Blue Sky Binary test results, review

Completing the 2020 Bingo Challenge: Short Story Edition

Completing the 2020 Bingo Challenge: Short Story Edition
Completing the 2020 Bingo Challenge: Short Story Edition
One of the rules of the Fantasy Bingo Reading Challenge is that you can read an anthology or collection for any of the squares. I’ve always been a fan of short fiction, so I’ve occasionally used this rule to complete my Bingo Card (I used three collections outside of the Five Short Stories square last year, for example). When planning my card for the 2020 Bingo, I noticed that several of the squares fit quite well for some of the collections and anthologies I had (a Star Trek anthology for Exploration, books with colors or numbers in their names, etc.). “What if…” I wondered, “…I can do it for every square?”
Thus, my project is born: Complete my Bingo card using only books of short stories, following all the other rules of Bingo. I did not repeat a single author from one square to another, and I even made sure not to repeat editors, either.
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
A brief aside before we start, some terms I use that some may not be familiar to some:
  • Anthology: A book of short stories by multiple authors, usually assembled by an editor whose name is attached to the book (i.e. The Book of Dragons edited by Jonathan Strahan)
  • Collection: A book of short stories by a single author (i.e. Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor)
  • Short Story Cycle: A book of short stories that has its own narrative (i.e. Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood). Some similarities with “interlinked collection,” “mosaic novel,” and “fix-up novel” (The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury being a famous example of the latter).
  • Reprint and Original: Many anthologies/collections reprint stories published previously (reprint) vs. originally written for the book in question (original). Some collections will mix it up (such as a reprint collection with one original story to encourage readers who have read the others to pick up the new book).
Why? What did I hope to accomplish by doing this particular short fiction challenge? Some of my friends will complain about the Five Short Stories square (especially the hard mode requirement to read a book), and I wanted to spite them a little bit and also demonstrate that there’s a lot of different and interesting books out there to read in that format!
Planning: The hardest thing about this was the original planning, as several books I thought would be an easy match for the square didn’t work because another anthology I planned to use already included that author, so I had to dig a bit deeper to find something that didn’t repeat any authors. Also, in past Bingo Challenges, my cards are usually quite fluid as I shift books around throughout the year. Because of all the authors I was juggling, I couldn’t easily do that (though it was vastly easier to do with collections instead of anthologies, for obvious reasons).
Numbers: For this card, I officially read 32 books for the 25 squares: One of those books was quite short, so I read an additional three to meet the length requirement. For the original Five Short Stories square, I decided to be obnoxious and read five collections. These 32 books included 1 short novel (included in one of the collections), 8 novellas, 106 novelettes, 498 short stories, and 3 poems for a total of at least 2,739,975 words (the rough equivalent of reading the first nine novels of The Wheel of Time). I read 189 different authors. In addition to the 32 books above, I read 15 “pre-Bingo” books—books I felt I needed to read to be able to read the anthology or collection I actually used for my Bingo Card. Fifteen of the 32 books were ones I already owned. Nine books I checked out from the library. Five books I bought specific for Bingo, and three books were free (gifts or free online).
1. Novel Translated from Its Original Language:
There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (reprint collection)
  • Reason: I couldn’t read my first choice so I looked through my TBR list to find another SF/F collection I thought would be a translation. It also won the 2010 World Fantasy Award for Best Collection.
  • Favorite Story: “My Love” as I really liked how the characters grew apart and then back together again.
  • Recommended: Only if you like short depressing literary fiction that mostly hinge on dreams and ghosts.
  • Hard Mode: Yes, Pretrushevskaya is a woman.
  • Other Options: I really wanted to read Xia Jia’s A Summer Beyond Your Reach, but she had a story in another anthology I read. I also considered one of Ken Liu’s Chinese SF/F anthologies (Invisible Planets or Broken Stars). I read Jurado & Lara’s Spanish Women of Wonder last year. Etgar Keret’s Fly Already, Kenji Miyazawa’s Once and Forever, or Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge also looked promising.
2. Setting Featuring Snow, Ice, or Cold:
Frozen Fairy Tales edited by Kate Wolford (original anthology)
  • Reason: I literally searched snow and anthology and this was one of the early options.
  • Favorite Story: tie between “The Stolen Heart” by Christina Ruth Johnson and “Death in Winter” by Lissa Sloan; the first just felt great, and the second has this haunting feel I loved.
  • Recommended: Yes; a good selection of fairy tale-inspired stories. Read during the summer, though, it felt really cold.
  • Hard Mode: Yes, every story is in a snowy or cold setting.
  • Other Options: I’m kind of mad that I didn’t come across Snowpocalypse: Tales of the End of the World (edited by Clint Collins and Scott Woodward) until after I read my original choice. I like silly titles.
3. Optimistic Spec Fic:
Ingathering: The Complete People Stories by Zenna Henderson (short story cycle, 1 original to this book)
  • Reason: I’ve had a copy of this book for a couple years, and I needed an excuse to read it. It’s actually an omnibus of Henderson’s two People collections plus some previously uncollected stories. I’ve read the first People collection (Pilgrimage) several times people).
  • Favorite Story: I’ll say “Ararat” here, but the first six stories (the original Pilgrimage collection) are amazingly wonderful and heartwarming.
  • Recommended: Yes, absolutely. Zenna Henderson deserves more attention.
  • Hard Mode: Yes. <3
  • Other Options: If Henderson’s book hadn’t worked out, I considered Heiroglyph (edited by Ed Finn & Kathryn Cramer) and Salena Ulibarri’s two Glass and Gardens anthologies (Solarpunk Summers and Solarpunk Winters), but that would’ve required juggling my card.
4. Novel Featuring Necromancy:
The Book of the Dead edited by Jared Shurin (original anthology)
  • Reason: I asked Jared Shurin (pornokitsch) if he knew of any anthologies with a necromantic theme, and he rattled off five or six options before remembering that he himself had edited an anthology about mummies. I don’t know how you forget something like that.
  • Favorite Story: tie between “Old Souls” by David Thomas Moore and “Three Memories of Death” by Will Hill (non-SF/F)
  • Recommended: Yes, but it’s out of print! Several of the stories were reprinted in Paula Guran’s The Mammoth Book of the Mummy, including “Three Memories of Death.”
  • Hard Mode: No, through several do have mummies as protagonists.
  • Other Options: I was considering Brian McNaughton’s The Throne of Bones since the description seemed rather death-magicky. At this point, the Paula Guran anthology above would probably be a good choice.
5. Ace/Aro Spec Fic:
Life Within Parole, Volume 1 by RoAnna Sylver (collection, mix of reprint and original)
  • Reason: A friend found this on Claudie Arseneault’s asexual recommendations website, which was good, but I felt I needed to read her novel Chameleon Moon first to understand the collection. I’m glad I did.
  • Favorite Story: Reluctantly “Phoenix Down” as it felt the most self-contained.
  • Recommended: Only if you loved Chameleon Moon, which I only recommend if you like a sample of the writing. It’s amazingly diverse in representation, but my frustrations with the novel related more towards its pacing and worldbuilding. Plus I don’t like superheroes.
  • Hard Mode: Yes, half the stories have an asexual or aromantic protagaonist.
  • Other Options: My original choice was Common Bonds: An Aromantic Speculative Anthology edited by Claudie Arseneault, C.T. Callahan, B.R. Sanders, and RoAnna Sylver, a Kickstarter-funded book. However, due to the pandemic, the publication was pushed back, and I didn't want to wait any longer. I also seriously considered Chuck Tingle’s Not Pounded in the Butt.
6. Novel Featuring a Ghost:
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M. R. James (collection, mix of reprint and original)
  • Reason: I just searched ghost anthology, and this was a top result. I have actually never heard of M. R. James before this year, but I gather he’s a huge influence since he’s written so many ghost stories.
  • Favorite Story: “The Mezzotint” as it was the one that creeped me out the most.
  • Recommended: Yes, but only if you realize that it’s got an older style to them (since this book came out in 1904), and that most of these stories won’t creep you out in the year 2020.
  • Hard Mode: No, the ghosts are either antagonists or obstacles.
  • Other Options: I actually don’t know, I stopped searching after I found the book. M. R. James does have 3 more collections of ghost stories, though (all of 4 of which have been gathered in Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James).
7. Novel Featuring Exploration:
No Limits edited by Peter David (original anthology)
  • Reason: I read the first few Star Trek: New Frontier novels back in the late 1990s, but never finished it, so I got all the books for a personal readthrough. Star Trek is by definition perfect for the exploration square, so I read the books. However, I was reading them in publication order, so I had to read the first 14 books before I could get to the anthology!
  • Favorite Story: “Waiting for G’Doh, or, How I Learned to Stop Moving” is a rather funny story about the security officer Zak Kebron at the beginning of his career.
  • Recommended: Yes, but only if you’ve read at least the first six Star Trek: New Frontier novels (all the stories are set before the first book, but most of the characters aren’t really established until you’ve read the first four).
  • Hard Mode: Maybe, nearly all the stories feature exploration, but the plots are often about backstories for the main characters of the series.
  • Other Options: I considered James Alan Gardner’s Gravity Wells (his novel Expendable is a perfect exploration book, so I was hoping the collection would work). Past anthologies that would probably work is Federations edited by John Joseph Adams, Galactic Empires edited by Neil Clarke, and maybe Alastair Reynolds’s Deep Navigation or Galactic North.
8. Climate Fiction:
Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction edited by Manjana Milkoreit, Meredith Martinez, & Joey Eschrich (original anthology)
  • Reason: A friend recommended to me as this theme was getting difficult for me to find, as all my other options included stories by authors I had to read for other squares. This book was produced from a short story contest run by the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative at Arizona State University and judged in part by Kim Stanley Robinson.
  • Favorite Story: “On Darwin Tides” by Shauna O’Meara, which follows a “sea gypsy” in Malaysia as she struggles in this new dystopian future.
  • Recommended: Only if the topic appeals to you—because it was a contest, the stories are mostly from amateur writers and the quality mostly shows. It’s free online, though, and there’s a second book, Everything Change II, which I’ve been told is better.
  • Hard Mode: No, most of them are apocalyptic or post-apocalypse.
  • Other Options: My original choice was Drowned Worlds edited by Jonathan Strahan, but there’s also Loosed upon the World: The Saga Anthology of Climate Fiction edited by John Joseph Adams, and I imagine a lot of solarpunk-themed books could work for this, too.
9. Novel with a Color in the Title:
The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers (original collection)
  • Reason: I already had it (it’s available on Project Gutenberg)
  • Favorite Story: “In the Court of the Dragon” which felt like one of the creepier stories to me.
  • Recommended: Honestly, no. Only half the stories are SF/F, the other half are all stories about bohemian artists in Paris. This book is known for the stories involving “The King in Yellow” play, but they didn’t really work for me.
  • Hard Mode: Yes.
  • Other Options: I considered using Judith Tarr’s Nine White Horses, the anthology Blackguards, Jack Vance’s Wild Thyme, Green Magic, Walter Jon Williams’s The Green Leopard Plague and Other Stories, Black Feathers edited by Ellen Datlow, or How Long ‘til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin.
10. Any Fantasy Book Club Book of the Month OR Fantasy Readalong Book:
Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker (reprint collection, 1 original to this book)
  • Reason: The Goodreads Book of the Month club picked it for June this year. I did own or read all the other options that were available at the time.
  • Favorite Story: tie between “And Then There Were (N-One)” and “In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind”
  • Recommended: Yes! There’s only one story I would rate less than 4 stars in this book.
  • Hard Mode: Yes, I actually led the discussion for the book in June.
  • Other Options: We don’t read very many collections or anthologies for the Fantasy book clubs, so my only choices were Fritz Leiber’s Sword and Deviltry (Classics club, November 2017), Mahvesh Murad & Jared Shurin’s anthology The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories (RAB, May 2018), and we currently have Daniel M. Lavery’s The Merry Spinster for FIF (September 2020). There’s also the Dresden Files read-along which did two of Butcher’s collections, and the Uncanny Magazine Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction/Fantasy read-along (those would’ve been rereads for me, though).
11. Self-Published Novel:
In the Stars I'll Find You & Other Tales of Futures Fantastic by Bradley P. Beaulieu (mostly reprint collection)
  • Reason: I already owned this, it was basically the oldest self-published collection I had.
  • Favorite Story: tie between “Flashed Forward” and “No Viviremos Como Presos” – both dealing with a lot of emotions.
  • Recommended: Yes, the only other stories by Beaulieu I’ve read were 2 co-written novellas, and I felt this collection was better. I haven’t read his novels so I can’t compare.
  • Hard Mode: Yes, at the time of this post, it has 18 ratings on Goodreads.
  • Other Options: There are hundreds of options, but I could’ve read Lawrence M. Schoen’s recent collection The Rule of Three and Other Stories (his other collection, Buffalito Bundle, has stories featuring The Amazing Conroy and are lots of fun.)
12. Novel with Chapter Epigraphs:
Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson (short story cycle)
  • Reason: This was another difficult square, as I knew a short story cycle had the best chance of having epigraphs before every story. I finally found this book by Kate Atkinson. (Ironically, I realized later that my Politics choice also had epigraphs.)
  • Favorite Story: “The Cat Lover,” I guess.
  • Recommended: No, unless you like literary magical realism where stories just kind of end.
  • Hard Mode: No, all of the epigraphs are quotes from Latin or Shakespeare.
  • Other Options: Apparently, Retief! by Keith Laumer would’ve worked from my options. It really is a difficult thing because in a collection some authors might have an epigraph for a story, but not all or most of them.
13. Novel Published in 2020:
Shadows & Tall Trees 8 edited by Michael Kelly (original anthology)
  • Reason: I picked this off Locus Magazine’s forthcoming books list and bought it.
  • Favorite Story: tie between “The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell” by Brian Evenson and “Child of Shower and Gleam” by Rebecca Campbell – the first is creepy as hell, and the second is strange and lovely.
  • Recommended: Yes, if you’re comfortable with weird or darker fantasy stories.
  • Hard Mode: No, Michael Kelly has edited several anthologies before.
  • Other Options: I had planned to use The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu, but I needed Liu for another square. I also considered A Phoenix First Must Burn edited by Patrice Caldwell, and I had three anthologies from Joshua Palmatier I could’ve used (Apocalyptic, Galactic Stew, and My Battery is Low and It is Getting Dark) but I needed another Palmatier anthology for another square. Any of the various “Best Science Fiction or Fantasy of the Year” type anthologies that came out in 2020 would’ve been appropriate as well (Jonathan Strahan, Neil Clarke, Rich Horton, Paula Guran, Ellen Datlow, Bogi Takács, and Jared Shurin all edit “Year’s Best” or “Best of Year”-style anthologies).
14. Novel Set in a School or University:
Sideways Stories from Wayside School; Wayside School is Falling Down; Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger; and Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom by Louis Sachar (short story cycles)
  • Reason: Strangely, one of the first books I thought of for this square. Plus, the most recent book had come out. I decided to read all four as each book is really short (only about 20,000 words per book). Only the first one or two was a reread.
  • Favorite Story: None, they’re all funny and good.
  • Recommended: Yes, absolutely. Maybe better for kids, but I smiled a lot while reading these.
  • Hard Mode: Yes.
  • Other Options: Witch High edited by Denise Little would’ve been good, but included a story by Esther M. Friesner whom I needed for another square. A Kickstarter-funded anthology, Schoolbooks & Sorcery edited by Michael M. Jones, would’ve worked, but it’s not out yet.
15. Book About Books:
Ex Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries, and Lore edited by Paula Guran (reprint anthology)
  • Reason: This was another difficult square because did you know that searching “book anthology” does not narrow things down at all?? I finally hit upon just searching “library anthology” which did the trick, but this one anthology predetermined at least 3 other squares because of its authors (I couldn’t use Ken Liu, Xia Jia, Amal El-Mohtar, and others because they were all in here).
  • Favorite Story: tie between “In the House of the Seven Librarians” by Ellen Klages and “Summer Reading” by Ken Liu. Klages’s story about “feral librarians raising a child” is just wonderful, and Liu’s is very, very sweet.
  • Recommended: Yes, absolutely. This also contains Scott Lynch’s excellent “In the Stacks” and I will never not say no to Kage Baker.
  • Hard Mode: No, libraries are an integral part of most of the stories.
  • Other Options: *gestures wildly* I don’t know!
16. A Book That Made You Laugh:
Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories by Alex Shvartsman (mostly reprint collection)
  • Reason: Alex Shvartsman edits an annual humorous SF/F anthology series called Unidentified Funny Objects (the 8th volume is out this fall), but even though I have them all, they all shared authors with other squares until I remember that I had two collections from Shvartsman, and this was one of them.
  • Favorite Story: “Things We Leave Behind” is a semiautobiographical story about books. Absolutely lovely.
  • Recommended: Yes, but I understand most won’t share his sense of humor. He also tends to write very short stories, so don’t read these for immersion.
  • Hard Mode: Yes.
  • Other Options: Books making you laugh is so subjective, so any author you like probably has something that could work (you only need one story to make you laugh after all). John Scalzi has a couple collections that could work, Connie Willis has a great sense of humor.
17. Five Short Stories:
  • Reason: To be obnoxious I decided to read five collections for this square (instead of just five short stories). I decided to read 5 that I already owned by women/non-binary people. I picked semi-randomly (Hand and McHugh), by older ones I owned (Wurts), and by a couple new ones I was excited about (Datt Sharma and Slatter).
Not for Use in Navigation: Thirteen Stories by Iona Datt Sharma (reprint collection)
  • Favorite Story: “Quarter Days” is a full third of this book, and it’s an interesting post-WWI setting with magic.
  • Recommended: Yes, they have an interesting outlook, and one of the stories has an Indian wedding in space.
Saffron and Brimstone: Strange Stories by Elizabeth Hand (reprint collection, 1 original)
  • Favorite Story: “The Least Trumps” should appeal to the booklover in every single one of us.
  • Recommended: These are definitely interesting stories, but I’d only recommend for “The Least Trumps” and “Cleopatra Brimstone.” She’s got a poetic style here that didn't always work for me.
After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh (reprint collection, 2 original)
  • Favorite Story: “Special Economics” which follows a Chinese girl trapped into working at a factory.
  • Recommended: Yes, though it’s also one of the few themed collections (versus themed anthologies) that I’ve seen, with every story dealing with apocalypse in some way.
Sourdough and Other Stories by Angela Slatter (mostly original collection/short story cycle)
  • Favorite Story: “Gallowberries” which features Patience from the Tor.com novella Of Sorrow and Such as a young woman.
  • Recommended: Yes, absolutely. Every story is in the same setting, and they all interconnect with each other. I can’t wait to read more from Slatter (I already have The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings).
That Ways Lies Camelot by Janny Wurts (mostly reprint collection)
  • Favorite Story: tie between “Wayfinder” and “That Way Lies Camelot” – both are great stories, the first a coming of age, and the other is bittersweet.
  • Recommended: Yes, definitely. In addition to the above, “Dreambridge” is also awesome. I wasn’t as fond of the three ElfQuest stories, but it was interesting to read Wurts’s 4 Fleet stories as I never realized she ever wrote anything close to straight science fiction.

  • Hard Mode: … Yes?
  • Other Options: This is the most open-ended square for this particular Bingo Card, especially since at the time of this post, I own 121 unread anthologies and collections.
18. Big Dumb Object:
Alien Artifacts edited by Joshua Palmatier & Patricia Bray (original anthology)
  • Reason: This was one of the books that made me realize I could do an all-short-story card. I thought the anthology’s theme would perfectly encapsulate the square.
  • Favorite Story: “Me and Alice” by Angela Penrose – a kid finds a strange artifact while digging at a site.
  • Recommended: Yes, though a few stories weren’t to my taste.
  • Hard Mode: No, while the classical BDO is present in several stories, most would fall in the wider definition being used for Bingo.
  • Other Options: I’m at a loss here, as I never looked for more after I found this.
19. Feminist Novel:
Skin Folk by Nalo Hopkinson (collection, mix of reprint and original)
  • Reason: I owned this already from a Humble Bundle.
  • Favorite Story: “And the Lillies-Them A-Blow” – a woman is inspired to reconsider her life.
  • Recommended: Yes.
  • Hard Mode: Yes, Hopkinson is a Jamaican-born Canadian.
  • Other Options: I had a few other books from the same Humble Bundle called Women of SFF. Most of them would’ve worked.
20. Novel by a Canadian Author:
The Very Best of Charles de Lint by Charles de Lint (reprint collection)
  • Reason: It appears I picked this up in 2014 for some reason (I’ve never read de Lint before this year). But he’s Canadian!
  • Favorite Story: There are honestly too many to say, but I’ll say “In the Pines” for now.
  • Recommended: Yes, yes, yes. I basically added everything he’s written to my TBR.
  • Hard Mode: Maybe, it was originally published in 2010 with Tachyon Publications, but in 2014 it was reprinted by de Lint’s Triskell Press (which is the copy I have), which would count.
  • Other Options: A friend sent me an anthology edited by Dominik Parisien called Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction, though I would’ve had to juggle square to get it to work. Nalo Hopkinson is Canadian, so Skin Folk would’ve worked, too. Jo Walton has a collection called Starlings.
21. Novel with a Number in the Title:
Nine White Horses: Nine Tales of Horses and Magic by Judith Tarr (reprint collection)
  • Reason: At the time, the only collection I had with a number that I could use.
  • Favorite Story: “Classical Horses” – an absolutely lovely story that mixes real life and fantasy, and appeals to my Classics nerd background.
  • Recommended: Yes! Tarr is a wonderful writer.
  • Hard Mode: Yes.
  • Other Options: I could’ve used The Golem of Deneb Seven and Other Stories by Alex Shvartsman, Nine Hundred Grandmothers by R. A. Lafferty, and The Rule of Three and Other Stories by Lawrence M. Schoen.
22. Romantic Fantasy/Paranormal Romance:
Once Upon a Kiss: 17 Romantic Faerie Tales published by Anthea Sharp (original anthology)
  • Reason: My original first choice was a bust when I realized quickly that the stories involved love, but were not romance stories. This was an emergency backup as I was nearing the end of reading for this Bingo Challenge.
  • Favorite Story: “The Bakers Grimm” by Hailey Edwards, which is a sweet little story about baking under pressure.
  • Recommended: No. 99% of the stories are direct appeals to try to get you to buy their books. Many of the stories don’t even really feel like short stories. I had a friend who only read urban fantasy who was adamant that she hated reading short stories and I couldn’t figure out why. Now I do. Many of these read more like vignettes than proper short stories.
  • Hard Mode: No, the HEA Club hasn’t done any anthologies or collections for me to participate in.
  • Other Options: My backup would’ve been to find some paranormal romance series and look for a collection or anthology in that world, but it would’ve involved more prep reading.
23. Novel with a Magical Pet:
No True Way: All-New Tales of Valdemar edited by Mercedes Lackey (original anthology)
  • Reason: Valdemar is an easy setting to choose for this square, and even though I had stopped reading the yearly anthologies (they’re up to 13 or 14 now), I decided to grab the 8th anthology from the library.
  • Favorite Story: “A Dream Reborn” by Dylan Birtolo, a beggar girl with a gift grows a conscience.
  • Recommended: Only if you’re a Valdemar fan and you literally can’t get enough of the world (I’d recommend sticking with the novels up until the Collegium Chronicles).
  • Hard Mode: Yes, Companions can usually speak telepathically with their Heralds and a select few others.
  • Other Options: I’m sure there’s a themed anthology perfect for this, but I honestly don’t know offhand if there is one, since this was an easy choice for me.
24. Graphic Novel (at least 1 volume) OR Audiobook/Audiodrama:
Eerie Archives, Volume 1 edited by Archie Goodwin (original comic book anthology)
  • Reason: I searched “comics anthology” into my library’s digital catalog. This showed up.
  • Favorite Story: No real favorite, but I guess “Flame Fiend” by Eando Binder, about a man desperate to avoid fire.
  • Recommended: Yes, if you’re interested in 1960s horror comics anthology magazines. Each story is about 6-10 pages long, but many felt like cheesy horror to my modern eyes.
  • Hard Mode: Maybe, each story is standalone, but this book contained the first 5 issues of Eerie comics. I’m going with No because Eerie is a running series.
  • Other Options: I considered The Escapist (inspired from Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay), a Mouse Guard comics anthology, and Thrilling Adventure Hour before finding Eerie. I also though the Eisner Awards were a good source of finding potential comics anthologies, since that's a category.
25. Novel Featuring Politics:
Retief! by Keith Laumer (reprint collection)
  • Reason: I knew the main character was a problem-solving diplomat, so this was an easy pick.
  • Favorite Story: “Diplomat-at-Arms” which is a great story of following an experienced old man on a mission, and “Cultural Exchange,” a really funny bureaucratic tale (and this one is free on Project Gutenberg).
  • Recommended: Yes, with reservations. They’re all stories from the 1960s, they’re bureaucratic galactic pulp fiction where Retief always knows better than his bumbling superiors and women only show up in secretarial or minor support roles. The stories also feel a bit repetitive as a whole, so if you read these, space it out.
  • Hard Mode: No, several of the stories feature royalty.
  • Other Options: I felt like this was a nebulous category, but offhand, I’d suggest Do Not Go Quietly: An Anthology of Victory in Defiance edited by Jason Sizemore & Lesley Conner and Resist: Tales from a Future Worth Fighting Against edited by Gary Whitta, Christie Yant, and Hugh Howey for two explicitly political anthologies, and maybe something like Harry Turtledove’s interlinked collection Agent of Byzantium for an alternate history take on a Byzantine special agent.
Favorites
  • Favorite collections: The Very Best of Charles de Lint by Charles de Lint, Ingathering: The Complete People Stories by Zenna Henderson, Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker, Sourdough and Other Stories by Angela Slatter, and Nine White Horses by Judith Tarr
  • Favorite anthologies: Ex Libris edited by Paula Guran and The Book of the Dead edited by Jared Shurin
  • Favorite overall short stories: In addition to my favorite stories in the books above, I’d also give a special place to The Very Best of Charles de Lint (“In the Pines,” “In the House of My Enemy,” “A Wish Named Arnold,” “Mr. Truepenny's Book Emporium and Gallery,” “Pixel Pixies,” “The Badger in the Bag,” “Timeskip,” “Into the Green,” “Birds,” and “Pal o' Mine”) and to Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea (“And Then There Were (N-One),” “In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind,” “Our Lady of the Open Road,” “Wind Will Rove,” and “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide”).
  • An Aside: My father died suddenly in the middle of my reading for this challenge. The books I read from Zenna Henderson and Charles de Lint really helped me during this time, with de Lint’s book making me cry multiple times (in a good way).
The End
Sometime last year after touting one short story or another to my friends, I said, “Oh, I don’t think I read *that* much short fiction,” and they all looked at me funny for some reason.
Oh. Never mind. I get it now.
All joking aside, I’ve read SF/F magazines off and on growing up, and I always enjoyed the occasional Year’s Best Science Fiction anthology from Gardner Dozois, and Robert Silverberg’s Legends anthologies were rather formative to my growth as a fantasy reader (that’s where I read George R.R. Martin and Robin Hobb for the first time). Some of my favorite writers have done amazing short stories (in fact, I think I like Alastair Reynolds better at the short length than the novel; witness my love for his story “Zima Blue”!). Even if you don’t read more than the usual five short stories for the Bingo Challenge, please consider branching out! I hope I’ve shown with my own card how much variety is out there.
If you’re not sure where to start, your favorite author may have some short stories of their own, either in an anthology or one of their own collections. Mary Robinette Kowal is one of my favorites, and I loved her collection Word Puppets. If they’re prolific enough, they may have a “Best of” book, like The Best of Connie Willis or The Very Best of Kate Elliott. Trying one of the Year’s Best anthologies I mention under #13, Published in 2020, is also a fun way to explore short fiction.
And even though I didn’t read any for my Bingo Challenge, there are tons of SF/F magazines out there to read from on a daily, weekly, monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly schedule. My personal recommendation is for Asimov’s SF, FIYAH, and Fantasy & Science Fiction for subscription-only options, and places like Clarkesworld, Uncanny, Fireside, and Tor.com for free online stories. There are also some great magazines/sites like Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Daily Science Fiction.
Looking at award lists is a fun way to get started, as most of the major awards also have short fiction categories. Find out where they were published and try out a magazine issue or an anthology.
I’ll end this with the following:
  • an interview by our own tctippens with Jonathan Strahan over at the Fantasy Inn Podcast where they discuss not only his new anthology The Book of Dragons, but reading short fiction in general.
  • Editor Jared Shurin ( pornokitsch ) just came out with The Best of British Fantasy 2019 this past June: check it out!
  • One of my favorite short story writers is John Wiswell, and I’d like to link two of his wonderful stories: "Tank!" follows a sentient tank attending its first SF convention, and "Open House on Haunted Hill" is a very sweet story about a haunted house trying to get sold to a new family. Both stories are quite short and you can read each in just a few minutes.
  • And finally… this is what the internet should be: Naomi Kritzer's "Cat Pictures Please"
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THE SEARCH FOR THE GREATEST SHMUP: EPISODE 27 – Darius Cozmic Collection Console

This is it. We have finally managed to reach the shmup that started it all. The one shmup I played before any other and which inspired me to devote my time to the genre. It isn’t the best Darius game by any means, but it is certainly the one closest to my heart. We are finally reviewing Super Nova!
Ok, maybe we’re not just reviewing Super Nova. We are going to be taking a look at the entire Console Cozmic Collection and seeing how it stacks up against the Arcade Collection. They say console ports are usually downgraded versions, but will it also be the case here?
Publisher: ININ Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: Jun 16, 2020
Price: $59.99
Tate: Please don’t use your flip grip on this one
The Darius Cozmic Collection Console is a compilation of Darius games released on consoles. This port was also developed by the brilliant M2. You can definitely set your expectations on high, because this collections is as high quality as the arcade collection, albeit with some notably absent features.
The titles included in this collection are:
THE BESTEST PORTS ARE M2 PORTS
If you read my review for the Arcade Collection, then you know what to expect from this collection. Each of the 9 included games feature a wonderful wrapping of quality of life enhancements as well as customization options.
Each title can be accessed from a main menu that features a museum style listing for each game. When highlight a game, you will be presented with an image of the title screen and a brief description of the game on its right. I found the descriptions extremely helpful when deciding which game to play. Having several versions of the same game is great for collection purposes, but the descriptions provided some much needed guidance.
While in-game, you can pull a special menu at any point by pressing ZR or ZL. This menu lets you customize several aspects of a game, such as the controls and the visuals. Just as the arcade collection, you can set your controllers to map buttons to be fire+bomb and even adjust the rapid fire setting. The visuals have less options, but staples such as the display type and scanlines are available. The “other” tab is quite lacking, as it only has the volume setting.
It wouldn’t be much emulation without some save states! Each game has a quick save option which lets you save your current state in one of 12 different slots. The saving and loading process is very smooth, and it doesn’t take any time at all to load any given state. Unlike the arcade collection, there are no ranking penalties for using save states. Rather than being a good thing, it mostly relates to a lack of rankings, but more on that later.
THE MISSING FEATURES
Whereas the arcade collection felt like a love letter to the arcade culture, the console collection lacks a lot of the charm. It’s in part understandable due the nature of consoles not being as flashy as arcades. I don’t mean to say that the work in this collection is lacking in comparison, it’s just that in general arcades had much more going on.
One of my highlights in the arcade collection was my introduction to Darius I with controller vibration in sync to the music. Sound and vibration fanfares were not available on console because there is no such thing as coin operated credits. As a result, rumble is completely absent in this collection.
All of the gadgets are missing from this edition as well. Rather than getting the art of the arcade panels or useful information, all the console collection gets is a background. When looking at both collections side by side, the console collection like extremely empty, as you only have the game screen and nothing else. The only exception is Darius Alpha, which has a boss gadget on the right side of the screen.
THE LONG LOST GAME CHANGERS
To the detriment of gameplay, some of the more useful gadgets won’t be making a return. Losing the boss analyzer and life gauges is rough, but pales in comparison to losing your arm counter. Other than relying on in-game visuals, you no longer have additional graphics showing arm strength, weapon strength or even bonus score counters.
Another addition I was really fond of was the map/zone overview on the pause screen. Most of the games show the route progression in-game (except for Darius Plus). What is lost is the ability to see the map at any time by pressing ZZL, and even worse is losing the information related to a zone. I really enjoyed knowing how many power-ups were present in a given stage, but I absolutely loved knowing which bosses would appear on which route. My routing decisions have 100% been influenced by fighting cool fishes.
To make matters worse, the replay system has been completely revamped. You can no longer save replays of your playthroughs in most of the main games. Instead, replays are reserved only for the special modes of Darius Alpha, the boss rush of Darius Force and the boss rush of Darius II. While this means there’s still a way to relive some of your greatest moments, it is limited to some modes which pale in comparison to the actual games. Oh yeah, the leaderboards are also limited to the special modes as well.
But enough about the collection, let’s get to the games.
DARIUS II/SAGAIA
Darius II and SAGAIA are ports of the original arcade game into the Mega Drive/Sega Genesis. As with arcade ports, the game had to undergo some changes in order to be playable on consoles. Sprites were redrawn to be smaller, gameplay was adapted to a single screen and co-op had to be removed. Still, it manages to fit the entire Darius II in both versions, as opposed to arcade SAGAIA which was a reduced version.
Just to clarify, Darius II and SAGAIA are the same game. The difference in naming comes from localizing the game to North America.
I’ll be honest, out of all the games in the collection, this was the one I played the least. I don’t mean to say the game isn’t good. My reduced play time comes from the fact that I already played A LOT of Darius II for the arcade collection, so for an in-depth overview I recommend checking out the Arcade Collection review.
However, I did get a couple of full playthroughs and I gotta say that it does a great job at capturing the original game’s essence! Gameplay is essencially untouched, so expect to go through the same all-or-nothing upgrade system, branching paths with Darius II bosses and some wacky endings! One of my thoughts that I have to rehash is that the game is either a cakewalk or extremely brutal depending on your upgrade level. If you keep it maxed, then the game is a breeze. If you fall even once, it’s a very tough hill to climb.
SAGAIA MASTER SYSTEM – THE BUDGET DARIUS
In an odd turn of events, a version of SAGAIA was released for the Sega Master System. For those unfamiliar, the Master System is basically the equivalent of the NES. This game exists because the 8-bit market was still going strong in Europe when it released.
As impressive as it might be to have SAGAIA on an 8-bit console, we have to consider that it had to be downgraded from an already downgraded version. If it sounds rough, it is because the game itself is extremely rough. The framerate is lower, the sprites flicker on screen and the game lags when there are too many sprites on screen.
I found it next to impossible to play this game for long periods of time. It really is hard to justify playing the lesser version when I have better alternatives in this same collection.
DARIUS TWIN
Darius Twin was the first Darius to actually be made for consoles. It isn’t an arcade port or a game adapted from a multiple screen format into a single screen. Darius Twin is a completely original entry, and as such it takes full advantage of the console format for the better!
Out of the box I have to say this: Darius Twin is easily my favorite game on this entire collection. The biggest reason is that this feels like a game that doesn’t try to be a coin sink. Instead, it plays around with the concept of a single credit and balances the game around it. The result is a shmup that feels much more fast paced, but never overwhelming and certainly not one where it’s impossible to repair from death.
In terms of mechanics, it is by all means a Darius game in its fundamentals. Pilot the Silver Hawk through branching paths, collect red/green/blue upgrades and beat the fishes. One distinct difference is that you do not lose your power level on death. Although it doesn’t sound like much, I do believe this is the one difference that greatly improves the experience.
Previous Darius games have felt, to varying degrees, as games that should be played without getting hit or else risk not being able to recover. Since Darius Twin doesn’t have this hindrance, you are always in your best shape and it helps keep the fun going. You do have to be careful, as you respawn without arm, but other than that it’s never a lost cause.
SNES AND SUPER FAMICON
Darius Twin comes in 2 different versions: One for the SNES and the other for the Super Famicon. Unlike other entries, the versions are for the most part the same. The difference is that the SNES version has localization. It also features stereo sound, whereas the SFC version had mono. Although it is nice to have the SFC version, in reality you probably want to play the SNES version all the time. Unless, of course, you want humanity to create weapons made from the bones of its kill instead of wood and rocks.
One of the most surprising aspects about Darius Twin is the sound. I’m unapologetically a SNES fan, so when I heard the game’s OST and sound effects, I felt a wave of nostalgia. The tracks and sounds are very SNES-ish and it is a style that I’m very fond of.
I really encourage everyone to go hard on this game. I really enjoyed it and I think you might share my love if you give it a go! It offers a perfect blend of action and challenge which pushes you to your limits, but is never unfair. As an extra bonus, it features several different endings depending on how many lives you lost, with the best ending being unlocked on a true no death run. Also, once you max your wind slash, don’t pickup the weapon swap.
DARIUS FORCE/ SUPER NOVA
Super Nova is a special game for me. It is the one game I remember seeing on the video store and renting thanks to the cool box art. The first stage is a memory I can vividly remember. The first enemy waves, the trilobyte miniboss, the boss theme and even his name: Biohazard.
As a side note, to this day I don’t really know who is the boss on the Super Nova box art. Judging by how long it is, it might be Peace Destroyer, but I’m not really sure.
Darius Force was released after Darius Twin. It certainly has console gaming in mind, but it draws several gameplay elements from arcade Darius. Sadly, they brought my least favorite: the checkpoint system. Dying in Darius Force has to be one of the most disappointing experiences. Upon death, the screen blacks out and you are taken back to the last checkpoint you crossed. Your beam and bombs are reset to level one, although you keep your arm upgrade levels.
It’s also the first game to feature bosses other than marine organisms. Expect to see prehistoric creatures and dinosaurs.
To counter balance the checkpoint system, Darius Force is much more generous on the power-ups. After returning to a checkpoint, you are always treated to a beam and arm power-up. A level 2 beam is quite a downgrade, but at least you get an arm to claw your way back into the game.
A TRIBUTE TO THE CLASSICS
One of the new features of Darius Force is the ability to choose your ship. At the beginning, you are given a choice of 3 different models of the Silver Hawk. The green Hawk is based on Darius I and has the wave upgrade path. The blue Hawk is based on Darius II with the napalm beam. Finally, the red Hawk is an original ship.
Another change is the fact that beam and bombs upgrade together. There are 8 different upgrade levels, with your main beam switching fire type until its final form. Collecting a red power-up will upgrade both of them 1 level. As mentioned before, dying will set you back to level 1, so it becomes crucial to stay alive once you reach level 8. A neat change is that, for the first time, you can switch your bomb type between bomb and laser. Bombs will deal more damage, while laser will go through weak enemies.
The merger of beam and bombs also has a neat strategic implication. For one, you can no longer freely shoot your beam in tandem with your bombs. If you attempt to press both buttons at once, you will fire a downgraded version of both the beam and bombs. This means you need to be more mindful of whether you want the power of your beam or the power of your bombs.
INTENTIONAL WEAKNESS
Luckily, downgrading your weapons might actually be a desirable outcome. For me, the middle levels of the green Hawk were too awkward to use, as they were piercing lasers. By pressing both buttons, I was able to revert to the trusty spread shot until my level was high enough to bypass the beam in favor of the wave shot. If you think about it, the laser is a lot like puberty. No one really likes puberty, but it is an important transition phase we can totally avoid by firing and bombing.
Darius Force includes an extra boss rush mode that was previously accessible with a special code. Rather than needing complicated button inputs, the boss rush mode can be directly accessed when choosing Darius Force from the main menu (not available for Super Nova). It is also one of the few modes which have been blessed replays and leaderboards.
DARIUS PLUS/ DARIUS ALPHA
Finally rounding up the collection are the PC titles. You can think of them as parallel universe versions of the main game.
Darius Plus is a “lite” version of Super Darius, which itself is a souped up version of the original Darius. So you can think of it as just a port of Darius on a single screen format.
As a port of Darius, it has all the levels you are familiar with, while boasting 16 different bosses. The rest of the gameplay is straight up Darius, with the notable exception being that the action is reduced to a single screen instead of having 3.
In terms of where I stand on Darius Plus as a game, I gotta say it is fun but a straight up worse version. The game doesn’t look as clean as the arcade version and the sound is also worse. I also feel like the levels are longer, or perhaps it’s just the screen reduction making levels seem longer than they should be. One thing for sure, is that the gameplay feels dragged on to the point of feeling boring at times. There are sequences that felt like they repeat endlessly until you reached the end of the stage.
The one thing it’s got going over the its original arcade counter part is the 1cc gameplay. Rather than being able to pump credits endlessly, Darius Plus plays on a single credit and is balanced around that as a result. One particular change that makes me happy is that you don’t return to a checkpoint upon dying.
This game exists to remind me how much I hate the laser on the original Darius.
DARIUS ALPHA: THE BOSS RUSH: THE GAME
Finally we have Darius Alpha, the compilation of the extra modes. Instead of being an actual game, Darius Alpha is a boss rush against the 16 bosses. Just like Plus, you have a single credit to beat the whole game. Power-ups are automatically acquired in between boss rounds, but the same restrictions as the main game applies. This means that you will lose your power level if you die, up until your latest upgrade.
The selling point of Alpha in this collection is that it has most of the ranking modes for the collection. The extra modes are the following:
LAST WORDS
Out of the gate, I have to say that this is the worse of the 2 collections. The arcade collection has the Darius games in its pure arcade form. Games which stand strong even to this day when it comes to quality. M2 took these games and made them even better with their porting expertise and several love letters to the games. The console collection not only contains downgraded versions, but also lacks some of the finer details that made them great in the first place.
Despite having more games, Darius II/SAGAIA and Darius Plus are basically downgrades of Darius II and Darius I respectively. This leaves us with Darius Twin and Darius Force to carry the collection, and they actually do! Darius Force might not be as fantastic as I remember, it certainly feels slower than I remember, but I did constantly revisit it while creating this piece because it is a very enjoyable game. Darius Twin was the great surprise, as I find it to be my absolute favorite in this collection, and a strong contender to Darius Gaiden in my opinion.
With all that being said, I consider the contents of this collection to be very good, but with a very notable flaw: the price. At $59.99, this collection is a very tough sell. I can’t in good faith recommend it highly, as the same amount of money can purchase several highly rated titles in this list. In fact, it could even get you the arcade collection and the #1 shmup Ikaruga. Still, the quality of the collection is something I can’t deny, so I’ll be weighting that much more than the price in its final ranking.
THE RANKING SO FAR:
  1. Ikaruga
  2. Psyvariar Delta
  3. Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade
  4. Devil Engine
  5. Rolling Gunner
  6. Blazing Star
  7. Jamestown+
  8. Darius Cozmic Collection Console
  9. Tengai
  10. Steredenn: Binary Stars
  11. Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax
  12. Sky Force: Reloaded
  13. Strikers 1945
  14. Black Paradox
  15. R-Type Dimensions EX
  16. Sine Mora EX
  17. Shikhondo – Soul Eater
  18. Ghost Blade HD
  19. AngerForce: Reloaded
  20. Aero Fighters 2 (ACA Neogeo)
  21. Q-YO Blaster
  22. Lightening Force: Quest for the darkstar (Sega Ages)
  23. Pawarumi
  24. Red Death
  25. Task Force Kampas
  26. Switch ‘N’ Shoot
  27. Last Resort (ACA Neogeo)
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[Review] Ranking all the Switch shmups Ep26 – Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade

We’ve all had a game that is a gateway to a specific genre. That one game which made us pay attention to a style of games and allowed us to fully experience the genre. It might not have been the first one we play, but it is definitely one that stays closer to our hearts. For me, this game was Darius.
I’ve mentioned this in the past, but I will say it again: Darius is the shmup that is closest to my heart. I loved the horizontal gameplay, I loved the Silver Hawk, I loved all the huge bosses that looked like fishes. The gameplay also hit bunch of chords that resonate with what I love about shmups. I’ve been waiting so long for this, so alas, I present to you: Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade!
Publisher: ININ Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: Jun 16, 2020
Price: $44.99
Tate: Built-in
Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade is a collection of the Darius games released on the arcades. This wasn’t your typical cabinet, as one of its main features was the usage of multiple screens. Darius used 3 screens, while Darius II/SAGAIA used 2 screens. M2 really went out of their way to bring the most authentic arcade experience! The result is impressive to say the least!
This collections includes 4 games:
Darius and SAGAIA include 3 and 2 different versions respectively, bringing it to a total of 7 playable games.

ARCADE GLORY

As hard as this might be to believe, I have never played an arcade Darius game before. I always mentioned Darius as my favorite shmup, but the truth is that I began with the SNES games. I had heard on the street that the arcade versions were superior so I was very excited.
When I booted the original version, I couldn’t help but feel like I was standing next to an actual arcade cabinet. The game greeted me with 3 screens places next to each other on the center of the screen. I was excited to play, so I pressed the coin button. I was not prepared for what I was about to experience…
As soon as I inserted the coin, a typical fanfare played along as my credit counter increased by one. But there was something else. The controller started vibrating to the tune of the music. I just can’t make justice to this effect with words. It felt like being inside an actual arcade cabinet. Vibrations and sound made the experience feel authentic. It made me think about the arcade days where you would hear cabinets everywhere and just feel the energy of the place.
As soon as I started to play, the screen changed and the empty spaces were replaced by arcade artwork. This artwork was exactly the kind you would see pasted near the controllers to show you how to play and other general information. Everything about the game was designed to make you feel like on the arcade. This is the kind of presentation that every other arcade port should try to achieve.

FISH GRAVY

What truly sets apart the Darius Cozmic Collection from any other collection is the amount of features and arcade fidelity that M2 added to the game. Every single aspect, every single menu and every single feature was lovingly added to create a masterpiece.
From the get go, you will be presented with the very familiar “A boss is approaching” message featuring King Fossil. The message just says that your game data is approaching fast. It really is only a fancy way of saying the game is loading, but it sets the tone to the orgasmic experience that you are about to have with the game.
After going through the intro scene, you will be greeted with the main menu which contains all 7 playable titles in this collection. You also have a replay, manual and staff options. If you are wondering where the options are, they are specific for each game, so they must be adjusted from within each game. My only complaint here is that the manual is in japanese. There isn’t much to learn from a manual though. The only thing was the Darius Gaiden capture mechanic, so I picked that one up from the internet.

AN ENTIRE LEGACY

Speaking of the games, 7 different titles can be quite intimidating. If you are anything like me, then chances are you don’t know what’s “new ver” or “extra ver”. Thankfully, each game features a sort of museum display that features a screenshot of the menu, the title, the launch date and a very thorough description of the game. The text will navigate you through each version of the games and specifically highlight why it is different from its predecessor or what was changed when going to western markets.
Each game includes a training mode for those who wish to challenge specific parts of the game. Training mode will let you choose to play any stage and customize a variety of settings such as the strength of your Silver Hawk and the game rank, which is the in-game difficulty. The obvious use for this mode is to practice your piloting skills and go for the 1CC. Even casual players can view this as a pseudo level select cheat code for maximum enjoyment!
Perhaps one of the most amazing inclusions of the collection is the replay mode. For every one of your play throughs, there is an option to save a replay of your play session. What differs from regular replays, is that they pack an incredibly robust set of features. Other than being able to watch a recording of yourself, you can see your inputs and control the playback of the replay. You can rewind, fast forward, go back, increase the speed or even go full slow-mo to analyze your gameplay.

KING OF THE ARCADE

Challenging oneself is one thing, but going after the world is the true spirit or arcade shmups. Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade features online rankings which are separated into 2 categories: “Arcade” and “All-mix”. Arcade is played with every setting on default and using only one credit. If you are playing and choose to spend an additional credit to continue, then your scoring is changed to “All-mix”. All-mix is a catch-all for every other style, from easy difficulty to hard or even static rank modes.
If you ever wondered what’s it like to play like the king of the leaderboards, then you’ll be glad to know you can download leaderboard replays! This allows you to watch the entire play throughs of top players, along with their inputs and the previously mentioned playback features of a replay. A must have for those willing to go for the record or even those curious about what it means to be a champion.

YOUR PERFECT CABINET

The in-game menu for each game will further let you customize your gameplay experience. The amount of options is truly staggering, so suffice to know that you can change in-game setting as difficulty and score for an extend, screen quality adjustments like scan lines and gadgets, and the controllers.
One menu I really want to highlight is the gadgets menu. Gadgets are responsible for making the gameplay experience truly stand out. They track all sorts of data from yourself and the enemies. From a friendly side, you can see your current level of power, the number of hits your arm can take and the information related to the current zone. From a less friendly side, you have all sorts of analyzers that display the current boss, their weakness and detailed HP for each of their parts. There’s even a life gauge that appears at the bottom of the screen for easy viewing when fighting bosses!
Although I could see an argument against being way too much information, I’m personally thankful because I’m a data nerd and I love knowing all this information. If it is too much for you, then you can always turn off the gadgets and customize the screen to your liking. The real beauty comes from creating your perfect cabinet.

THE EMULATOR ADVANTAGE

One of the main selling points of emulators has been the ability to use save states. Darius Cozmic Collection is no slouch and features save states of its own! These save states will let you cheese the game as much as you want, but they also let you replay specific sections and master them for your future arcade runs. I won’t judge you, so have fun with save states! The only caveat is that using save states will not record your score. Unfortunately, replays will only record from the last time you loaded the save state onwards. So there’s no chance of creating tool-assisted runs.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that bringing up the in-game menu will completely pause the game and show you a fully-fledged map of the game, complete with boss encounters for each zone and the amount of power-ups featured in said zone. It really is great for strategy purposes to know which stage will allow you to upgrade your Silver Hawk! Resuming a game will also give you a 3 second count down with a jumping robot animation to ensure you are ready for action. This detail wasn’t really needed, but it is one of the many ways in which M2 shows appreciation for Darius and the player.
Out of all this nitty gritty details, I have to say the song name is one of my favorites. In the bottom right corner of the screen there is a pop-up that appears when the song changes and displays the song name. I just think it looks really cool. By the way, don’t forget to check “Olga Breeze”, my favorite song!

DARIUS, THE OG

Darius, the game that started it all. Featuring 3 screens, this is the biggest Darius game featured in this collection (ha!). If I may add, I also think this is the game that highlights all the love M2 poured into bringing arcade experiences to your living room. With features such as the cabinet art and the body sonic vibration, it really brings home the arcade feeling.
As you can expect, playing the first game on the series is both, a nostalgic and a painful experience. Playing on 3 screens is truly magical, but at the same time, it is a victim to the older design choices. Not much that can be done here, after all, it is a decades old game. Just a small detail to keep in mind.
Darius helps establish the foundations of the franchise from the very first game. One of the Darius staples is the upgrade system for the Silver Hawk. Throughout the game, you can encounter 3 different orbs which are dropped by different colored enemies. The orbs can be red, green or blue.

SILVER HAWK

Red orbs will upgrade your primary fire. Each orb increases your power, but collecting 7 will upgrade your shot to the laser, and then the wave. Green orbs will upgrade your bomb, which is your secondary fire. Bombs also get stronger with more orbs and also upgrade when you reach 7. Blue orbs will give you a shield called arm. The initial shield blocks 3 hits and any additional orb will add 1 more hit. Just like red and green, you can upgrade after 7 orbs which will make it so that additional orbs give you 2 hits and then 3.
The downside to the upgrade system is that, upon death, you will lose every orb you collected in your current tier. The good news is that if you, for instance, managed to upgrade to the laser, then your shot can never fall below that. The bad news is that the number of orbs is limited per stage, which means it is almost impossible to upgrade within a stage the same stage where you died. The exception is a single stage that has 7 blue orbs in the old version and one with 7 green in the extra version.

THE FISH

The most distinguishable characteristic of the franchise is definitely the marine bosses. The stages are all over the place with a very diverse space settings, but the bosses are always one thing: fish. Actually, I’d say it is marine biology, but fish is an overly simplistic way to describe it. Darius also has one peculiarity which is that every set of stages has the same boss. For example, the 4th stage boss will always be Fatty Glutton in a different version depending on which zone you chose.
The other defining feature of Darius is being able to choose your adventure. After each boss, you can choose to go to one of 2 different zones. This choice is made by either being on the top or bottom half of the screen, as the stage actually splits after beating the boss. It certainly took me off guard the first time as I crashed into the divider. Despite having the same boss, the zones are drastically different and carry the strategic choice of having a different number of orbs. Your path will be determined by which aspect of your Silver Hawk you want to improve.

THE COINS

What struck me the most about Darius is how unforgiving it is. This is expressed in the descriptions of the newer versions. The thing about Darius, is that the game is next to impossible to beat if you didn’t fully upgrade. Later enemies are merciless and if you don’t have sufficient firepower, then you probably won’t stand a chance. This ruthlessness is exacerbated by the death system, as death will set you considerably behind. Because upgrades are usually a 2-stage effort, getting shot will set you back 2 levels worth of progress.
A fun aspect I found on Darius is the dynamic created by having 3 screens. This is probably the widest game I have played, and it brings new challenges to the table. The first one is that you need to gain screen position to succeed. Being at the front is usually better, with moving back feeling like losing real estate. The reason behind this is that you are able to shoot down enemies before they become a threat with their numbers. The other less obvious reason is the number of bullets allowed on screen. That number is limited, so it is in your best interest that those bullets expire fast so you can fire new ones. Being back equals more time before they reach the end of the screen, which is undesirable.
Overall, the game poses a unique challenge, but I’m not going to lie, it is actually really fun to play. Achieving an upgraded Silver Hawk is a hard endeavor, but that makes it even more rewarding when you pull it off!

DARIUS II/SAGAIA, THE PROOF US WESTERNERS HAVE SHORT ATTENTION SPANS

Darius II came in and simplified the game in some interesting ways. First of all it reduced the upgrade system so that it is now only a single stage that can be maxed out. The number of orbs was reduced to compensate. Another simplification comes courtesy of the screens themselves. The number of screens was reduced from 3 to 2 in order to be installed in other dual screen cabinets such as The Ninja Warriors.
Unfortunately, the single stage of upgrades means that the game is even more savage when you die. This time around, you actually lose all of your progress in terms of firepower. There will be special rainbow orbs which help you catch up a little, but even then they might be a little too late. As a result, my 1CC had to be done by never dying.

I ALWAYS WANTED A THING CALLED A TUNA SASHIMI

One thing I want to mention, is that Darius II has my absolute favorite intro sequence of any Darius game in this collection. From the music that goes ramping up to the main theme, to the voice lines calling out the launching sequence:
“Main engine energy level, 20% increase !”
“I always wanted a thing called tuna sashimi”
“3…2…1…”
It all creates an unbelievable sense of excitement!
A very fun piece of trivia is the existence of SAGAIA. It exists to be a compact version of Darius II to be sold on western markets. Then there’s actually 2 versions of it which feel like 2 pieces of the same game. If SAGAIA trimmed certain pieces of the game, then version 2 came to use those trimmed pieces and created another entry. It’s actually quite funny.

DARIUS GAIDEN, THE KING

Darius Gaiden is definitely the reason you will keep playing the arcade collection. Quality in older games under a modern eye is usually a product of nostalgia and design elements that still hold on in today’s gaming landscape. Contrasting with that, Darius Gaiden IS a fantastic game that I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase if it was released today.
For Darius Gaiden, less is more, as this time around the game was played on a single screen arcade cabinet. The game does seem to lack some of the ambient goodies such as the rumble effects, but it makes up for it in gameplay experiences.

TRUE POWER

One aspect that is radically different from its predecessor is the upgrade system. Whereas Darius II simplified the Silver Hawk upgrade system, Darius Gaiden took it back to its original Darius roots. This means that, once again, we have multiple upgrade points. Upgrades take considerably less red power-ups to achieve, which actually makes it possible to upgrade multiple times during the same stage.
Death penalties are lower as well with death only losing you a level of power. Because there are more power levels, it is more forgiving and doesn’t set you completely behind like the previous entries. Perhaps the best of all is that neither arm nor bombs have any penalty whatsoever. What’s more, you don’t even lose your arm or bomb level when losing a credit. I can say with 100% certainty that this game is actually possible to complete within a reasonable number of credits if you die on the later zones.
I would take it one step ahead and say this game has a little of the Contra syndrome. The original Contra is a game that was considered hard, but was significantly easier if you could maintain the spread shot. In the same vein, getting the earliest upgrades makes Darius Gaiden a breeze. A well deserved victory, if you ask me.

YOU’RE MINE NOW!

New to Darius Gaiden is the ability to capture mid bosses. Half-way through a stage, you will encounter a medium sized boss with a purple orb somewhere in its back. If you manage to take down the orb without killing the enemy, it will detach and slowly drift away. If you capture this orb, then the mid boss will fight alongside you until its timer expires. I gotta say that having a huge fish on your side is surprisingly satisfying!
Having a single screen makes the experience much more familiar for shmup enthusiasts. While it does lose some of the charm of the ultra wide field of view, it also rids itself of nuances such as your horizontal movement being low in terms of total horizontal space or the limit on on-screen bullets.
A combination of those factors I mentioned contribute to making Darius Gaiden a much better experience. It’s simple to play and forgiving when you lose. Every stage is unique and makes every new play through a completely different experience, not just in a different-ish way, but rather full blown new content!

A LEGENDARY PACKAGE OF NOSTALGIA

There’s one thing that you might be thinking, and that’s that I might be biased because it is Darius. It is true that I openly admit everywhere that Darius is my favorite. However, in this particular case my work was cut out for me, I don’t need to be biased because this is truly a wonderfully crafted collection that deserves to be on everyone’s Switch.
It contains every possible version of Darius you might have encountered on the arcades and then sprinkled some top notch features that make it stand on a class of its own when it comes to ports. It also helps that the Darius games remain to be as fun as they always have been, even with their caveats. I took 3-4 times more time to play this collection, not because it had a lot of content, but because I loved playing every second of it and wanted to try it all. Wanted to 1CC every version, wanted to traverse every possible stage, wanted to created masterful replays.
The only possible downside I can see to this collection is the price. $44.99 is a very high price compared to other shmups on the market. In terms of features and overall content (because remember, every game has more than an alphabets worth of different zones) it does warrant its price. Although I can see people double guess their decision, with this game being close to the cost of a first party title and significantly higher than other shmups.

TOP 3

My tentative placement for Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade was on the top 3 spots. I really had a hard time deciding where to put it, so I went back and revisited both Ikaruga and Psyvariar Delta. After finishing my Ikaruga play through, I was reminded of the magic that is Ikaruga and how special it is. Psyvariar Delta also reminded me of the buzz system and how the refined gameplay and level ups work towards creating an experience that I can’t quite put into words.
The main defining factor, however, was that I don’t think any of the Darius games in the collection beats the top 2 contenders. The 7 games as an aggregate, are certainly a force to be reckoned with thanks to the superb M2 porting labour. With that being said, I will award it a 3rd spot because the gameplay experience is incredible, but a little held back by the age of the games and the hefty price tag.
Still, Darius will always be #1 in my heart.

THE RANKING SO FAR:

  1. Ikaruga
  2. Psyvariar Delta
  3. Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade
  4. Devil Engine
  5. Rolling Gunner
  6. Blazing Star
  7. Jamestown+
  8. Tengai
  9. Steredenn: Binary Stars
  10. Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax
  11. Sky Force: Reloaded
  12. Strikers 1945
  13. Black Paradox
  14. R-Type Dimensions EX
  15. Sine Mora EX
  16. Shikhondo – Soul Eater
  17. Ghost Blade HD
  18. AngerForce: Reloaded
  19. Aero Fighters 2 (ACA Neogeo)
  20. Q-YO Blaster
  21. Lightening Force: Quest for the darkstar (Sega Ages)
  22. Pawarumi
  23. Red Death
  24. Task Force Kampas
  25. Switch ‘N’ Shoot
  26. Last Resort (ACA Neogeo)
submitted by AzorMX to NintendoSwitch [link] [comments]

[Review] Ranking all the Switch shmups Ep27 – Darius Cozmic Collection Console

This is it. We have finally managed to reach the shmup that started it all. The one shmup I played before any other and which inspired me to devote my time to the genre. It isn’t the best Darius game by any means, but it is certainly the one closest to my heart. We are finally reviewing Super Nova!
Ok, maybe we’re not just reviewing Super Nova. We are going to be taking a look at the entire Console Cozmic Collection and seeing how it stacks up against the Arcade Collection. They say console ports are usually downgraded versions, but will it also be the case here?
Publisher: ININ Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: Jun 16, 2020
Price: $59.99
Tate: Please don’t use your flip grip on this one
The Darius Cozmic Collection Console is a compilation of Darius games released on consoles. This port was also developed by the brilliant M2. You can definitely set your expectations on high, because this collections is as high quality as the arcade collection, albeit with some notably absent features.
The titles included in this collection are:
THE BESTEST PORTS ARE M2 PORTS
If you read my review for the Arcade Collection, then you know what to expect from this collection. Each of the 9 included games feature a wonderful wrapping of quality of life enhancements as well as customization options.
Each title can be accessed from a main menu that features a museum style listing for each game. When highlight a game, you will be presented with an image of the title screen and a brief description of the game on its right. I found the descriptions extremely helpful when deciding which game to play. Having several versions of the same game is great for collection purposes, but the descriptions provided some much needed guidance.
While in-game, you can pull a special menu at any point by pressing ZR or ZL. This menu lets you customize several aspects of a game, such as the controls and the visuals. Just as the arcade collection, you can set your controllers to map buttons to be fire+bomb and even adjust the rapid fire setting. The visuals have less options, but staples such as the display type and scanlines are available. The “other” tab is quite lacking, as it only has the volume setting.
It wouldn’t be much emulation without some save states! Each game has a quick save option which lets you save your current state in one of 12 different slots. The saving and loading process is very smooth, and it doesn’t take any time at all to load any given state. Unlike the arcade collection, there are no ranking penalties for using save states. Rather than being a good thing, it mostly relates to a lack of rankings, but more on that later.
THE MISSING FEATURES
Whereas the arcade collection felt like a love letter to the arcade culture, the console collection lacks a lot of the charm. It’s in part understandable due the nature of consoles not being as flashy as arcades. I don’t mean to say that the work in this collection is lacking in comparison, it’s just that in general arcades had much more going on.
One of my highlights in the arcade collection was my introduction to Darius I with controller vibration in sync to the music. Sound and vibration fanfares were not available on console because there is no such thing as coin operated credits. As a result, rumble is completely absent in this collection.
All of the gadgets are missing from this edition as well. Rather than getting the art of the arcade panels or useful information, all the console collection gets is a background. When looking at both collections side by side, the console collection like extremely empty, as you only have the game screen and nothing else. The only exception is Darius Alpha, which has a boss gadget on the right side of the screen.
THE LONG LOST GAME CHANGERS
To the detriment of gameplay, some of the more useful gadgets won’t be making a return. Losing the boss analyzer and life gauges is rough, but pales in comparison to losing your arm counter. Other than relying on in-game visuals, you no longer have additional graphics showing arm strength, weapon strength or even bonus score counters.
Another addition I was really fond of was the map/zone overview on the pause screen. Most of the games show the route progression in-game (except for Darius Plus). What is lost is the ability to see the map at any time by pressing ZZL, and even worse is losing the information related to a zone. I really enjoyed knowing how many power-ups were present in a given stage, but I absolutely loved knowing which bosses would appear on which route. My routing decisions have 100% been influenced by fighting cool fishes.
To make matters worse, the replay system has been completely revamped. You can no longer save replays of your playthroughs in most of the main games. Instead, replays are reserved only for the special modes of Darius Alpha, the boss rush of Darius Force and the boss rush of Darius II. While this means there’s still a way to relive some of your greatest moments, it is limited to some modes which pale in comparison to the actual games. Oh yeah, the leaderboards are also limited to the special modes as well.
But enough about the collection, let’s get to the games.
DARIUS II/SAGAIA
Darius II and SAGAIA are ports of the original arcade game into the Mega Drive/Sega Genesis. As with arcade ports, the game had to undergo some changes in order to be playable on consoles. Sprites were redrawn to be smaller, gameplay was adapted to a single screen and co-op had to be removed. Still, it manages to fit the entire Darius II in both versions, as opposed to arcade SAGAIA which was a reduced version.
Just to clarify, Darius II and SAGAIA are the same game. The difference in naming comes from localizing the game to North America.
I’ll be honest, out of all the games in the collection, this was the one I played the least. I don’t mean to say the game isn’t good. My reduced play time comes from the fact that I already played A LOT of Darius II for the arcade collection, so for an in-depth overview I recommend checking out the Arcade Collection review.
However, I did get a couple of full playthroughs and I gotta say that it does a great job at capturing the original game’s essence! Gameplay is essencially untouched, so expect to go through the same all-or-nothing upgrade system, branching paths with Darius II bosses and some wacky endings! One of my thoughts that I have to rehash is that the game is either a cakewalk or extremely brutal depending on your upgrade level. If you keep it maxed, then the game is a breeze. If you fall even once, it’s a very tough hill to climb.
SAGAIA MASTER SYSTEM – THE BUDGET DARIUS
In an odd turn of events, a version of SAGAIA was released for the Sega Master System. For those unfamiliar, the Master System is basically the equivalent of the NES. This game exists because the 8-bit market was still going strong in Europe when it released.
As impressive as it might be to have SAGAIA on an 8-bit console, we have to consider that it had to be downgraded from an already downgraded version. If it sounds rough, it is because the game itself is extremely rough. The framerate is lower, the sprites flicker on screen and the game lags when there are too many sprites on screen.
I found it next to impossible to play this game for long periods of time. It really is hard to justify playing the lesser version when I have better alternatives in this same collection.
DARIUS TWIN
Darius Twin was the first Darius to actually be made for consoles. It isn’t an arcade port or a game adapted from a multiple screen format into a single screen. Darius Twin is a completely original entry, and as such it takes full advantage of the console format for the better!
Out of the box I have to say this: Darius Twin is easily my favorite game on this entire collection. The biggest reason is that this feels like a game that doesn’t try to be a coin sink. Instead, it plays around with the concept of a single credit and balances the game around it. The result is a shmup that feels much more fast paced, but never overwhelming and certainly not one where it’s impossible to repair from death.
In terms of mechanics, it is by all means a Darius game in its fundamentals. Pilot the Silver Hawk through branching paths, collect red/green/blue upgrades and beat the fishes. One distinct difference is that you do not lose your power level on death. Although it doesn’t sound like much, I do believe this is the one difference that greatly improves the experience.
Previous Darius games have felt, to varying degrees, as games that should be played without getting hit or else risk not being able to recover. Since Darius Twin doesn’t have this hindrance, you are always in your best shape and it helps keep the fun going. You do have to be careful, as you respawn without arm, but other than that it’s never a lost cause.
SNES AND SUPER FAMICON
Darius Twin comes in 2 different versions: One for the SNES and the other for the Super Famicon. Unlike other entries, the versions are for the most part the same. The difference is that the SNES version has localization. It also features stereo sound, whereas the SFC version had mono. Although it is nice to have the SFC version, in reality you probably want to play the SNES version all the time. Unless, of course, you want humanity to create weapons made from the bones of its kill instead of wood and rocks.
One of the most surprising aspects about Darius Twin is the sound. I’m unapologetically a SNES fan, so when I heard the game’s OST and sound effects, I felt a wave of nostalgia. The tracks and sounds are very SNES-ish and it is a style that I’m very fond of.
I really encourage everyone to go hard on this game. I really enjoyed it and I think you might share my love if you give it a go! It offers a perfect blend of action and challenge which pushes you to your limits, but is never unfair. As an extra bonus, it features several different endings depending on how many lives you lost, with the best ending being unlocked on a true no death run. Also, once you max your wind slash, don’t pickup the weapon swap.
DARIUS FORCE/ SUPER NOVA
Super Nova is a special game for me. It is the one game I remember seeing on the video store and renting thanks to the cool box art. The first stage is a memory I can vividly remember. The first enemy waves, the trilobyte miniboss, the boss theme and even his name: Biohazard.
As a side note, to this day I don’t really know who is the boss on the Super Nova box art. Judging by how long it is, it might be Peace Destroyer, but I’m not really sure.
Darius Force was released after Darius Twin. It certainly has console gaming in mind, but it draws several gameplay elements from arcade Darius. Sadly, they brought my least favorite: the checkpoint system. Dying in Darius Force has to be one of the most disappointing experiences. Upon death, the screen blacks out and you are taken back to the last checkpoint you crossed. Your beam and bombs are reset to level one, although you keep your arm upgrade levels.
It’s also the first game to feature bosses other than marine organisms. Expect to see prehistoric creatures and dinosaurs.
To counter balance the checkpoint system, Darius Force is much more generous on the power-ups. After returning to a checkpoint, you are always treated to a beam and arm power-up. A level 2 beam is quite a downgrade, but at least you get an arm to claw your way back into the game.
A TRIBUTE TO THE CLASSICS
One of the new features of Darius Force is the ability to choose your ship. At the beginning, you are given a choice of 3 different models of the Silver Hawk. The green Hawk is based on Darius I and has the wave upgrade path. The blue Hawk is based on Darius II with the napalm beam. Finally, the red Hawk is an original ship.
Another change is the fact that beam and bombs upgrade together. There are 8 different upgrade levels, with your main beam switching fire type until its final form. Collecting a red power-up will upgrade both of them 1 level. As mentioned before, dying will set you back to level 1, so it becomes crucial to stay alive once you reach level 8. A neat change is that, for the first time, you can switch your bomb type between bomb and laser. Bombs will deal more damage, while laser will go through weak enemies.
The merger of beam and bombs also has a neat strategic implication. For one, you can no longer freely shoot your beam in tandem with your bombs. If you attempt to press both buttons at once, you will fire a downgraded version of both the beam and bombs. This means you need to be more mindful of whether you want the power of your beam or the power of your bombs.
INTENTIONAL WEAKNESS
Luckily, downgrading your weapons might actually be a desirable outcome. For me, the middle levels of the green Hawk were too awkward to use, as they were piercing lasers. By pressing both buttons, I was able to revert to the trusty spread shot until my level was high enough to bypass the beam in favor of the wave shot. If you think about it, the laser is a lot like puberty. No one really likes puberty, but it is an important transition phase we can totally avoid by firing and bombing.
Darius Force includes an extra boss rush mode that was previously accessible with a special code. Rather than needing complicated button inputs, the boss rush mode can be directly accessed when choosing Darius Force from the main menu (not available for Super Nova). It is also one of the few modes which have been blessed replays and leaderboards.
DARIUS PLUS/ DARIUS ALPHA
Finally rounding up the collection are the PC titles. You can think of them as parallel universe versions of the main game.
Darius Plus is a “lite” version of Super Darius, which itself is a souped up version of the original Darius. So you can think of it as just a port of Darius on a single screen format.
As a port of Darius, it has all the levels you are familiar with, while boasting 16 different bosses. The rest of the gameplay is straight up Darius, with the notable exception being that the action is reduced to a single screen instead of having 3.
In terms of where I stand on Darius Plus as a game, I gotta say it is fun but a straight up worse version. The game doesn’t look as clean as the arcade version and the sound is also worse. I also feel like the levels are longer, or perhaps it’s just the screen reduction making levels seem longer than they should be. One thing for sure, is that the gameplay feels dragged on to the point of feeling boring at times. There are sequences that felt like they repeat endlessly until you reached the end of the stage.
The one thing it’s got going over the its original arcade counter part is the 1cc gameplay. Rather than being able to pump credits endlessly, Darius Plus plays on a single credit and is balanced around that as a result. One particular change that makes me happy is that you don’t return to a checkpoint upon dying.
This game exists to remind me how much I hate the laser on the original Darius.
DARIUS ALPHA: THE BOSS RUSH: THE GAME
Finally we have Darius Alpha, the compilation of the extra modes. Instead of being an actual game, Darius Alpha is a boss rush against the 16 bosses. Just like Plus, you have a single credit to beat the whole game. Power-ups are automatically acquired in between boss rounds, but the same restrictions as the main game applies. This means that you will lose your power level if you die, up until your latest upgrade.
The selling point of Alpha in this collection is that it has most of the ranking modes for the collection. The extra modes are the following:
LAST WORDS
Out of the gate, I have to say that this is the worse of the 2 collections. The arcade collection has the Darius games in its pure arcade form. Games which stand strong even to this day when it comes to quality. M2 took these games and made them even better with their porting expertise and several love letters to the games. The console collection not only contains downgraded versions, but also lacks some of the finer details that made them great in the first place.
Despite having more games, Darius II/SAGAIA and Darius Plus are basically downgrades of Darius II and Darius I respectively. This leaves us with Darius Twin and Darius Force to carry the collection, and they actually do! Darius Force might not be as fantastic as I remember, it certainly feels slower than I remember, but I did constantly revisit it while creating this piece because it is a very enjoyable game. Darius Twin was the great surprise, as I find it to be my absolute favorite in this collection, and a strong contender to Darius Gaiden in my opinion.
With all that being said, I consider the contents of this collection to be very good, but with a very notable flaw: the price. At $59.99, this collection is a very tough sell. I can’t in good faith recommend it highly, as the same amount of money can purchase several highly rated titles in this list. In fact, it could even get you the arcade collection and the #1 shmup Ikaruga. Still, the quality of the collection is something I can’t deny, so I’ll be weighting that much more than the price in its final ranking.
THE RANKING SO FAR:
  1. Ikaruga
  2. Psyvariar Delta
  3. Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade
  4. Devil Engine
  5. Rolling Gunner
  6. Blazing Star
  7. Jamestown+
  8. Darius Cozmic Collection Console
  9. Tengai
  10. Steredenn: Binary Stars
  11. Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax
  12. Sky Force: Reloaded
  13. Strikers 1945
  14. Black Paradox
  15. R-Type Dimensions EX
  16. Sine Mora EX
  17. Shikhondo – Soul Eater
  18. Ghost Blade HD
  19. AngerForce: Reloaded
  20. Aero Fighters 2 (ACA Neogeo)
  21. Q-YO Blaster
  22. Lightening Force: Quest for the darkstar (Sega Ages)
  23. Pawarumi
  24. Red Death
  25. Task Force Kampas
  26. Switch ‘N’ Shoot
  27. Last Resort (ACA Neogeo)
submitted by AzorMX to NintendoSwitch [link] [comments]

THE SEARCH FOR THE GREATEST SWITCH SHMUP: EPISODE 28 – Raiden V: Director’s Cut

Before I begin, I just want to remind everyone that all of my reviews can be found at my site: www.azormx.com. I tried to keep it as minimalist as possible, and it doesn't have any add or any other intrusive elements, so the content is king. Do check it out, as reviews are usually live there before I publish them elsewhere. Any way, on to the review!

The shmup genre hasn’t been a mainstream genre in a long time. To be honest, I don’t think it ever was, even during the arcade days. While we certainly don’t have a shortage of shmups, let alone new release, they usually come from smaller teams. Indies have taken it upon themselves to become a guiding light for all of us. Their creations have been nothing short of amazing! However, we don’t really have anything we could call a “AAA” shmup. We do seem to have the next closest thing: Raiden.
Developer: Moss Co.
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: Jul 25, 2019
Price: $29.99
Tate: Unfortunately… no. This really needed to have TATE
Raiden V: Director’s Cut is a vertical shmup set in a fictional but real world. It claims to be the original bullet-hell, and after playing it extensively I gotta say that I agree. Raiden V features some intense air combat, coupled with giant bosses and some jaw-dropping transitions between areas.

THE GREAT INTRO CHECKLIST

Right out of the gate, what caught my attention was the intro. The best way I can put this is that it has everything great about shmups in a short video. It has a great track, it has giant enemies, it has ships and it even has pieces of lore I do not understand! Simply amazing!
Most importantly, it is a very accurate portrayal as to what you should expect from the game. Unlike other shmups, Raiden goes all out in the presentation department, with the story taking a mayor role. Another way I can put this, is that it certainly feels like a considerable effort was placed in every element of the game. Raiden V features a level of polish that very few shmups can claim to have.

WELCOME TO THE CUSTOMIZATION STATION

One of Raiden’s strength is the amount of customization you have available for your ship. At the beginning of the game, you can choose between one of 3 different ships: Azuma, Spirit of Dragon and Moulin Rouge. Each of these ships has different stats in terms of attack, defense and speed. They also have their own sub-shot which is always firing along with your main cannon.
On top of selecting a ship, you can arm yourself with 3 out of 9 different weapons. Those 9 weapons are grouped into 3 categories: Vulcan, Laser and Plasma. You can pick, or rather you must pick 1 for each category. The result is a combat style that is unique to you.
During your play throughs, you will encounter several power-up orbs. These orbs will power up each of your weapons up to 10 times! Each of these orbs can be either red, blue or purple depending on the weapon it powers up. The orbs cycle the colors, with an outer dot indicating a timer until it changes colors. This allows you to control which weapon you want to power up, giving you the flexibility to pick your own style or choose a weapon for the occasion.
The best part is that absolutely no power-ups are lost upon death! This means that you are free to retry to your heart's content and play at your own pace. Raiden won't punish you or set you up for failure with an unrecoverable situation.
I didn’t put too much attention into weapon selection at first. I figured it wouldn’t be too relevant, as I would probably just play the entire game with a single weapon, but the advanced scoring mechanics and the rank system were quick to make me second guess my decision.

ACE PILOT

At the core of Raiden V, there are 2 main systems to be aware of: your rank and your flash level. Both of them measure your combat capabilities, although in different ways. Your flash point gauge is a score multiplier that tracks how fast you defeat your enemies. By defeating enemies as soon as possible after spawning, you can earn higher multipliers to increase your flash gauge. By having quick kills, you can raise it to higher levels to increase your score. Your rank, on the other hand, only concerns itself with how many enemies you’ve defeated.
Your rank doubles as the deciding factor of which path you will be taking. Raiden features branching paths with an A, B, C or S version of each stage. Depending on your total destruction rate, you will either move up or down in rank after a stage. While I do not know the exact numbers, I believe having more than 98% destruction rate will increase your rank, 90 – 98% will keep it as is and <90% should decrease your rank. S rank stages are presumably harder than A/B/C stages, with C being the lowest.
Apart from having a higher score and challenging yourself with the difficulty, the importance of S rank is getting the true ending. In order to truly watch the ending of the game, you need to reach the final stage on S rank using a single credit. You also need to power up your 3 weapons to level 10. Once you meet those conditions, you will be able to challenge the final boss. Alternatively, you could just fulfill the level 10 weapons condition to fight the true final boss.

THE BEST CHEERLEADER

A new addition to Raiden V is the cheer system. By accomplishing certain in-game milestones like a certain number of enemies destroyed, you will get an achievement. These achievements are broadcasted to any players connected to the leaderboards. They can then “cheer” on your achievement to increase your cheer gauge. This goes both ways, as you can also cheer the achievements of your fellow Raiden players.
Once the cheer gauge is full, you can unleash it to clear the screen and gain a drastically stronger sub-shot. Think of it as a devastating bomb, only more devastating and easier to fill. It clears screens and decimates even the bosses.
Perhaps many people won’t think too much of it, but I found it really interesting to know that there’s someone on the other side celebrating my achievements. Likewise, there were times where I left my game on pause to do other stuff, but held on to my controller to provide support for my comrades.

SWIFT DESTRUCTION

Everything I’ve mentioned before plays out in the general strategy of the game. Assuming you want to get the best results, you need to know where to hit and how to hit hard. For the untrained eye, most shmups just look like games where you fire away with complete disregard and hope the enemy dies. This is definitely not the case in Raiden.
In order to succeed, you must be able to find your rhythm and read the stage. Learn the enemy formations and strategize the quickest kills. Be there before the enemy arrives and take them down before they realize what hit them. If you want to face the true final boss, then you must also learn to juggle your weapons and find the moments to upgrade them. Maxing a weapon and then switching is a recipe for disaster, as you don’t want to be on the later stages with a level one weapon and risk your flash level or destruction rate. With so many weapons and ship types, your strategy to succeed will be unique to you!

LORE GALORE

One of the main selling points, at least per the game itself, is the story. Raiden V features an extensive story that is fully voiced and occurs as you play the game. This story elements come as the prologue and epilogue scenes, as well as all the events happening mid stage.
As you fly your way to the levels, characters will be advancing the story by having conversations and narrating the current events. The dialogue is available on one of the gadgets located on the right side of the screen. You can read anything you might have missed and even pause to read the on-screen log of events (up to a certain number of events, as the log scrolls to open way for new text).
As for my opinion of the story, I have absolutely no idea of what happened during the game. I played my fair share of runs, but I found it next to impossible to focus on the dialogue while trying my hardest to survive. The voice acting would have been my saving grace, but I found the sound mixing to be the opposite of ideal for listening to dialogue. I even tried lowering the sound effects and BGM to see if I could focus on dialogue to no avail.
The text is also incredibly small when playing on docked mode. It gets even worse when playing handheld.

THE WORST CHEERLEADER

Out of all the voices, Eshiria’s was the one who got on my nerves the most at the beginning. Other than having her role as navigator on the plot, she also critiques your gameplay. In-between stage scenes, she will provide commentary describing your gameplay. She will be quick to point out if you did well, but also if you did poorly. On my early runs, when I was still learning, it would tilt me to listen to her complaining to me about stats I did not understand.
And perhaps, a huge part of my problems was a lack of understanding of the game mechanics. I listened to her complain about my destruction rate without knowing it was about my rank. She also complained about destruction speed without me knowing it was about the flash point.
The problem is that the game never bothered explaining any of its mechanics to me. I really looked around for some sort of tutorial to no avail. I had to resort to 3rd party resources. While that isn’t uncommon, I really don’t like games with obscure mechanics that can’t be discerned in-game.
Once I got better and consistently reach the S levels, I finally started to value her advice. Of course, I wouldn’t count on everyone reaching the same enlightenment as I did. In my opinion, her comments would more often than not add insult to injury. Once again, it’s not really the commentary, it’s the fact that none of what she said made practical sense until I started digging on the wiki.

GADGETS AND THE SCREEN REAL ESTATE

Perhaps the worst omission from Raiden V is the lack of a TATE mode. Vertical shooters don’t really have an excuse to do this, with the existence of add-ons like the flip grip or rotating monitors. Instead, Raiden decided to make the most out of the free space and add several gadgets.
In standard fashion, these gadgets will keep your stats like score, flash level, the dialogue and even hi-score statistics. Your left gadget can even be cycled between the score chart and cheer notification, in-game tips and global statistics. Out of those, the tips are definitely the winners. They do give some important advice, such as staying on top of the guns of the first boss to avoid damage.

NOT A FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD

Every stage is divided into smaller scenes. These scenes serve as a way to catch your breath and tally your score. There’s even a nifty “restart scene” option that allows you to replay a scene. Choosing to restart will deny you the option to upload your score to the leaderboard, but serves as a great way to practice or even “fix” a run to so can get to the true ending.
Every once in a while, the action will pan out and open the way to a bigger stage, with you looking smaller in comparison. I admire the grandioseness of the resulting scenes, but they were also quite impractical. Think about your weapons, the destruction rate and the flash gauge. An extended stage means longer travel distances from side to side. Having a bigger stage means you move slower, which reduces the pacing of the game to a crawl. Reaching enemies quickly becomes a struggle. Worst yet, I’ve counted times where it took me whopping 5 seconds to go from side to side of the stage.

THE OG BULLET HELL

Despite all the fun of blasting enemies quickly to gain flash levels, I gotta say that I found the combat, specifically the bullets, to be lacking in grace. For a game that’s the original bullet hell, most enemy volleys feel like bullet showers. There’s no finesse in them, just a bunch of bullets moving towards you. Dodging them isn’t fun, it’s survival. The problem only gets worse in higher difficulties where the bullets just go faster.
Not all patterns are as bad though. While the vast majority will be just a bunch on increasingly faster bullets thrown at you, some exceptional patterns will show from time to time. As a result, fights tend to be very hit or miss, with both hits and misses being on their respective extremes.
What certainly doesn’t help is that the bullets are very hard to see. As pretty as the backgrounds might be, they are very busy and the quick motion makes them into a blur. Bullets don’t have their characteristic outlines or color palettes to become distinguishable. Some even blend with your own vulcan. The result is a lot of cheap kills caused by intentional obfuscation. It this was their intention, then perhaps I’m being too harsh, but you know visibility is usually one of my pet peeves in shmups.

REPLAYABILITY AND LONGEVITY

As far as game length goes, I consider Raiden V to be one of the longer ones. I was surprised after my first run of the game, as it took me 50+ minutes to complete the campaign. Usually, my baseline for shmups is around half an hour, which made this one almost twice as long. While I’m not fond of longer campaigns, I know a lot of people would certainly be glad to know there is plenty of content.
Of course, playing through the campaign isn’t enough to view the entire game. If you recall, most stages have 4 versions of themselves. Those versions are separated by the ranks: S/A/B/C. This means you would need at least 4 runs to see everything the game has to offer. There’s also 6 different endings to uncover.
Also new to the Director’s Cut edition are 2 bonus levels. These level are slightly different from your typical levels. The bonus missions will challenge you to fight a new boss ir oder to obtain medals. Dealing damage will detach the medals from the boss, allowing you to catch them. Gather enough medals and you will advance to the next phase. Higher medals mean higher ranking. Taking damage will take medals away from you, so surviving continues to be a priority.
Lastly, there is a new boss mission mode that allow you to play “boss rush” missions. These missions have certain conditions, like using a specific weapon or fighting at a specific HP level. The targets are usually 1-3 bosses. Boss mission is a very fun arcadey mode for those who enjoyed the boss fights and want more of them.

SOUND EXCELLENCE

If there’s a factor that merits my highest praise is the sound department. Simply put, the OST is fantastic. The track length syncs perfectly with the stages, and it always fits the mood. I just couldn’t get enough of the OST, and listening to it while writing this review was the recipe for a perfect Sunday! I also got some good coffee that would make the captain proud.
For all the praise the music gets from me, it still is dragged down by the terrible sound mixing. Similarly to the voice acting, I tried to mess with the sound settings to increase the volume and reduce the sound effects, but it still wasn’t enough. The tracks were great but I struggled to listen to them amidst all the explosions. The calm moments were great, as they let me listen to the songs in peace.

LAST WORDS

Raiden is a master class in shmup design for the wrong reasons. Its high points perfectly illustrate how shmups should look and feel. The low points also show what you should NOT do when creating a shmup game. Despite all of this, it all comes down to how fun a game is.
Raiden V is a very fun game. It isn’t different, but it’s certainly very polished. I delivers some levels of quality that are notably absent in the majority of the games. As a concept, I feel like it serves as an example of how current gen shmups should be. The execution fell flat in some regards, but as a whole I was satisfied with the time I spent with the game. It does come with a hefty price tag, so my advice is to check this game out when you find a decent sale. I got mine at -70%.

THE RANKING SO FAR:

  1. Ikaruga
  2. Psyvariar Delta
  3. Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade
  4. Devil Engine
  5. Rolling Gunner
  6. Blazing Star
  7. Jamestown+
  8. Raiden V: Director’s Cut
  9. Darius Cozmic Collection Console
  10. Tengai
  11. Steredenn: Binary Stars
  12. Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax
  13. Sky Force: Reloaded
  14. Strikers 1945
  15. Black Paradox
  16. R-Type Dimensions EX
  17. Sine Mora EX
  18. Shikhondo – Soul Eater
  19. Ghost Blade HD
  20. AngerForce: Reloaded
  21. Aero Fighters 2 (ACA Neogeo)
  22. Q-YO Blaster
  23. Lightening Force: Quest for the darkstar (Sega Ages)
  24. Pawarumi
  25. Red Death
  26. Task Force Kampas
  27. Switch ‘N’ Shoot
  28. Last Resort (ACA Neogeo)
submitted by AzorMX to u/AzorMX [link] [comments]

MAME 0.222

MAME 0.222

MAME 0.222, the product of our May/June development cycle, is ready today, and it’s a very exciting release. There are lots of bug fixes, including some long-standing issues with classics like Bosconian and Gaplus, and missing pan/zoom effects in games on Seta hardware. Two more Nintendo LCD games are supported: the Panorama Screen version of Popeye, and the two-player Donkey Kong 3 Micro Vs. System. New versions of supported games include a review copy of DonPachi that allows the game to be paused for photography, and a version of the adult Qix game Gals Panic for the Taiwanese market.
Other advancements on the arcade side include audio circuitry emulation for 280-ZZZAP, and protection microcontroller emulation for Kick and Run and Captain Silver.
The GRiD Compass series were possibly the first rugged computers in the clamshell form factor, possibly best known for their use on NASA space shuttle missions in the 1980s. The initial model, the Compass 1101, is now usable in MAME. There are lots of improvements to the Tandy Color Computer drivers in this release, with better cartridge support being a theme. Acorn BBC series drivers now support Solidisk file system ROMs. Writing to IMD floppy images (popular for CP/M computers) is now supported, and a critical bug affecting writes to HFE disk images has been fixed. Software list additions include a collection of CDs for the SGI MIPS workstations.
There are several updates to Apple II emulation this month, including support for several accelerators, a new IWM floppy controller core, and support for using two memory cards simultaneously on the CFFA2. As usual, we’ve added the latest original software dumps and clean cracks to the software lists, including lots of educational titles.
Finally, the memory system has been optimised, yielding performance improvements in all emulated systems, you no longer need to avoid non-ASCII characters in paths when using the chdman tool, and jedutil supports more devices.
There were too many HyperScan RFID cards added to the software list to itemise them all here. You can read about all the updates in the whatsnew.txt file, or get the source and 64-bit Windows binary packages from the download page.

MAME Testers Bugs Fixed

New working machines

New working clones

Machines promoted to working

Clones promoted to working

New machines marked as NOT_WORKING

New clones marked as NOT_WORKING

New working software list additions

Software list items promoted to working

New NOT_WORKING software list additions

submitted by cuavas to emulation [link] [comments]

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