The original Darkstalkers had a tough time on the home gaming scene. Capcom’s less popular follow-up to the phenomenally successful Street Fighter II, Darkstalkers’ band of fantastical characters never really captured the gamer’s imagination (or share of the market) in the same way that Ryu, Blanka and their buddies did. It was very much a niche franchise, with a much harder learning curve, crazy moves and a bizarre cast. Given the limited success the game had outside of Japanese arcades it’s surprising then to see Capcom go to town on Darkstalkers Resurrection, a double pack of entries in the franchise. Bundling together Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge from 1995, and Darkstalkers 3 from a couple of years later, the package’s success or failure may well influence whether a fourth entry is made. So how does it shape up?
Darkstalkers Resurrection is, by all accounts, as close to a faithful port from a coin-op beat ‘em up as you’re likely to get. Time has been spent building in a host of options for you to tinker with in order to recreate the old-school experience. As well as the HD visuals on offer, you can include scan lines to imitate that cabinet feel, or stretch the view and alter the filters. You can even play from an “over the shoulder” view, recreating the feeling you get watching your friends battle it out over a pint of lager in the pub. It’s certainly not the ideal setting for mastering the game, but it’s a kooky addition and you can’t fault the ambition of Iron Galaxy Studios for cramming as much as they can into the package.
A guitar-wielding zombie, a werewolf, and a merman are some of the less crazy characters on offer. Beat ‘em up fans who are new to this particular franchise may recognise the catgirl Felicia and the succubus Morrigan, the latter being as close to a Capcom icon as you can find thanks to appearances in numerous fighters such as Marvel vs. Capcom and Capcom vs. SNK, as well as stints in other genres like Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo and Gunbird 2. Each character is reasonably balanced, with some substituting speed for power and vice versa, some having slightly easier moves to master, and some being more adept at stringing chains together. For instance, the mummy Anakaris is a slower brawler with mainly aerial attacks who is able to smash sarcophagi onto opponents for considerable damage. Conversely, Lord Raptor is a speedy Dhalsim-esque zombie, replacing limbs with chainsaws and blades whilst bouncing around the screen. Basic controls see X, Y and RT buttons mapped to punches of increasing damage, and A, B and LT buttons performing similar functions for kicks. Specials are a combination of button inputs which may also include quarter circles and zig-zags of the thumb-stick, or direction-plus-button combinations. Essentially, they will be familiar to anyone who has ever played a similar game by the publisher. It’s the usual considered offering one would expect from a Capcom fighting game, all set to a toe-tapping, if somewhat generic arcade soundtrack we’ve heard variations of in every similar 2D fighter released to date.
Whilst there are two games on offer here, you’re only really likely to spend time playing one of them. Night Warriors was where the innovation lay, but Darkstalkers 3 took the groundwork set out by its predecessor and built on it to create a much more enjoyable game. Improved graphics aside, it added seamless play between knockouts, much faster gameplay, and recoverable life damage which allows for longer matches. Some of the characters transitioned between instalments, but you’ll need to play both to experience the entire cast.
Bouts are fast and frantic especially with Turbo turned on, an option which comes highly recommended. Today’s games owe a debt to some of the concepts that Capcom introduced in this series, and their persistence into the modern market is tribute to their importance in the genre, even if the series itself wasn’t as revered as its more popular brother. Chain combos, sets of pre-set moves which will be familiar to many brawler fans, were first introduced in Darkstalkers, along with air blocks and crouch walking which are staples of many competitors’ series today. The chains themselves use “normal” attacks that link together for devastating damage and the game allows longer combos than earlier beat ‘em ups, and it set the scene for Third Strike to build on even further.
Counters, reversals and technical moves are all available to master, along with ES (modified normal) and EX (“ultra”) attacks. Each character’s range of attacks mix brutality with humour. The sasquatch drags you behind a husky sled before smashing you with his rear, whilst BB Hood has a small arsenal stored in her basket and isn’t shy about using it. The creativity that went into designing and animating the attacks is laudable, and is one area that trumps the occasionally po-faced Street Fighter’s “hadouken” variations. The characters handle well too, a real achievement considering the pace of the game.
Online play has been treated reverently, with GGPO options working flawlessly to counteract lag issues that make similar games almost unplayable. Eight-player lobbies are on hand to customise as you see fit, and allow you to prevent characters of your choosing from being chosen. You can see your opponents’ latency and tinker with settings to ensure an enjoyable match is had by all, and even share replays; there’s nothing to fault here, which is to be expected given that the same developers did a similarly excellent job on Third Strike. Local multiplayer is equally enjoyable, and character move lists are on hand to guide newbies through daunting layers of attacks to learn.
Points are earned whilst playing for performing certain moves or technical attacks, as well as winning rounds. These can be spent on the game’s Vault, which allows you to unlock various concept art, videos and more. It’s a good way of encouraging continued play, without prohibiting access to meatier options such as difficulty levels or different arenas, as some games do. There’s plenty of replay value from a single-player standpoint if you’re willing to complete the game with every character, although like most fighters the story is threadbare, and not really worth focusing on.
Does this all add up to a game you’d want on your digital shelf? Possibly not. Whilst the port is commendable, the source material is likely to be divisive. One reason that Darkstalkers perhaps wasn’t the hit that it could have been is apparent from the outset: it feels like hard work. You can certainly plough hours into learning and improving, but will you actually enjoy yourself? This is a similar affliction to the one that struck Third Strike with its daunting parry system, but the difference between the two is noticeable, particularly in the presentation of the latter which looks and feels fresher. Newbies may find the wacky antics of the characters at odds with the concerted effort required to get the most out of them.
Ultimately, how much you enjoy Darkstalkers Resurrection will depend on your affinity for both the genre and the franchise. Whilst the tutorials on offer are well done, the mechanics of the game are a lot more involved than other similar games, and will leave you with hand cramps for days to come. The learning curve is steep and the game is possibly one of the toughest of its ilk to get into. Those willing to invest significant time will be able to get the most out of it and will be rewarded with mastery of a game which is one of the most technically proficient available. On the other hand, novices to fighting games should look elsewhere - there is no place for handholding here, and the arcade modes can be brutal even in the early rounds. A selection of difficulty options and handicaps serve to temper the beatings you will take, but only patience and pure muscle memory will help you master some of the gruelling special moves. Like with other fighting games, the Xbox controller isn’t particularly suited to button mashing and serious gamers may find an arcade stick a worthwhile investment.
In addition, the games are over fifteen years old, and no amount of HD polish can hide the fact that they simply haven’t dated well, (particularly Night Warriors). Darkstalkers is in the unfortunate position of being less accessible than both Street Fighter II and IV, and outclassed by Third Strike. While it is a technically sound and deep game which doesn’t suffer from “Ryu vs. Ryu” syndrome like its big brother’s second instalment, there’s simply no competition between the two franchises. Street Fighter has iconic environments and an engaging element that draws you in for one more fight, and that spark is not present here. This is one for hard-core fighting fans and franchise aficionados and if you consider yourself either, you will find much to enjoy. For the average gamer though, you’ll have more fun getting your flying kicks elsewhere.
Darkstalkers Resurrection is available on PSN for £11.99 and on XBLA for 1200 Microsoft Points.
Ultimately, how much you enjoy Darkstalkers Resurrection will depend on your affinity for both the genre and the franchise. Whilst the tutorials on offer are well done, the mechanics of the game are a lot more involved than other similar games, and will leave you with hand cramps for days to come. The learning curve is steep and the game is possibly one of the toughest of its ilk to get into. Those willing to invest significant time will be able to get the most out of it and will be rewarded with mastery of a game which is one of the most technically proficient available.