Being one of the relatively few shmups available for the Master System, Sagaia is not only a senselessly-renamed port of the arcade game Darius II, but an 8-bit realization of the Genesis/Mega Drive port of the same name. Obviously some things were lost in the translation, but just how does this game compare to its bigger, better versions?
This version of Sagaia is a Europe-only game; with a release date of 1992, the Master System phased out in the States nearly 3 years before. However, Sega's 8-bit system fared much better in Europe and Brazil well after the release of the Mega Drive. As such, many Mega Drive games, such as Mortal Kombat and Sonic the Hedgehog were released on the Master System. Sagaia was one such game.
Let me stop here and say that I'm a huge fan of 8-bit shmups in particular. It's so interesting how the best games pushed the systems beyond their supposed limits. Games like Recca and Crisis force for the Famicom are great examples of this. The Master System is known for generally having better graphics than the NES...or, at least, more colorful graphics. I will be frank and say that Sagaia is very near to being as good graphically as the SNES, and is right on par with Recca in the same regard. It may not be as fast-paced, but the amount of sprites and colors displayed on the screen with relatively little slowdown, not to mention the parallax scrolling backgrounds, put most NES games to shame.
Gameplay-wise, Sagaia is your average side-scrolling shooter. Enemies come at you in waves, with certain enemies dropping simple power-ups; one for upgrading your primary weapon, one for upgrading your "lasers", your bombs, fires, and a shield. The shield is absolutely indispensable in this game, as you will often be boxed in, either by enemies or bullets. Halfway through each level, you fight a mini-boss, which I believe are smaller versions of bosses in the first Darius game. As with all games in the Darius series, bosses and mini-bosses have a fishy theme. My personal favorite of these bosses is in Zone G. You fight a beached naval battleship which, after blowing all the turrets off it, you find out is inhabited by a giant, mechanical hermit crab. Totally badass.
Speaking of the bosses, they're the one area of the game where players might falter a bit. The 8-bit systems couldn't always handle displaying both the background and a gigantic boss. In Sagaia, to compensate for this, the background disappears before you fight your fishy foe. Occasionally, there's a split second of lag before the boss appears, or after it's destroyed, but it's forgivable, as most of the bosses are quite impressive & worth letting the game pull itself together for a split second. For instance, the "Red Crab" boss you fight in Zone E moves surprisingly quickly for an 8-bit game. After blowing all of its limbs off, its crippled body begins filling the screen with bullets, doing so without slowing the game down in the slightest.
Sagaia is just a COOL game. The graphics are amazing. The music is catchy. The aquatic-themed boss add a nice, creative touch to the game. As a matter of fact, this game is made of nice touches. It's like the developers went to just a little extra effort to make this an awesome game. There's so much more I could say in this game's regard, but most of it would be gushing. Despite how impressive this game is, it doesn't seem to be talked about very much among Master System gamers. Perhaps it's because of the Darius series' tendency to cause polarizing opinions. Perhaps it's because of the game's Europe-only release status. Perhaps it's because, despite being relatively affordable, it's somewhat of a rarity. In any case, Sagaia is a game that you shouldn't hesitate to add to your Master System collection, if you get the opportunity. Not only is it a particularly awesome shmup, it's an all-around high-quality game for a system not known for high-quality games, and a great example of the amazing things the Master System was capable of.
5 out of 5 stars.