The Darius series has never gained the respect it deserves in the US, and perhaps G Darius is the title that can turn that around. It's definitely one of the more bizarre shooter series. The premise behind Darius is simple - shoot the giant robotic fish. Yes, fish. As ludicrous as it sounds, the bounty of the sea is fighting back, and it's up to two Silver Hawk-brand fighter pilots to single-handedly save the universe from a slew of menacing crustaceans and cetaceans.
Despite the game's questionable tag line, "You will see the creation of new lives," G Darius offers little more than the purest and most satisfying side-scrolling destruction. In addition to the upgradable lasers, missiles, and shields, you have a unique weapon at your disposal - the capture ball. Instead of the screen-clearing bombs of most shooters, G Darius gives you a supply of hypnotic orbs with which to ensnare the mechanical marine life. With a few exceptions, most standard enemies can be captured. More impressive, however, is the ability to capture the game's midbosses after inflicting a certain amount of damage. Following a successful capture, you have a number of options.
Most enemies form up alongside the Silver Hawk, acting like the Options of the Gradius days, firing with you. Other enemies have no attacks, simply protecting the ship. After playing a number of times, you will quickly find your favorite enemy types for handling a given situation, adding (god forbid) an element of strategy to the bullet-dodging insanity. But wait, there's more! Tapping the capture ball button when accompanied by an enemy will detonate it, providing a temporary nuclear cloud to absorb projectiles and damage any enemies hapless enough to fly into it.
Finally, and most satisfying, is the ability to transform the enemy into a huge column of energy to slay your opponents en masse. This introduces the all-important concept of counterattacks. When fighting bosses, all of which are equipped with similar beams, firing a blast into another will result in a tap fest for superiority, the winner of which will absorb the other's energy and cause his beam to swell to twice its former size. Once mastered, filling half the screen with pulsing blue energy is entirely feasible, obviously resulting in a massive, graphically satisfying dose of damage.
All G Darius' bosses are grand in design, function, and size. Some span many screens, only letting you attack a portion of the beasts at a time. As with all Darius games, you choose your path through the game's 15 levels. In addition, each level has two subpaths. At the end of each subpath is a variation on the stage's boss, sporting a different color palette and a slightly altered array of attacks. As a result, you could say that G Darius has 30 unique bosses. With so many paths and bosses, nine difficulty levels, and a boss-only mode, G Darius offers more value than the typical shooter.
An old-school 2D shooter at heart, G Darius has been given a visual makeover in the vein of Square's Einhander. Each beautiful level is rendered in unique real-time 3D, each locale offering lots of background eye candy. A number of the game's projectiles opt for 2D sprites over 3D, resulting in a bizarre dimensional contrast. This doesn't hurt the game's visual appeal too much and is actually helpful, making the bullets easier to see and dodge. Musically, G Darius sports the tunes of famed Taito music team, Zuntata. Skillfully blending operatic choruses and power tools with a techno/new age flair, G Darius' tunes are anywhere from soothing to nerve-wracking, but always appropriate and catchy. G Darius' sound effects are just there and nothing more.
G Darius does have a few flaws, but most are overshadowed by the rest of the game. While the laser counterattacks were difficult to pull off in the Japanese arcade version, the PlayStation version sports a rapid-fire button that makes these a snap - a curse or a blessing, depending on how quickly you would like to beat the game. G Darius also features a Darius-trademarked variable frame rate - not exactly a feature; slowdown plagues parts of G Darius and is annoyingly absent in others. Finally, in a few areas, it can be difficult to tell obstacles from background art, usually resulting in an untimely death. Not that it makes them any less annoying when they happen, but these instances are rare.
It's good to see the shooter genre making a comeback. G Darius is a frenetic shooter with a surprising amount of depth, bound to please anyone who enjoyed Einhander and can get over the whole fish thing. THQ has once again outdone its former self and done stateside shooter fans a service by releasing G Darius completely intact, adding only its logo to the beginning of the game.