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Hands-On: Darius Cozmic Collection Console

12 Jul 2020

It was hard to deny how pervasive horizontal shoot-’em-ups were in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These tough-as-nails quarter munchers were in many an arcade at that time. Because of that high difficulty, it took a high skill set to even be able to make any progression in these games. Didn’t matter if it was Gradius, Lightening Force, to a lesser extent Contra, or even Gunstar Heroes. If you didn’t have the skills, you didn’t progress. That’s just the way these games are.

This is part of the reason that this compilation is a hands-on instead of a full-on review. I can’t in good faith give a critique of a handful of games that I can’t progress through properly. Even when tweaking settings to give myself a better chance at progressing for review’s sake.

While I’ve powered through my fair share of games featuring difficulty comparable to those found here, I simply couldn’t do so with this collection. Sure, cue the “games journalists are trash at video games” cries. But for the purpose of coverage, I’d rather touch on what I could access here. Passing off my lack of skill with a brutally difficult set of games as a full review is disingenuous and disrespectful to the fans of what’s here.

Darius Cozmic Collection Console is currently available for Switch and PS4. The Switch version was played for this hands-on.

While it had a foothold in American and Japanese arcades with screen configurations similar to The Ninja Warriors, many gamers at the time were cutting their shmup teeth on the home entries of many of these franchises.

In between the arcade and home releases; Taito decided to give each end its own modern compilation with the help of port wizards M2. While it’s nice to see M2 get yet another chance to flex their porting muscles on another set of classic games, this compilation may end up being a bit of a collector’s item down the road due to the relative obscurity of the franchise.

One thing that surprised me from the get-go was the sheer amount of games in the collection. Though once I dug through them, it became pretty clear that some of the games in this collection are various ports of single games. Some even from different regions.

Take, for instance, Darius II. The Japanese Mega Drive version is accompanied by the Genesis and Master System versions of this game as Sagaia. That’s three versions of one game. The SNES/Super Famicom’s games were also not ignored here, as Darius Twin‘s version for each region is present here. Darius Force and its US equivalent, Super Nova, also came along for the ride presented in their original forms. PC Engine versions of Darius Alpha and Darius Plus are also included here.

All are playable as originally intended, with some of the usual modern amenities seen in compilations these days. Save States and button mapping are present, as well as the usual visual options (scanlines, gross 16:9 aspect ratio for a 4:3 game, borders, etc). You can save replays and watch other players’ gameplay as well, which is nice. Several titles here do offer a bit of extras that play with the gameplay that wasn’t originally included here. Oftentimes it’s a boss rush, sometimes it might be a much harder challenge.

Aesthetically speaking, it really depends on the title you’re playing. Each version of each game runs decently enough, which is a credit to M2’s porting skills. Graphically speaking, each game looks faithful enough to the respective platform it released on. Because of the differences in hardware, the detail will vary. But collectively speaking it’s a decent set of games to lay eyes on regardless of platform. Ships and enemies don’t look half-assed, and the undesea motif of most of the bosses look good regardless of platform.

You’re going to get the same type of platform variety in the sound department. This was pretty common in those days, as the onboard hardware often dictated how music and sound effects would play out. Without going into too much detail, it’s pretty obvious that the SNES/SFC’s hardware would win out based on the high quality of sound that console had. While other platforms have their own auditory quirks and advantages (MD/Genesis especially), it’s pretty obvious that the SNES/SFC wins out on technological superiority.

Gameplay-wise, the only thing I can say is that it’s unforgiving and brutal as hell. The Darius franchise was/is no slouch with its difficulty. That was a legitimate barrier for me to give any game a fair shake, though it might be a plus for some of the more hardcore players in the community here. Your main mode of attack aside from maneuverability is laser fire and bombs. You can fire one or the other, or both at the same time. The extra buttons on the PS4/Switch will give you the chance to use one button for both instead of mashing two at once.

Power ups are present to buff your arsenal and occasionally protect you, but these can quickly be lost after a swift one-hit kill. This hold true for basically every game here. In fact, you can’t get anywhere without considerable skill. While save states are often present here, that’s really the only modern convenience on offer. Rewind features and quick access to cheats may have softened the blow for the less skilled among us, but they are non-existent here. This is a mostly pure experience meant for the hardest of hardcore players.

While it’s a little weird and slightly redundant to see this many versions of singular games in one package, it wouldn’t surprise me that they were included for those with nostalgia for each version. In a sense, it’s reminiscent of the Aladdin/Lion King compilation in the way that there’s multiple versions of each game regardless of quality. The major difference with that compilation, though, is that most versions of those games differed in significant ways. That’s not quite the case with the Cozmic Collection. Some of the Darius games included seem to be nothing more than value-added bullet points, and may not have the appeal that others in the collection have.

In any case, it’s nice to see classic content making its way to those who want it. It’s much easier than trying to track down original console releases, and only bolsters the Switch’s quick-play and save whenever on-the-go aim for the hybrid console. Being able to play Super Mario World or Sonic The Hedgehog 2 on a large-ish portable screen has its advantages. Old school shmup fans will definitely appreciate being able to fire up this collection whenever they want, even if it’s placed in the full-priced range.

Review copy provided by Taito for Switch. Screenshots taken by writer.