Friday, October 31, 2014

Viva Oktober-Fist... and Horror Gemonth! Darkstalkers

I was all set to eschew Anne Lee's Horror Gemonth and do my own thing, but then I remembered Darkstalkers. Out of the hundreds of fighting games released in the 1990s and beyond, it's my absolute favorite, and with a cast of creepy monsters, it's the perfect way to celebrate Halloween. How do I love Darkstalkers? It may take a while to count all the ways.

One of the best reasons
to own a Saturn.
(image from Giant Bomb)
One: Darkstalkers was the first fighting game to look incredible and play the part. Before its release, you usually had to settle for one or the other. Street Fighter II was brilliantly designed but had an unremarkable art style cribbed from 1989's Final Fight. On the flip side of the coin was Martial Champion, which had colossal characters but rather dismal gameplay and a dearth of special attacks. Darkstalkers stretched the boundaries of video game visuals with its color-drenched backgrounds and clever animation, but it was a great game even without the window dressing. Darkstalkers got even better in the sequels, leading to...

Two: Darkstalkers was the reason I bought a Sega Saturn. Hell, I was so impressed with the Saturn port of NightWarriors: Darkstalkers' Revenge that I bought the game months before I owned the system! There was a conversion of the original Darkstalkers for the more popular Playstation, but it was outsourced to Psygnosis and suffered from all the usual shortcomings of early PSOne arcade ports. Beyond that, NightWarriors was more refined, with extra characters and the option to fill your super meter up to nine times. Playing the game with the Saturn's fighting game-friendly joypad was also a better option than the Dual Shock or its predecessors.

The Darkstalkers cast. Really, how
could you not love these guys?
(image from Popcults)
Three: Darkstalkers has a brilliant cast of characters. The game was originally supposed to star monsters from the Universal Studios film library, but the creatures dreamed up by Alex Jimenez and touched up by Capcom's art staff are so much better. You've got a vampire who shows his dark side whenever he attacks, a ghostly samurai with a cursed sword, a hyperactive feline fatale with a massive mane of hair, a punk rock zombie, and a werewolf who actually looks like a wolf and not some guy who fell face-first into a puddle of Rogaine. Future games included everything from a kyonshi with Swiss Army sleeves to a ruthless bounty hunter disguised as Little Red Riding Hood, making the cast even more deliciously demented.

Four: Darkstalkers is a pretty good reason to own a Vita. Although Darkstalkers Chronicles: The Chaos Tower was designed specifically for the PSP, it's even better here thanks to the system's vivid OLED screen and a more responsive D-pad. The system's four face buttons hurt the game a little, but it's still extremely playable... just set the shoulder buttons to three punches and three kicks and you're in business.

Five: Darkstalkers had a cartoon, which... uh, forget the cartoon.

Fear this reaper.
(Image from NowGamer)
Six: Darkstalkers was an important evolutionary step for Capcom games and the fighting genre as a whole. The chain combo system is similar to the ones in Killer Instinct and especially the Marvel vs. games, which would come years later. It also ran on more advanced hardware than the first few Street Fighter games, broadening the horizons of the art staff and paving the way for Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter III, and competing games like the Guilty Gear series and Skullgirls.

Capcom hasn't released a Darkstalkers sequel since 1998's Vampire Savior, and because of the middling sales of the Darkstalkers Resurrection collection on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, it doesn't look like we'll ever get one. However, the last two games in the series have aged pretty gracefully, and are tremendously fun to play whether it's Halloween, Thanksgiving, or a week from next Tuesday!

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