3 Difficulty levels
5 to 7 Stages
Ship speed fixed
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Developed by Taito
Published by Taito in 1993
And the Darius saga lives on in another chapter developed exclusively for a home console! Super Nova, known in Japan as Darius Force, is the second outing for the SNES and the direct follow-up to Darius Twin. Never mind the name change in the west, what matters is that Darius fans and non Darius fans are in for more of the same thrill that made the series famous: blast outer space evil fish to oblivion as you fight yet again to restore peace in the cosmos. What more motivation do you need anyway?
It’s perfectly understandable that this game was ignored back in the day due to the change in the title, but it’s hard to judge whether people who enjoyed Darius Twin will also enjoy Super Nova to the same extent. I’m on the fence here as to which one I prefer. Super Nova is a bastard entry in the series for a couple of reasons. Even though it was released two years after Twin, in my opinion the game does not carry any graphical improvement whatsoever. In fact, some might say the visuals are a step back from the colorful sprites of the previous effort. On the other hand, the idea of remixing concepts from both Darius and Darius II is taken a bit further, going deep into the realm of gameplay and providing a welcome alternative to the well known style defined by the chapters that came before it.
First of all, I was allowed to play with a green Silver Hawk! How cool is that? Upon starting a credit, you’re allowed to choose between three types of spaceships:
- Type 1 (green): main weapon evolves to the final wave cannon reminiscent of Darius;
- Type 2 (blue): main weapon evolves to the large glowing plasma pattern reminiscent of Darius II;
- Type 3 (red): main weapon turns out to be to a brand-new cross-firing double laser, and in its final stage a series of straight-piercing lasers.
Besides the different types of main weapon, all ships share a same secondary shot that’s selectable - with the R button - between bombs/missiles and laser. Super Nova is unique among other Darius chapters because using both main and auxiliary weapons at the same time reduces the firepower for each - as if splitting the available energy between both weapons. Therefore, at certain points it is advantageous to use only one of them in order to get better results.
The main shot for each type of ship is drastically different from each other, but there are also differences in how the auxiliary weapons evolve during the game. To increase shot power for both weapons you need to collect the red power-up. The blue power-up activates and upgrades the shield (green → silver → golden). The green power-up icon, which only appears during meteor showers, yields random points or 1UPs. There are no score-based extends, and no special considerations whatsoever for scoring. Killing complete enemy waves can result in some small bonuses, but this doesn’t happen all the time. An interesting side note might be the fact that all bosses give very few points. With no bonus for extra lives upon game completion, the implementation of checkpoints (the only console port to do so) makes Super Nova a victim of checkpoint-milking whenever you think about getting higher scores.
Smart bombs appear in two ways: either they explode or they provide a thick laser beam that lasts for 3 to 4 seconds, making the ship invincible. A trademark of the series, stage branching is arranged in a strange way here, meaning that it’s possible to beat the game by playing only five stages (just stick to the lower choices, route ACFIL). What happens is that every time you move up in the map you can’t come back down. Six stages are played by finishing the game in stage N, and seven by going all the way up and fighting final boss Galst Vic in stage O. Each final stage has a different ending, and my impression is that the game gets harder as you go up in the map.
Opening and stage A of Super Nova, also known as Darius Force
(courtesy of YouTube user ShiryuGL)
It’s not that hard to figure out why Taito pledged allegiance to the SNES and delivered not one, but two custom-made Darius games to the platform. The temptation of using the technical advantages the console offered (mode 7) was a wonderful development opportunity - in Super Nova it’s used to accomplish some neat rotation effects like those shown in stages C and J. However, there’s not much more when it comes down to style or eye candy. Backgrounds are for the most part quite drab, especially when you’re flying in one of the open space levels. Even with the coolness of Peace Destroyer and Galst Vic (bosses from stages H and O), as far as graphics go the game certainly stands as the least successful 16-bit Darius. Moreover, the screen fades when the boss WARNING message is displayed, contributing to the feeling of slow pacing both in-game and in-between stages. The soundtrack fares a bit better, though it doesn’t get really good until you reach the final stages. The song for stage M is great!
One thing that does stand out is the challenge factor. Thought not nearly as brutal as the likes of R-Type, the checkpoints in Super Nova help increase the focus in memorization and careful gameplay. All Silver Hawks were designed in a way that you never feel overpowered, and weird as it may seem the best choice for firepower is type 3. The large bosses are still the greatest visual asset, with decently varied attack patterns that are on the most part far from wimpy, at least until you figure them out. Milking bosses for extra points on those tiny missiles is a temptation, but beware of the time-out rotating cubes.
I did not do any checkpoint milking in my best 1CC run because I didn't lose any lives. Choosing route ABEHKMO, this is my 1-Life Clear final score for Super Nova, playing with the red Silver Hawk (type 3):