Review #1 by Kevin Cheung
Back in the glory days of frontier gaming, there were but a few genres that people could identify with: the fighter, the unbelievably vague action category, and the shooter. And within the shooters, there were but a few staple names, such as 1941, a name to which many a seasoned fan still pricks his or her ears to. Somewhere along the line, Taito introduced a shooting title of its own, Darius, which has quite a large following of its own. With the on-set of 3D and polygonal gaming and titles like Star Blade, it seemed as though the days that 2D shooters will spend in the pop-culture limelight were numbered. For a brief moment, that is indeed what happened.
Enter now 1996, where Taito introduced a re-vamped shooting genre with a pseudo-3D effect: Raystorm. Much of its dazzle came from the fact that the game was presented in polygonal form with roving background 3D effects and a new sense of perceptual depth. But let's not make any mistake about it: the gameplay was still hardcore 2D. With the success of Raystorm and Square's Einhander, it now seems only fitting that, like other 2D classics, another classic should be translated into 3D. G-Darius, as it is now known (G for Gigantic), has come to the PlayStation in fantastic fashion.
The plot runs vaguely as follows: a bunch of planets somehow adapted to protect themselves and produced a bunch of giant space-roving sea-creatures. These sea creatures include giant sardines, lobsters, seahorses, and other such related seafood that can shoot giant red beams capable of destroying entire planets. Think of them as a highly mobile cluster of Death Stars. Your mission, which you have no choice but to accept, is to intercept these intergalactic monsters and destroy them.
As far as gameplay is concerned, the first and final word is that G-Darius is the one of the best, if not the best shooter to ever appear on the Playstation. Firstly, there are hordes of things to shoot at. The screen is literally filled with moving targets every step of the way, ensuring that the action is non-stop. Secondly, the game offers a variety in weapon selection that is limited only by your skill and the number of on-screen characters. You can use a "capture ball" to take control of an enemy ship and use them as a drone ship. The beauty of it is that you can basically capture ANY enemy ship, from the bog-standard drones to the big mamma fishes, which each offer a number of new and different attacks and defences. Sick of your drone? Destroy it and use the ensuing explosion to shield you from enemy attacks, and then capture another one. Can't be bothered with the piss-weak powers that your new drone offers? Use a special capture ball, absorb the drone's energy and unleash a super-charged stream of energy that'll wipe out anything in its path. Your energy stream is being cancelled out by the boss-character's energy beam? Use another special capture ball, absorb your enemy's energy stream, and feed it back to them with up to double or triple the size and power! With all that in mind, it's a fairly safe bet that you'll be happy with the immediate gameplay variety.
Now let's look at some other gameplay elements. The entire game itself is actually quite large, with around 30 levels to tinker with. However, most of these levels can only be accessed by taking the correct path in the level-select process. That is, every time you finish a stage, you will be offered several stages to choose from in order to progress further. Even within the levels, there will be instances where you are given a limited time to select the next section of the game you will progress on to by staying either at the top or bottom of the screen. Coupled with its large selection of multiple endings, G-Darius has excellent replay value. When you tie all of that in with the simultaneous 2-player mode, the game becomes so much more diverse and entertaining.
Graphically and aurally, G-Darius gets the job done very well, but it's not exactly the best. The on-screen characters all look pretty good, especially the large polygon boss-characters. However, the backgrounds, which are supposed to provide the 3D effects, come off as somewhat contrived. Unlike Raystorm, where a dive over a cliff or a climb up a mountain seemed completely natural, G-Darius is just a case of space ships flying over a moving 3D background in a very 2D kind of way. To illustrate, when the backgrounds start showing that you are sliding under a cliff, the ships actually don't scale or rotate at all. They just sit there while the backgrounds move around. The actions that are being conveyed in the backgrounds just don't gel very well with the ships which seem to be permanently stuck in the same static position 3D-wise. Perhaps this is one of the vicissitudes of being a side-scrolling shooter, but even Einhander solved this problem by rotating everything on the screen, backgrounds, ships and all, whenever a turn is made in or out of the screen. To some, this can be off-putting. When you are trying to dodge 60 homing missiles and a bunch of 20 kamikaze drones, the last thing you need is to get confused by the roving 3D backgrounds.
Aurally, G-Darius is a mixed bag. There's plenty of shooting sounds, explosions, and the like, which if you think about it, there isn't much that can be done anyway. Musically, G-Darius ranges from being noticeably devoid of music to being pretty hard-rocking and then onwards to being shockingly annoying to listen to. That said, it can sound anything from bloody excellent to bloody awful, depending on when you happen to walk in on the game.
Aside from the slight slowdown in single-player mode and the noticeable slowdown in two-player mode, what's left to say is purely up to comparative taste. Firstly, newcomers to the shooting genre may not enjoy the blatant unlimited ammo shooting mould that this game takes. The weapons variety are also not very imaginative when you compare them to, say, Einhander. The majority of them are just collections of green balls, laser beams, and so forth that shoot out in a variety of standard ways.
But let's not forget, though, that in the end, G-Darius is about old-school hardcore 2D shooting action. The game has all sorts of niggling little faults, and the premise of shooting down multiple targets that fly about in a formulaic manner is a little dated and simple-minded, but the bottom line is that it has excellent gameplay concepts incorporated in the capture balls, making it more fun and entertaining than Einhander or Raystorm (the best alternatives that the PlayStation can offer) could ever wish to be. And let's not forget this is a two-player game. The game is marginally better than Einhander in single-player mode, but it makes Einhander look like a breezy Spring picnic as a two-player romp. Shooting fans will definitely love this game.