The constant re-releasing and updating of old games has reached something of a critical mass in the time since downloadable media became the norm. The number of games that there truly is a demand for is limited. Once you get past a relatively small collection of beloved and one-time ubiquitous classics, releasing an old game serves only a small (if often vocal) minority of game fans who desperately want someone to listen long enough to decide that releasing their favorite game is a good idea.
Despite the lasting characters and the gameplay legacy of the Darkstalkers franchise, nobody would ever confuse it with the most recognizable of the classic fighting game franchises. Despite the Capcom name and the obvious debt that it owes to the Street Fighter franchise, it never managed the notoriety of Capcom’s longtime flagship, and yet it wasn’t different enough from the Street Fighter games to really set it apart, either. Mortal Kombat, Tekken, King of Fighters, and even Super Smash Bros. carved out their own devoted fighting game audiences, while Darkstalkers was nearly forced to be content borrowing the portion of the Street Fighter audience whose tastes trended toward the supernatural.
That’s a shame, too, because the Darkstalkers series allowed Capcom to experiment without the risk of sullying its flagship franchise. The result is a series that takes chances with known mechanics and as a result becomes the first appearance of many of the hallmarks of the genre that are still in play today.
This particular look at the Darkstalkers franchise contains the second and third games in the series: Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge and Darkstalkers 3 respectively. How you feel about them may well have a lot to do with what order you play them in.
Starting with Darkstalkers 3, as I did, will draw you into the franchise beautifully. The animation feels as beautiful as you remember arcade screens looking in the mid-’90s, and the control is as tight as you could ever hope for in a fighter. Even better, the wide array of characters is impeccably balanced with smart play winning out whether you pick a slow brute or a lithe combo master. As you’re learning, you can go with a normal speed game, but once you’re used to the rhythm of the matches, the faster “Turbo” speed will be all you’ll want to use. Darkstalkers 3 at Turbo speed is a constant dance of pokes and retreats, shots and parries, all with the occasional special move blowing up the dance and making everybody start over. It’s a beautiful game to watch, both intricate and accessible, and playing it is even better. It’s the type of game where you feel fully responsible for your successes — even if those successes involved spamming the “heavy kick” button — and in control of your failures.
A problem arises, however, when you move on to Night Warriors. Night Warriors is a fine game in its own right, but as the older sibling in the family, its wrinkles are more visible. The animation isn’t as crisp, the stories aren’t as bright, the characters aren’t quite as distinctive, or as balanced. It’s just a little too easy to power through Night Warriors with one of the tank characters, unfulfilling as that approach is, and it is a little too hard to make it through with the less powerful but more agile ones. The first character I ever used was Victor. Took me two continues to get through the whole thing.
Now, this sense of challenge obviously goes out the window when you play against another human.
When playing these games, even when playing against a CPU, makes one aware of how much Darkstalkers 3 and Night Warriors depend on an action-reaction flow. Blocking moves, canceling moves, and well-placed jumps are paramount to succeeding throughout both games (unless you go for the spammy tank strategy mentioned earlier). Playing against other players — most of whom undoubtedly already know this, given that the audience for the game borders on the niche — is intimidating — because they know what they’re doing. These are players who have played long enough to find favorites, players who’ve managed to figure out whose dance moves correspond most closely with their own. It is in this one-on-one action, human brain versus human brain, that these Darkstalkers games truly shine.
Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to find anyone to play with.
Capcom has already gone on record saying that the sales of Darkstalkers Resurrection have been ”disappointing”. Even as the game managed to muscle its way into the top sellers list for PSN in March, it doesn’t appear to have generated enough buzz or sales to have rejuvenated the franchise in any palpable way. Going online to find opponents tends to result in playing one of a group of five or six people over and over again — which is no fun when they’re all better than you — and that’s if you go online in prime time. Try to find a taker at 10am Eastern time, and you could be waiting a while.
Despite the fact that it’s not taking over the world — or even social media, the way a re-release of, say, Earthbound can — Capcom’s done justice to the franchise here. If nothing else, it’s a wonderful thing to play as a means of education, as it fills in a gap in Capcom’s line of fighters that gives a good look at the transition from the rather basic (by today’s standards) Street Fighter II to the complex combos and fancy attacks of today’s entries. Whether education is enough to justify a monetary contribution probably depends on the kind of gamer you happen to be.