Game: Darkstalkers Resurrection
Developer: Iron Galaxy Studios
Available on: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
Iron Galaxy have been a godsend for old school fight fans of late. Their speciality is taking classic Capcom arcade titles and presenting them in splendid high-definition packages which harness the excellence of GGPO tech to enable flawless online play. Last time out I looked at their superb Marvel vs Capcom Origins double header. Now, with Yoshinori Ono making noises about a potential AAA sequel, the studio has turned its attention towards the Vampire/Darkstalkers series, offering up the spook-tacular HD dual threat of Night Warriors: Darkstalkers Revenge and Darkstalkers 3.
Compared to their flagship Street Fighter franchise, the world of Vampire has been ignored during this generation of consoles. But it has not always been this way. The PlayStation Portable launched with a technically excellent handheld instalment of the series, Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower – which was ostensibly a port of the superb Japan-only Dreamcast banger Vampire Chronicle For Matching Service – a title which you may remember made the cut in my GodisaGeek Vault article. Like its DC forebear, Chaos Tower was a magnificent game, but was crippled by horrendous loading times and the subpar PSP D-pad which made the fast paced combat unnecessarily difficult.
Capcom followed this by producing the world-class Vampire Darkstalkers Collection for the PlayStation 2 – which featured arcade-perfect versions of every game in the series, with new arranged modes throw into the bargain. Despite their other compilation blinders like the Street Fighter Zero: Fighters Generation and Hyper Street Fighter II: Anniversary Edition making their way to PAL-land, this bumper Vampire extravaganza was only ever released in Japan. Darkstalkers Resurrection doesn’t go to the same completist extremes as that PS2 standout, however it does bring a criminally underrated fighter to a brand new audience, with plenty of bells and whistles that give you real value for your download bucks.
Rather than compile all five of the arcade games in the series, or take the “greatest hits” approach of the Dreamcast and PSP versions, Resurrection focuses on the second and third instalments of Darkstalkers. It would have been nice to have been able to see where it all began with the original Night Warriors, but that game is very much the slower, inferior title; think of what a leap Street Fighter II Turbo made from the seminal World Warrior and you get the idea. Those who simply must play the original Night Warriors are able to pick up the commendable but loading time-heavy Psygnosis PS1 version on the American PlayStation Store, should they wish.
Darkstalkers Revenge is first up – and what you get here is an arcade-perfect port of the 1995 classic, which took the splendid cartoon Hammer Horror/Monster Squad-style menagerie of beasties and their pursuants and placed them in a speedy fighter full of innovative manoeuvres and tricks, many of which were groundbreaking and went on to influence a plethora of other modern fighters. You could be forgiven for thinking that Tekken introduced the chain combo techniques that have gone on to be recycled in many other titles (including Capcom’s own recent Street Fighter X Tekken), but brawler aficionados will tell you that it was the second Darkstalkers game that pioneered the light/medium/fierce attack strings, making them the focus and starting point of the many combos open to the characters in the game.
Your super meter has a double function, allowing you to use one stock in order to perform a more powerful “ES” version of a special move, or wait for it to max out and unleash a crushing EX super move. Revenge also saw the debut of air blocking, knockdown recoveries, technical reversals and guard cancels, all of which are now standard inclusions in 2D fighters. Whilst clearly the inferior of the two games included in this download, the game known as vampire Hunter in Japan is still a lightning-quick, incredibly fun fighter that stands up just as well as any of the other games Iron Galaxy Studios have looked after thus far.
Darkstalkers 3 took things a step further, speeding things up significantly and introducing new characters and the ability to use your super meter stocks to enter into a powered-up “Dark Force” form for a limited period. Interestingly, it also gets rid of the standard three-round structure of most fighting games, instead implementing the Damage Gauge System, with each bout featuring just one round with two differently-coloured life bars that are diminished in turn, but can be re-filled if you manage to evade damage for a period of time. It means that the fights are fast and furious – in fact, after a while spent away from the series, I initially got caught out a few times and sustained an unwanted beating when I stupidly tried to take a relaxing breather after knocking my opponent down, only for the bout to continue almost immediately.
Resurrection is not the definitive Darkstalkers collection – some of the extra content and modes from the likes of that wonderful PS2 collection or even the Sega Saturn conversion of Night Warriors Revenge is omitted. But as an excellent trade-off, what Iron Galaxy have added to the original game is to be commended. Like the Marvel Origins package, there are myriad screen display modes, including the nostalgic scan-lines, the crazy over-the-shoulder arcade machine viewpoint, and a stretchy widescreen option. There are Trophies, challenges and unlockable goodies galore, but for my money the best thing about this 2K13 ‘Stalkers is the wealth of tutorials and practice modes.
When I first played the original Darkstalkers game back in 1994, the only way I could learn about this new, unfamiliar cast of characters and the raft of special moves and techniques was through hard graft, practice and in some case reading and memorizing the move-set off of the goddamn arcade bezel. Things were slightly easier with the sequels thanks to instruction manuals, game guides and magazines, (and of course the advent of the world wide web by the time I owned the Dreamcast port) – but compared to something as ubiquitous as Street Fighter or one of the many SNK fighters, the Vampire-verse always had an element of the mysterious to it, and remained one of the fighters I was never able to fully master – until now. Proper, challenge-based tutorials drip-feed the chain combos, the guard cancels, the correct usage of ES and EX super arts – and make mastering the characters a reality as well as providing a supremely testing way of gaining some Trophies and in-game currency to unlock some cool stuff.
Multiplayer-wise, this is as stable and impressive as any of the other downloads in Iron Galaxy’s impressive canon. There are a ton of options, including the ability to upload replay videos to YouTube, or to create tournaments and lobbies – all with very little lag, in my experience. It is going to be a lot of fun playing this one online.
VERDICT: With its terrific cast of monstrosities, wonderfully animated, colourful 2D graphics, fast-paced gameplay and a supremely technical fighting system at its core, the Darkstalkers series is one which Capcom were absolutely correct to “resurrect” in this fashion. Yet again Iron Galaxy are right on the money, delivering a real treat for fight fans that is a winner both online and off. Capcom have more or less said that this release is their way of testing the waters to see whether gamers would want a proper Darkstalkers sequel in the mould of their wildly successful Street Fighter IV.
I can’t predict how this will sell, but on the basis of how well these titles stand up, I would certainly love to see a new Vampire game in the future. I never dreamed that so many top-notch fighters would be readily available for my current consoles, without having to delve into retro consoles, but a glance at the titles that populate my Xbox and PS3 HDDs fills me with a warm glow. Fighting games have been riding on the crest of SFIV’s wave in the past few years, and there are still plenty of other games that Capcom could give the same HD treatment – from crowd pleasers like Rival Schools and Power Stone, to curiosities like Arc crossover Sengoku Basara X and the enigmatic, little-known CPS 3 curiosity Red Earth. I, for one, am extremely excited to see what they do next.