Valentine’s Day saw Capcom potentially show some love for its loyal fan base by registering a new Darkstalkers trademark with the European Union trademarks office. The last time this occurred, it was disappointingly used only for the PSP Darkstalkers Chronicle collection, although I did nearly buy a PSP for this alone. This time, it feels different. Yoshinori Ono, having now completed Capcom’s next big fighter, Street Fighter X Tekken, can now be presumed to be free to work on a new project. I’m sure I’m not the only one that hopes it will be a new Darkstalkers title.
Having followed Ono’s twitter timeline, I have personally seen a few requests regarding a Darkstalkers sequel, and Ono has replied in kind, stating he would love to do so. He’s certainly encouraging it.
“One day, if it goes half a million, Capcom may raise its eyebrow a little bit and I could do what I did in London in 2007 when I announced the comeback of Street Fighter,” Ono said at the time. “In the near future, with your help, it may become true. It’s on its way, because we’re pretty much where we were with Street Fighter a few years back. So keep it up.”
As a gamer in the UK, being a Darkstalkers fan has been difficult over the years, with very few quality PAL releases to whet the appetite. The release of Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors on the PlayStation was ported over by Psygnosis (now Studio Liverpool), which retained the fantastic gameplay, but it was clear that were issues with handling the animation, making the visuals somewhat jerky compared to their arcade counterpart.
Then there was the old issue of PAL region frame rates, which affected the speed of many games, particularly fighters. As much as I did master Darkstalkers (not that much), I was always in for a rude awakening at the local arcade, as it would often appear twice as fast.
There were also memory issues with the PlayStation, meaning that tag team fighters -such as what should have been the superb X-Men vs. Street Fighter – not only ran at less animation frames per second, but there was also no actual tag option. Sega had this problem remedied for their Saturn console, releasing a 4MB RAM cart that was similar to the N64’s graphic enhancer, which led to arcade perfect versions. Sadly, this cart never saw the light of day in Europe.
So, the prospect of a new Darkstalkers game is not only exciting, it’s also long overdue for the European market. It is a superb 2D fighting game series that should not be overlooked by any fighter-fan. Here are some reasons why.
Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors
The first game in the series introduces the very dark, mythical cast of ten fighters, from a typical Vampire in Demitri, to Sasquatch, who is a, er, Sasquatch, a Frankenstein-type in Victor, and so on. Essentially the game is Street Fighter with a different set of characters and backdrop. Special moves are performed with similar motions to anyone’s Street Fighter favourites, with a few differences of course.
But dig deeper, and there are mechanics deployed in Darkstalkers that are still retained today, even in Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Hyper Mega Edition 4 Alpha, or whatever the latest iteration is (I do know what it’s really called. I am making a point).
Once the charge meter at the bottom of the screen has enough juice, you can launch, for example, a fireball attack with all three punch buttons, which is stronger and deals more hits. Yep, that started here. As with most Capcom fighters, these can be chained with other attacks to devastating effect. Want to block in the air? Yep, that started here too. Oh yeah, and the final boss Pyron is a fucker. To be fair, M. Bison got there first with that one.
Night Warriors: Darkstalkers Revenge
Known as ‘Vampire Hunter’ in Japan, this first sequel to Darkstalkers presented two new characters, Donovan Baine and Hsien-Ko (recently used in Marvel vs. Capcom 3/Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3), and also the chance to play as the two bosses Huitzil and Pyron, from the first game. Donovan and Hsien-Ko are hunters, out to catch the rest of the roster. Night Warriors exceeds Darkstalkers in almost every way.
The graphics, particularly the hand-drawn backgrounds, are superb, as is the character animations once again. The super combo gauge can now not only be filled and kept for the duration of a match, but now there are two types of super combo for each character. An incredible leap forward only a year after the original was developed and released. It also garnered a UK release, for Sega Saturn only. There is an alleged clever story to this manoeuvre by Capcom; a deal had been signed with Sony for Playstation exclusivity, yet from Darkstalkers, it was clear that the Playstation could not cope fully with the running of the game, so Capcom renamed it Night Warriors, then developed and released it for the more suited technology.
Vampire Savior/Darkstalkers 3
I’m itching to play this game all over again as I begin to type about it. Vampire Savior, the second and currently final sequel in the Darkstalkers series, is an unequivocally superb fighting game. Everything is bettered once again, and is just an all-round fantastic video game. It’s so easy to pickup and play, but there is so much to master as you go, it never gets boring.
The backgrounds, – such as fighting on the side of a skyscraper – are just incredible. The soundtrack is just perfect, and is ever present on my own iPod. More gameplay changes were added again, the most notable being the omission of any ‘Rounds’; instead, each character has two bat icons that are expunged when a health bar is eradicated, with only a two second break before the fight resumes exactly where it left off, until someone has had two bars erased, resulting in defeat. This is a superb move, keeps everything on edge, even creating an air of unpredictability. There is also the Dark Force System, which works similarly to the Street Fighter Alpha series’ custom combo gauge, with the gauge operating as a time limit to perform character-exclusive, powerful moves.
Vampire Savior also included a new back story, a new final boss in Jedah, leading to the omission of the two previous bosses, Pyron and Huitzil. Donavon was also dropped after only one appearance, but three additional characters took their place: Lilith (a Morrigan ‘clone’, Q. Bee (Human/Bee hybrid) and B.B. Hood (a hunter with a Little Red Riding Hood guise).
B.B. Hood in particular was a very fun character to use; forget her appearance and size, she is as devastating as they come, with an Uzi and bombs in her underarm basket and bazookas for her super combo. Vampire Savior has it all; it’s as brilliant as it is audacious, simple yet rewarding for more advanced gamers, and just god damn fun.
Darkstalkers 3 was released in the UK, this time for Playstation, but was Japan-only for the Saturn (as Vampire Savior). Mainstream reviews for the game were maddening for me. At this point, we’d already had Tekken, Tekken 2 and Virtua Fighter, etc so 2D fighters were often dismissed just because they were not 3D.
In Japan, a PS2 collection was released, with all the above games in their original arcade-perfect glory, but also including the previous Saturn-only releases, Night Warriors 2 and Vampire Savior 2. These are just arranged versions, with slight roster changes, different colours, etc. I opted to import this collection myself. It’s the only real way of accessing these games today, which is a massive shame.
Back in July, ComiCon attendees were treated to a slide during the Capcom Street Fighter X Tekken showing that Darkstalkers was not dead. Capcom followed this up with a tweet that they emphatically had not announced a game but a man can dream, right?
These are incredible fighting games. Let’s all hope that Capcom do the right thing and make a sequel. This generation needs it.
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