When it comes to bringing retro games to modern consoles, few developers can match M2. They’ve been keeping classics alive since at least the PS2 days, and they’ve got authentic re-creation of every little detail from the originals down to a fine art. Darius Cozmic Collection is the latest proof of that—an assortment of Taito’s classics from both arcade and retro consoles, meticulously emulated and with a wealth of handy, but not invasive, extra features.
Darius, as a franchise, is an important piece of the history of shoot-’em-ups and arcade games in general. Though mechanically similar to its peers—shoot down enemy spaceships, collect upgrades to strengthen your own shots, fight big bosses with more complex attack patterns—the original Darius set itself apart with an ultra-wide three-screen setup, a branching level structure with multiple endings, and unique enemy designs based on marine life. The widescreen setup fell to the side with later releases, but the aquatic theme and non-linear progression remain staples of the Darius series to this day.
Darius Cozmic Collection actually comprises two separate releases, Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade and Darius Cozmic Collection Console. For the sake of convenience—and the fact that most of my comments apply equally to both—I’m reviewing them as one. Both collections focus on the early days of Taito’s Darius shoot-’em-up series, but, as implied by the names, they’re divided between arcade and home console releases.
Regardless of which collection you’re playing, the effort that’s gone into replicating the original experiences as faithfully as possible is consistently impressive. The ultra wide-screen setup of the original Darius remains intact, with the option of either borders above and below a screen that retains the original aspect ratio, or a stretched display. Even things like the sprite flicker in the Sega Master System version of Sagaia (aka Darius II) have been preserved, staying true to the authenticity of the history on display instead of trying to rewrite it.
That said, Darius Cozmic Collection comes with a whole lot of optional extra features that can help make the games more approachable. Full button remapping and rapid-fire settings are common in ports of shoot-’em-ups, but these collections go as far as letting you customise the rapid-fire speed, and assign different speeds to different buttons. There are also quick save and quick load options, which can help a lot when you’re learning enemy patterns or just trying to get a first clear—though, understandably, making use of what is essentially a save state does prevent you from uploading high scores. A rewind function like that seen in Nintendo Switch Online’s NES ports would have been welcome for unwinding those little mistakes, but quick saving and loading still achieves a similar function.
Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade also includes optional “gadgets”, which are effectively additional UI elements that display information that, depending on the particular game in question, isn’t always visible within the game proper. The power levels of all your weapons and shields, a “boss analyzer” that shows HP levels for each individual part of the boss, and a boss timer to show how long you have until a “Yakuza” enemy shows up to cause extra havoc. Though not a gadget as such, the pause menu for each game also shows a zone map, which helps a lot with keeping track of where you are within a game’s branching level structure and which paths remain open to you.
Another welcome feature unique to the Arcade collection is a training mode for each game, which lets you pick which level to start from and manually set weapon levels. As the name suggests, it’s a good way to get practice with particular levels without having to keep replaying the whole game to get there. It also doubles as a handy “easy mode”, so to speak—starting from the first level but with a fully-stocked arsenal makes for a convenient, low-effort way to see your way through a whole game, especially when coupled with quick save and each game’s built-in difficulty settings.
Weirdly, though, none of the gadgets, zone map, Training Mode are available for Darius Cozmic Collection Console. They seem like odd omissions—they’re the most useful features of the Arcade collection, and they’d be every bit as useful for the console games, too. The only reason I can think of is that there’s some sort of technical limitation preventing the collections’ emulation software from gathering the relevant data from the console games that it can from the arcade titles, but it’s nonetheless a little disappointing to jump from a collection that has all those functions to one that doesn’t.
What the Console collection has instead, for the games that support it, is the ability to just select different game modes from the main menu instead of having to input special commands at a game’s title screen. Darius Force for Super Famicom, for instance, has a secret “Boss Endurance” mode that normally requires pressing the “R” button eight times while the Taito logo displays as the game is loading. In Darius Cozmic Collection, you can just select this mode from the game select screen, and likewise for other games with secret modes. (Don’t worry if you enjoy inputting secret codes, though—they remain intact, as do all cheat codes in the games that have them.)
Between the two collections, Darius Cozmic Collection covers the first five Darius games—Darius, Darius II (also known as Sagaia), Darius Gaiden, Darius Twin, and Darius Force (also known as Super Nova). That might not seem like a lot, but there are multiple versions of most games, between different arcade revisions, console ports, and Japanese and international releases. The Console collection even includes the exceedingly rare Darius Alpha for PC Engine, which had an extremely limited print run and was only available through a mail order campaign to a select few buyers of Darius Plus.
The historian in me would have liked to see some sort of museum feature. As it is, each game has a short blurb that offers a snippet of its historical context, but they often just make me want to know more about the development and history of the game in question, so having that information readily available in-game would have been welcome. At the very least, a concept art gallery and music player—both common features in collections like this—would be neat.
But even without those, Darius Cozmic Collection is still an enjoyable delve into an important part of shoot-’em-up history. Each game is emulated with the meticulous accuracy that M2 is known for, while the inclusion of handy optional features—especially those found in the Arcade collection—helps make them more approachable without compromising the integrity of the originals. Anyone who likes shoot-’em-ups, or retro games in general, will want to give these collections a look.
Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade and Darius Cozmic Collection Console are developed by Taito and M2, and published by ININ Games. They’re available now for Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and PlayStation 4.
Review copies were provided to Shindig by the publisher.