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Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+ (NS)

By Evan Norris 28th Jul 2021 | 2,318 views 

Bursting with content.

Darius fans on Switch and PS4 have been spoiled lately. Last year, Taito and the port masters at M2 released two digital compilations of old-school Darius shoot-em-up titles: an arcade compendium that covers the original three arcade experiences, including the peerless Darius Gaiden; and a console collection with SNES, PC Engine, and Genesis ports. Then, earlier this year, fans with access to the Japanese eShop found G-Darius HD, a remaster of the first 3D game in the franchise.

Now, audiences around the world can sink their teeth into Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+, a port of the expansive arcade experience. Overall, Dariusburst on Switch is a tough title to judge: the base game is flashy, fun, and packed with an overwhelming amount of content, but the Switch port doesn't do it any favors.

First, a history lesson. Dariusburst entered the world in 2009 on PSP, exclusively in Japan. One year later, the game found its way to arcades in the form of Dariusburst: Another Chronicle. One year after that, in 2011, it was updated as Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX. Then, in 2015, it came to consoles for the first time in the form of Dariusburst: Chronicle Saviours, playable on PS4, PSV, and Steam. This home version features DLC and a 16:9 "Chronicle Saviours" mode, in addition to arcade content presented in ultra-wide 32:9. Finally, we have the home port of the arcade experience, Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+, which ditches the unique content from Chronicle Saviours, but adds "Event Mode", a collection of timed challenges that originally appeared in the arcade and remixed scenarios unique to this version. 

Long story short, Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+ is a home version of the complete arcade experience, special timed events included. As a result, you'll get four main modes: Original Mode, which includes three campaigns of varying difficulty levels; Original EX Mode, three additional campaigns with much higher difficulty settings; Chronicle Mode, a collection of (literally) thousands of reconfigured stages and boss battles with unique rules and restrictions; and Event Mode, 21 stages in the same style as Chronicle Mode. As a result, Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+ is one of the most content-rich shoot-em-ups of all time, if not the most.

The issue here is really one of quantity over quality. Dariusburst is overflowing with content, but how much of it is worthwhile? Original and EX mode are worth your time and attention, but the thousands of remixed stages and boss fights in Chronicle Mode feel like filler. Now, there are some very neat things about it. All the stages are laid out across a nifty star chart, where you "liberate" certain sectors by completing challenges. Moreover, you share your progress with other game owners assigned to the same virtual "cabinet", granting the experience something of a crowd-sourcing feel. That said, it can be hard to track your progression across the stars. A more sequential campaign with a loose story and unlockables would be most welcome here; indeed that's precisely what was included in Dariusburst: Chronicle Saviours, but omitted here.

Furthermore, you might not immediately understand the rules of Chronicle mode and virtual cabinets, or any of the game's mechanics and systems for that matter, because this port is very stingy with context. Anyone familiar with the original arcade incarnation will pick up immediately where they left off, but newbies will most likely find themselves confused by the modes, machinery, and modus operandi of the game. Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+ desperately needs a manual and/or a training mode.

The lack of a manual is exacerbated by arguably the greatest weakness of Dariusburst on Switch: the ultra-wide aspect ratio. While this worked wonders in the arcade, where two 32" LCD screens combined to achieve a dramatic and cinematic presentation, it becomes a liability on a single TV monitor, and a major inconvenience on Switch's 6.2" LCD screen. As a result, the information that the game does provide — blurbs about ship types and power-ups — is hard to read in docked mode and impossibly small in handheld mode. Enjoying the game in general in handheld mode is difficult; Switch Lite owners should probably stay away altogether .

Even though Dariusburst on Switch has not been optimized for home use, it's difficult to dislike. In fact, if you look only at the core experience, there's a lot to love. This is still a Darius game, after all, and that means smooth, spectacular shoot-em-up action set to haunting music. In terms of gameplay, this is a hit. It nails the basics, delivering responsive controls, swarms of enemy ships, and larger-than-life boss battles. Plus, it supports up to four players in local multiplayer.

There are also a couple of mechanical tweaks that add extra flavor to the proceedings: the ability to turn left and right at will; and the burst cannon, a powerful laser that players can shoot directly from their craft or detach as a turret. When detached, you can rotate it according to the axis of your own ship, using it to cut off reinforcements or angle it as a shield against incoming fire. You can even use it to deflect and reverse boss lasers, although this requires perfect timing.

Finally, Dariusburst features nine different versions of the Silver-Hawk, the trademark Darius ship. To name just a few: the Gaiden version comes equipped with those infamous black hole bombs; the Legend Silver Hawk Burst features the burst cannon; and the Silver Hawk Genesis arrives with support drones. 

Visually, Dariusburst is a mixed bag. While the ultra-wide aspect ratio allows for some eye-catching cinematic presentation and provides a lot of horizontal space for huge enemy formations, it also makes things difficult to enjoy on a single monitor; everything feels zoomed out. The 3D models and backgrounds are serviceable, but a little generic. They just can't complete with the colorful, creative sprite work and psychedelic visuals from earlier games in the series. That said, the bosses look as amazing as always. Hulking behemoths inspired by aquatic life with articulated parts that show battle damage, they are one of the highlights of the game.

Another highlight: the music. As you'd expect, the soundtrack in Dariusburst is stellar, thanks to haunting, ethereal tracks from Taito's in-house band Zuntata.

One last thing worth noting: while the Switch version suffers from the base 32:9 ratio, particularly in handheld mode, it does benefit from one element of Nintendo's hardware — HD rumble. It replicates the "sonic body seat" from the original arcade cabinet rather convincingly.

The parade of Darius titles continues with Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+. As an arcade experience, it's solid, thanks to tight controls, interesting mechanics, lovely music, and an outrageous amount of content — even if a lot of that content is recycled or repurposed. As a home port, it's less accomplished, due to the lack of a tutorial or manual, an ultra-wide aspect ratio that makes playing in portable mode a pain, and a general opaqueness about its systems and modes. Simply put, Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+ is the most complete version of the arcade game, but it's not yet optimized for home consumption.

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This review is based on a digital copy of Dariusburst: Another Chronicle EX+ for the NS

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