By Tibe

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Few people know this, but Aicom team consists in no other than former Irem's employees who created R-Type in 1987. For those who thought that Pulstar was a vulgar clone of this illustrious ancestor, you now understand that it's more like a tribute, a symbolic gesture, of these great programmers. A tribute to their past mega-hit, to Irem, to the Neo Geo... For Darius, the filiation is easier, I grant you! Gaiden is the third installment in thearcade games series. This one and its rival belong to different sub-genres of the shoot'em up. Taito's soft puts you in command of a ship fast but vulnerable: your nerves are strained. You'll have to use supernatural reflexes to avoid enemy fire. Pulstar is more appealing to a tactical sense. In fact, the vessel is less reactive but more secure, less vulnerable. The difficulty, however, is particularly high!

GRAPHICS

Darius III features great graphics, bringing a rather successful 3D in its backgrounds, differential scrollings and effects on the ground, like deformations, rotations. Environments are varied unlike enemies, and one can however blame some stages to look a little empty. Overall, backgrounds, vessels and sprites benefit a sustained realization, despite a 3D sometimes lacking finesse. Old-school at will, Pulstar on its side swears only by 2D. Internships and enemies feature perfect aesthetics, with beautiful explosions and damn impressive bosses. Enemy sprites, made of pre-calculated 3D, are simply gorgeous. These are much more varied than Darius's. 3D effects looked awesome back in 1994, but they took age and the resolution now leaves to be desired. Pulstar, less spectacular and flashy, offers more sober and more beautiful purposes. Stages, fewer than in the Taito game, however are varied, and the quality is a bit above its rival.

PULSTAR........................... 95%

 DARIUS GAIDEN .............. 93% 

ANIMATION

Taito's game is damn speedy. Pulstar's pace is more calm, the scrollings are slower and the action requires more tactical sense. Then it's difficult to compare them, don't you think? In this case, let's focus on their own technical qualities. Darius Gaiden features a flawless animation: speed and fluidity are the perfect for the various vessels, with backgrounds lively at will and breathtaking relief effects at times! Icing on the cake, the game suffers no slowdowns at all, even with two players simultaneously. Meanwhile, Pulstar is surprising with the decomposition and smoothness of its sprites. Explosions are perfectly designed, enemy ships move with incredible fluidity and the Bosses are just amazing, sometimes even huge, with morphing, scaling and distortion effects! The backgrounds also abound with animated details such as waterfalls, moving stars, solar flares... But unlike its competitor, Pulstar suffers from a few slowdowns, most of the time almost unnoticed, especially with the biggest sprites on the screen. The gameplay is only slightly altered, as those slowdowns are often welcome, when facing a barrage of fire and explosions. Darius is untouchable in this chapter, close to perfection at this level.

PULSTAR.......................... 93%

DARIUS GAIDEN .............. 97% 

SOUND

The Neo Geo is well-known by players for its sound and visual performances. Pulstar is no exception to the rule: the various effects are excellent with fires, explosions and other beautifully made noises. The compositions, suiting nicely each stage, are discrete and melodious. Darius meanwhile, simply offers exceptional musics! Japanese pop sometimes accompanied by singing, melodies of the game are downright awesome. The sounds effects are less powerful than those of Aicom,  but they're not bad either. This soundtrack, so original and catchy, puts definitely Darius Twin in the top rank of videogame legendary soundtracks.

PULSTAR.......................... 94%

DARIUS GAIDEN ............. 97% 

REPLAY VALUE

Darius can be played two simultaneously, and it's a good point for the replay value. Pulstar replicates with a high difficulty, requiring hours and hours of practice to overcome. Taito's soft, more accessible, provides a credit challenge, because when your ship is destroyed, you'll restart exactly from the same place where you died. Pulstar refers to a few checkpoints in the stages, which gives the game an additional difficulty. Darius Gaiden is certainly shorter, but has twenty-six stages total. Let me explain: in fact, you'll have to cross only seven of them. At the end of each level, the game asks you to choose between two different paths! This allows to restart the game several times without taking twice the same way. It's a very interesting point that Saurus will re-use in Ironclad and also in Shock Troopers. Pulstar's stages, eight total, are much longer than those of Darius. On the one hand, we have a very tough challenge and a long life, and on the other, an easier game, that can be cleared faster, but which players come back more readily.

PULSTAR.......................... 92%

 DARIUS GAIDEN ............. 90% 

GAMEPLAY

The ship of Darius Gaiden is fast and can pick only few power-ups: various shields, three different shots on four power levels, missiles, and of course the 'Bomb' (with a big B). Your shield can absorb two enemy fires before crashing. Like Pulstar, if your ship is hit once, it will be destroyed. In Darius, the vessel is pretty handy and medium-sized. The difficulty, if it's overall balanced, is sometimes unreasonable: there's sometimes no way to avoid enemy attacks without wasting a bomb. The Bosses, sometimes tough, sometimes simples, are relatively difficult in the game. Pulstar is typically the kind of shooter we like playing for hours at home, with a good whiskey and a pack of brand new cigarettes. Sometimes it takes hours to clear a stage! While this may put-off some, the challenge is tough, but brings a lot of satisfaction when you overcome. The ship, more clumsy than Darius' one, can collect various items, including very useful speed-ups. The armament is more rich than its rival, with plasma shields, protective modules, satellites shooting lasers, plasmas, bombs, homing, etc... and so on! The R-Type module makes your vessel less vulnerable to enemy attacks, but these are fast and numerous, and sometimes harass you with lasers! Your 'Bomb' really is a real overkill, depending on the weapon in your possession: but triggering it will sacrifice your module. Bosses require training and technique to be defeated: it's up to you to locate their weaknesses. Apart from the first level Boss, surprisingly easy, others won't make you gifts! Therefore, Darius Gaiden gameplay looks more straightforward, while we have a more technical one for Pulstar. It's a clash of styles, but here we must recognize Aicom's game deep gameplay that has no counterpart.

PULSTAR.......................... 96%

DARIUS GAIDEN ............. 91% 

CONCLUSION

Here are two great titles, which represent perfectly what the machines of the nineties were able to offer in terms of Shoot them Up. A match won here by the legendary Pulstar, which takes advantage with the beauty of its graphics, its rich gameplay, and the great challenge it packs. Darius Gaiden is a game just as legendary, which explores brilliantly the integration of 3D in the genre, offers a multitude of levels, flawless animation, and a fun cooperative play.

PULSTAR

95%


DARIUS GAIDEN

93% 


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