Dariusburst: SP is about as rote a shmup as you could ever hope to play. SP stands for Second Prologue, so I guess Dariusburst proper won’t start until a later game. Taito, whose Space Invaders shmups are downright inspired, has carefully leached this prologue to Dariusburst of anything resembling enthusiasm, energy, variation, personality, or unique gameplay, much less innovation. They just sort of plop this one down without much more than overly colorful graphics. You could say Dariusburst looks suitably HD, which is a pretty decent acccomplishment for a universal app (contrast this with Cave’s universal shooters, with the pixellated oversampled look of a game punching above its weight class). At least Dariusburst controls well, which is worth noting given that Space Invaders Infinity Gene has a weird and sometimes fatal jankiness in comparison.
Beyond that, there’s not much to say beyond listing features. A typical game of Dariusburst progresses through a branching series of missions, each ending in a boss. The theme seems to be mostly gray robot shellfish with dashes of primary colors. The replayability, such as it is, comes from whether you go from level C to level D or from level C to level E. After that, will you choose F, G, or H? It’s a bit like plunging through a parking deck with no idea where you parked your car. Just pick a level and go with it. The only real claim to variation is that each of the four ships has different stats, but mostly different superweapons. Fill burst gauge. Empty for massive damage. Repeat. Some of the superweapons are more hands-on that your usual “press bomb button to clear screen”, but it takes a lot of rote shmupping to get much mileage from these.
With its forgettable competence, Dariusburst very nearly turned me off of the entire genre of iPad shmups. That would have been a real shame, since the iPad is ideally suited for shmups, even if they’re not normally your thing. The controls, graphics, and time commitment — anywhere from three minutes to an hour — are perfect for the iPad. If you’re used to controlling a shmup with a joystick, or even a mouse, you’re in for a real treat when you discover how gratifying it is to meticulously finger your way through a bullet pattern. What’s more, you can find some remarkable creativity in iPad shmups. I’ve spent the last two weeks very nearly rubbing the fingerprints off my right index finger, and not because Dariusburst: Second Prologue is any good. Instead, I’ve found some absolute treasures that I’ll be reviewing all week.
So, enough with the prologues. We’ll get to the real shmups starting tomorrow.