Cover for the Japanese Version of Darius Twin['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Taito’s side-scrolling shooter: Darius Twin]

Warning! Giant Ship Approaching!

Darius, as a series, is usually the odd man out when the topic of horizontal shooters comes up. R-Type and Gradius are the names that get thrown around, and occasionally Darius will be mentioned as a side-bar. But a patron of '80s and '90s arcades couldn't ignore the gigantic three-screen arcade cabinets that held Darius and Sagaia (Darius II outside the United States).

The first game in the series released for the SNES was Darius Twin in 1991. When every other console release was a port of either Darius or Sagaia, Twin aimed to be something new. Most changes were aesthetic, but the flow of the game was altered heavily. The original branching triangular path was changed to twin diamonds, separating, converging, then separating again. At the point of convergence is a level that scrolls in all directions, most prominently diagonally. Stationary obstacles come at you at all times from all directions, forcing tight maneuvering and unique puzzles.

Nice diagonal scrollingTuna Sashimi

Giant fish are probably the last thing you expect to see in a shooter, but one of the many charms of the series is its collection of aquatic bosses: coelacanths, mackerel, squid, nautilus, lobsters, sea horses, sea turtles, and a huge anglerfish the size of four screens. These are mechanical fish that attack with lasers, arms, glowing orbs, and occasionally other fish.

These intergalactic ichthyoids, in addition to having planets to lord over, all have distinct names and code numbers (which carried over from Sagaia). The sea turtle is MX04: Full Metal Shell, the squid is BD4Z: Demon Sword, and the mackerel is HH02: Killer Higia. Bizarre, but not at all uncommon in this series.

Like the fish, the music was composed in the tradition of the series by Taito in-house band Zuntata, who wrote some of the most memorable soundtracks for games of the '80s and '90s. The score is creepy and eclectic; it stands out from the from the first stage and haunts you to the last. And even though the Darius music is overlooked by many, it sure got a large and expensive soundtrack release.

The King is dead, long live the KingZone Is Over

This game departs in many ways from the previous games in the series, presumably to make it more palatable to console gamers. Twin is nowhere near as difficult as Darius and Sagaia. But to balance this, there is never an option to continue; the player is forced to single-credit the game. Usually in the Darius series, death spells defeat as the levels have get more difficult and the upgrades rarer. In Twin, the ship retains its power-ups post-mortem, sweetening the bitter taste of defeat. The game is accessible to those unwilling to spend the many hours required to master the other Darius games, but not so easy that everyone can beat it on their first try.

Twin added marvelous little touches to this epic series. It named most of the planets in Darius' galaxy. It resurrected and upgraded some of the series' best bosses, including a deadly duet of Emperor and Queen Fossil. And the pace and tone are never so serious that you feel the need to take notes. Even with its unorthodox (and unorthogonal) scrolling, it's a relaxing break from its own series and from other, more technical, shooters.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]