Review by steamliner88
Reviewed: 04/17/04 | Updated: 12/21/10
A half-decent shooter with a fishy twist.
The Master System has a strong line up of top-notch shmups. Besides an excellent port of R-type, the system boasts games like Power Strike 1&2, the first two Fantasy Zone games, Line of Fire and several other excellent titles. After getting blown away by Compile's Power Strike 2 I had high expectations when I plugged Sagaia, the only installment in Taito's classic Darius series for the machine, into my Master System for the first time. Maybe that's why my initial impression of Sagaia was that of a flawed game with very few redeeming qualities. I had just played one of the greatest 8-bit shooters ever and in retrospective, expecting Sagaia to match the wonder that is Power Strike 2 was asking too much. So after putting Sagaia on the ''not worth bothering with''-shelf for about a year, I decided to give it a fair chance and try it again.
The story is the usual ''save the world from evil'' nonsense that has been the main excuse for killing aliens since the days of Space Invaders. However, it has always worked, so why change a winning formula? While the story is as unoriginal as it gets, the enemies are a different matter. If you have played any Darius game before, you already know what makes the games stand out from the crowd. If not, gather around and let me tell you about the amazing cybernetic sea creatures that pollute the space in every entry in the Darius franchise. You see, every boss is a huge mechanical fish, octopus, whale or some other marine creature that would give any fisherman nightmares if he found one in his net. They are big, mean and usually hard to destroy. Most of the bosses in Sagaia struggle to live up to the standard established in earlier installments, but there are exceptions. The boss on the fifth level is one of the best in the entire series, and although highlights like that are few and far between, they do exist.
Another distinct feature is the ability to pick your route to the final stage. While this may sound like a great way to increase the game's life span, it's actually rather pointless since most of the levels you get to choose between are almost identical. Sure, some have different colors, but that's about it. When the choice is between a blue level set in a cave where narrow passages and aggressive seahorses are the main obstacles and a gray level set in a cave where narrow passages and aggressive seahorses are the main obstacle, there isn't too much to get excited about, especially since they both have the same boss...
Besides picking which identical level you are going to play, one must also decide between two pilots. They aren't too different; one starts with a few power ups, while the other one will get to fight a cooler boss after the fifth level. It would have been nice if the pilots had different abilities, like another type of weapon or different speed, but that may be too much to ask for from a Master System game.
The major problem with Sagaia is the challenge, or depending on your weapons, the lack of one. You see, a common flaw in shooters is to make the weapons too weak and useless, turning a fight against an easy boss into a tiresome marathon were you repeat the same movements time after time, pounding the helpless boss for ages before it finally goes down. On the other side of the spectra, we have the games were the weapons are completely broken and makes the game a child's play since you won't even see the enemies before they are dead. Sagaia somehow manages to take the worst part from both worlds by making the power ups too strong and too easy to lose. If you have collected enough shields and weapon pods, you can destroy almost every single enemy before it gets on the screen. At the same time, you'll lose all your weapons if you die once, so all it takes is one cheap shot and it's back to the crappy pea shooter you started with. Since shots will blend with the background in several levels, you better prepare for a roller coaster ride if you want to beat Sagaia.
Graphically, Sagaia looks good while at the same time suffering from some very serious flaws. The first problem is the horrid slowdown you'll encounter every time a boss shows up. Despite the backgrounds being removed, the giant fishes seem to bee too much for the SMS to handle. A far worse issue is that, as noted above, some of the backgrounds have almost the exact same color as the shots the enemies fire. It doesn't take rocket science to understand why this is a problem in itself, but the combination of shots that blend with the background and losing every power up from one death is not a good one. Words can't express the anger I felt when I was stripped of every power up after getting hit by an invisible shot just before the last boss. Other than that, the graphics looks good with detailed sprites and some nice parallax effects. The sound is another story as lame sound effects are mixed with some annoying bleeps that is supposed to be the music, creating a frustrating combination that will have you reaching for the remote faster than an N-gage buyer reaches for the receipt to return the wretched thing and get his money back. As a service to the reader I played through the entire game with the music on to see if things got any better, but that's not the case. Mute the TV and turn on some music instead.
So, is Sagaia worth buying? I would say yes, but only if you already have R-Type, Fantasy Zone 1&2 and both Power Strike games. If you have those and want another shooter for the SMS, Sagaia is actually a decent purchase. It's not the classic I had hoped for, but it's still good fun for a while and a better purchase than, say, Aerial Assault, another second tier horizontal shooter for the SMS.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Sagaia (EU, 12/31/92)
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