be played in 4-player co-op, which made the screen issues worse but was surprisingly fun to play regardless.
In terms of presentation, Dariusburst looks pretty good – when you can see what you’re doing. Backgrounds are a bit basic but do the job, certain hazards look distinctly 6th Gen, but this is made up by some pretty swanky art direction. Enemies, especially bosses, look fantastic, some of them falling apart as you blast through them. Each Silver Hawk is also very recognizable, almost a glance for some of the more extreme designs. The visual flaws are more than made up for by the sheer number of enemies, bullets, and explosions that occupy the screen. The game also ran flawlessly during my playtime, and I didn’t notice any dips, even during multiplayer.
Dariusburst is also accompanied by an occasionally slapping soundtrack. Many of these tracks nail this otherworldly, ethereal vibe thanks to some killer vocals and epic crescendos. Others are tenser, although the odd few err on the side of annoyance. Overall, the soundtrack felt distinctly Darius, which either means a lot or potentially nothing, when you consider this is my first Darius foray.
Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+ is a pain in the arse. When it hits right, it sticks the landing with acrobatic precision. That juicy core, the multiplayer, and endless content – these all get the thumbs up from me. Its damn aspect ratio in conjunction with some lazy balancing and clunky menus do quite the number on an otherwise great title. This makes the game incredibly hard to recommend, especially to newcomers to the series or genre. Ultimately though, I did end up having quite the good time – flaws be damned. As a result, I give Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+ a tentative…
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Many thanks go to ININ Games for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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Forged in the rainy wilds of northern England, I carved a path of mediocrity through generations and genres. My play style is often described as: “optimistically awful”.