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Unsung games of 2015: Dariusburst: Chronicle Saviours

Fish out of water.

As we wind down towards the end of the year, we get in a reflective mood and inevitably start thinking back to some of the best games of 2015. Eurogamer will be running through its favourite games of 2015 shortly, but before then we thought we'd highlight some of the interesting games you may have missed this year.

Shenmue 3 is a reality. The Final Fantasy 7 remake is actively being worked on at Square. The Last Guardian is an actual video game we will be playing next year. Maybe. 2015 was full of surprises, but all that's small fry to this year's real shocker: the grandiose, operatic 2D shmup, a breed last spotted in the dying embers of the PlayStation 2 era, made a comeback. And what an absolutely stellar, searing return it was too.

It's been so long since we've had something like Dariusburst: Chronicle Saviours that it carries something like the shock of the new, helped handsomely along by the otherworldliness of a series that always felt like it had been beamed in from a distant star rather than crafted in a Tokyo studio. This feels as strange and fresh today as it did when Darius debuted back in 1986 with that awe-inspiring triple-screen cabinet.

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Dariusburst: Chronicle Saviours works as more than just a nostalgic hit - to see it as an old-school shooter is to dismiss the craft that's gone into this package, or how relevant and interesting its chosen genre still is today. They don't get much more interesting than this, either. There's a straight and faithful port of the 2010 game Another Chronicle, complete with the 32:9 aspect ratio that's integral to the experience. Darius is a shooter so cinematic that not even the 2.35:1 of Scope can contain its vision: to see it on a triple-screen monitor is to enjoy it as whatever brilliant gods conceived this intended.

The arcade original has its hard edges, softened if you so desire with infinite lives or sharpened even further in an EX variation that fills the screen with angry shoals of metallic fish. It's a challenge, but never a frustrating one; there's a clean logic that's easy to parse, and with all that screen estate there's so much room to play with. What makes Dariusburst: Chronicle Saviours worth savouring, though, is that it's so much more than a port.

In the eponymous Chronicle Saviours mode, it's a celebration of the series' rich history, a distillation of all that's great about shmups and a perfect introduction to the genre for the uninitiated. A shame, then, that the price point on PlayStation prevents it from becoming the entry point it so clearly could be - people with Metal Black arcade PCBs in their cupboards won't pause to think twice about the outlay, but others understandably will.

Chronicle Saviours is totally worth it, though, and after a handful of hours it easily justifies its cost. In its steely challenge, its ethereal feel powered by Zuntata's sensational soundtrack, there's a sharp throwback to the great shmup purple patch on PlayStation 2, when Gradius 5 and R-Type Final saw the old guard take one final, graceful bow before the curtain was drawn. In the sprawl of Chronicle Saviours, picking through the history of one of the genre's greatest series, I'm reminded of the melancholic self-reflection of Irem's R-Type Final, though the sadness isn't there. It's been replaced by a joy, and an optimism, that suggests that maybe there is a future for these games after all.

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