1 Difficulty level
Ship speed fixed
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Developed by Taito
Published by Nec Avenue in 1990
Collectors are a strange breed indeed. I am one of them, and I know that my hobby sometimes makes people around me wonder if I'm too wound up in this neverending gaming infatuation. You realize that things have reached a new plateau in your collecting habit when, as a shmup collector, you get to the point where you can say something like "I own Darius Alpha".
I say that because Darius Alpha is not only the rarest PC Engine game ever released, but also one of the rarest games ever. It was manufactured in extreme low quantities in Japan, being granted only to those who purchased both Darius Plus and Super Darius and mailed the publisher the attached special coupons. In result, there are only two categories of people who would be crazy enough to go after it these days: the hardcore collectors (the ones who don't collect to play but buy as an investment instead) and the hardcore Darius lovers. Those who have read some of my takes on the series will immediately know which category I belong to, so it's unnecessary for me to once again pledge my appreciation for everything Darius.
Forget about branching paths and space/sea environments here. This game is simply a boss rush, a progression of 16 straight boss battles based off the engine from Darius Plus. Presentation is bare bones, with just a title screen that alternates with the high score table. The Silver Hawk starts its journey with no power-ups, but these are automatically applied to the spaceship after each defeated boss, first in sets of 3 but soon in sets of 1 orb for each power-up category (missile/bomb/arm). I would've loved to see the names of the bosses appear on the screen as in other Darius games, but here you don't even get the famous WARNING messages. Shoot, kill, power-up, repeat. Simplicity is inversely proportional to how rare the HuCard is.
I had no trouble at all beating Darius Alpha. In my first run I was stopped by My Home Daddy, a creature that's as nasty as its stupid name. In the second run I cleared the game without dying, taking advantage of my previous experience from playing the other ports of the original Darius. I guess it isn't that easy for someone who never played them, so I don't feel all comfortable in calling it a walk in the park. Darius fans will certainly devise a higher fun factor than casual players, but even for them the experience should feel short and nothing more than an extremely expensive guilty pleasure. There's no difference in audio, however owners of the Supergrafx console are supposed to see graphical improvements when running the game.
Let me now share some of my thoughts about the bosses:
- 1. King Fossil - Classic and iconic first boss that's actually not as wimpy as some others in the game. Avoid staying in front of him with no space to dodge, and destroy his upper and lower fins for point bonuses.
- 2. Electric Fan - One of the easiest bosses ever, and a recurring presence in the series.
- 3. Big Rajarnn - The uppermost part of the screen is a safe spot against his attacks. He gives a hint to when he's about to shoot, in a subtle improvement from the Darius Plus mold.
- 4. Little Stripes - Since he appears really early here, it seems his rock-splitting attack got easier to avoid. Again, his fins are worth a good deal of points.
- 5. Dual Shears - He's frightening, but don't fear. Stay on the top hitting him with the "twin" missiles. When both his claws are gone target his mouth.
- 6. Guard Savage - He fires 3 consecutive fast but easily dodgeable blasts from his mouth before homing on you. Just don't stay put and you'll be OK.
- 7. Red Crab - Target his big claw heavily, beware of the spreading pattern and stay low to avoid the yellow lasers. His homing bubbles are not hard to dispatch.
- 8. Hard Mollusc - It's good to stay just below the line of his mouth, concentrating first on his tentacles. Don't go up, or the lasers will crush you.
- 9. Tough Spring - Visually impressive, this one needs a good beating with lots of dodging in the lower part of the screen. Priority should go to the small drones he leaves on the ground when halting for a second.
- 10. Keen Bayonet - Going up and down is the best way to obliterate him. Avoid getting slow in the upper part, because those blue lasers are deadly.
- 11. My Home Daddy - Definitely the most treacherous boss in the game in my opinion (it's him in the game cover). He throws a lightning bolt from his tail with almost no signal at all, and it's really hard to evade safely with all those bullets popping up from below. The good news is that after the bolt source is gone he's not much of a threat anymore.
- 12. Mystic Power - Again, close to his mouth line is where you oughta be. The yellow arch swings back after leaving the screen, but other than that there's no severe menace.
- 13. Fire Star - From here on, all bosses are large and impressive. The first parts to be taken down here are the 5 tips, then it becomes a really easy kill.
- 14. Green Coronatus - His bullets are fast, and it's pretty much better to avoid them by going up and down while paying attention to the laser from his tail.
- 15. Octopus - His tentacles shoot nasty bullets everywhere. By then you should be good at dodging, and if you didn't die the wave weapon will do the rest for you.
- 16. Cuttle Fish - He's got a series of deadly attacks, but good anticipation, vertical movement and careful dodging should do the work.
Besides the main game, Darius Alpha offers a time attack "pseudo-caravan" mode of 4 minutes. It's activated by pressing SELECT instead of RUN in the PCE controller, but it's sort of pointless because there isn't a separate high score table for this mode. My high scores are shown below, both for the main game (table) and for the time attack mode (to the left of T- 0:00).