Fancy graphics are fine, but all gamers know in their hearts that nothing will ever top the drama of Final Fantasy VII or the pure physicality of Super Mario Bros. 3. Playboy’s Retro Gaming articles look at why we love the classics and give you your nostalgia fix.
If you’re of a certain age and inclination, a significant chunk of your young life during the 80s was spent deep within the dark, questionable-smelling caves of electric lights and beeps known as video arcades. At least mine was. Shooters in particular captivated me; those strange offspring of Space Invaders that thrust a lone fighter ship deep into space to mindlessly destroy vile alien races while avoiding hundreds of enemy ships, missiles and laser beams on the screen at once. Gradius, R-Type, Sidearms, and countless more ate my quarters like candy, but one in particular has stood out in my memory for almost 30 years: Darius.
It was obscure and hard to find, with a deluxe three-screen cabinet to show off the insanely wide aspect ratio of its game world. Darius was a lot like all those other games, except it just looked sharper and more colorful, and had a brilliant techno-aquatic theme that thrilled me. Giant, well-armed mechanical fish, turtles and other sea life-turned-space tyrants stood in the way of high score greatness.
Because that high score—that leaderboard—was a kind of multiplayer back then. Three little letters saved on the machine’s high score table meant you had been there and accomplished something. Maybe, if you were the competitive type, you paid special attention to certain initials—ones that constantly appeared above or near you, sometimes knocking your own initials down a rank.
Today’s over-connected world might call this “asynchronous social engagement.” We didn’t usually know who was behind those initials, yet in some way, we were interacting with them as much as with the game itself.
Enter Degica, a company that specializes in bringing lesser known Japanese games to wider markets. They’ve been kind enough to drop developer Taito’s extraordinary Dariusburst Chronicles Saviours into the Western world—a game that captures something similar, decades after arcades began their slow decline.
ENTER YOUR INITIALS
Taken as a pure old-school shooter, Dariusburst CS is simply terrific. It’s gorgeous, frantic and exacting. The game is still absurdly widescreen and on a big screen in a dark room, it’s a beautiful flashback to the golden days of the arcade.
More importantly, however, Dariusburst mixes the old with the new in terms of how it approaches the social engineering of an arcade game. While PC and PS4 owners can play multiplayer with up to four players on the same machine, there’s no actual online play. Instead, the game introduces the concept of community “cabinets”. The word is a homage to old school arcade machines, which were called arcade cabinets, but the concept is very new.
When you start the game you’re randomly assigned a cabinet for the “Chronicle Mode.” Thereafter, whenever you (or another player, whom you will probably never know) unlock a new level, the level is shared with all the other players in your cabinet. This leads to competing with strangers to get the highest score in the world on individual levels, making the leaderboard a direct form of nearly anonymous competition.
If you liberate an area, your name will be immortalized there—at least until another player within your cabinet comes along with a bigger score. Completing levels marked with a red tile enables you travel to other worlds and there will eventually be over 3000 levels and a couple hundred different ships to unlock. The levels frequently have specific criteria for beating them (like completing it with no continues), so opening up even a fraction of the game’s potential content is an uphill battle.
Editor’s note: oh my god, that song though
One nice feature is the ability to change cabinets easily, so if a friend gets the game (and Dariusburst really needs and deserves more Western players), you (or they) can switch cabinets to compete against one another, just like two pals battling for high scores at the local arcade. The PS4 and PS Vita versions use the same cabinets as well, so you can play at home or on the go while always maintaining your progress.
Dariusburst Chronicles Savior is easily one of the best classic-style 2D shooters in years. It’s blisteringly hard, gorgeous, and at times mesmerizing. Beyond that, however, the game makes an intriguing case for developers to create new forms of social interaction beyond the norm. I don’t know who any of the members of my cabinet are, but I watch in fascination as the level maps grow, the leaderboards change, and new content appears almost magically. It’s all the strangely anonymous intimacy of my arcade-trolling days, recaptured in a very modern way.
Jason D'Aprile has been covering games and entertainment for the last three decades across a variety of platforms, many of which are now extinct. In addition to covering gaming (both obscure and otherwise), he also writes a bit of the odd fiction and tries hard to avoid social media.
RELATED: GND Weekly with Andrea Rene: E3 News, Free Games and GameStop Takes a Leap