When it comes to writing on games, there are times when research is earned, but other moments when it is thrust upon you. This was the case with Darkstalkers: Resurrection as, whilst I’ve always been a fan of Street Fighter and its related sub-series, I’ve never once found myself near an arcade reputable enough to house a Darkstalkers cabinet.
I’m saddened by how late I am to the party though, as Darkstalkers is easily one of Capcom’s most accomplished series, and this remastered collection brings two of its best entries to a wider audience that deserves this kind of technical fighting mastery.
Though this is my first time with the Darkstalkers series, that’s not to say the characters are new to me, or new to anyone who has spent time with Capcom’s Marvel vs. Capcom games or the Super Puzzle Fighter Series. Morganna, Felicia and Hsien Ko have popped up in a variety of guises in other Capcom franchises, and they look no less appealing here. The characters are always the most important part of a fighting game, and Darkstalker’s visual designs pass with flying colours. Whether it’s the anthropomorphic Felicia, the human torch-esque Pyron or the succubus combo of Lilith and Morrigan, Darkstalkers has a charming roster that stays consistently true to its tongue-in-cheek gothic themes.
What’s even more surprising is how balanced all the characters manage to be. I may even go as far as saying that Darkstalkers is more balanced than some of the Street Fighter games! The projectile attacks in particular are impressively considered, with each character possessing a ranged attack that has its own unique properties and throwing arc.
The sheer amount of special attacks for each character is also greater than most other fighting games but, rather than confusing the experience, tutorials guide you through mastering each character’s varied move set. The tutorials are by no means foolproof though, rushing over plenty of basic concepts. Even if you’re fairly proficient with the 2D fighting genre, Darkstalkers uses a lot of non-standard terminology, so expect an awkward teething period before you become entirely accustomed to which move is an EX special or an ES special.
Once you get into the swing of things though, the gameplay of Darkstalkers becomes magical. The pacing captures that perfect balance; speedy and intense combat that gives you just enough time to get technical when you need to. The AI in the single-player arcade mode perfectly pushes this style of gameplay, readily adapting to how you use your favourite combos and special moves. It certainly kept me on my toes, forcing me out of my cheap soul fist zoning strategy quickly. It was brutal, but I loved it.
What was meant to be a quick half-hour review session before dinner left me shivering with hunger a number of hours later. Such was the pull of Darkstalkers, a game that reels you in with its speed and flashy combos, but keeps you yearning to master its myriad secrets. By the time I worked out how ES specials and guard cancels worked, I was in 2D fighting game heaven.
The game somewhat stumbles on its presentation though. Despite the art being fantastic, the port to XBLA never feels truly HD, with the sprites seeming just a little bit on the grainy side in comparison to other titles. They certainly posses a nostalgic charm and, after your throwing out supers and mid-air specials left, right and centre, you’re unlikely to keep noticing a low pixel count. Even so, it may be enough to put some people off when they first load the game up. Digging into the options menu presents you with a lot of display options though, levels of customisation that ought to remove the sting of this first impression somewhat.
Whether you opt for an over-the-shoulder view or an arcade cabinet screen, there are plenty of visual options that let you revel in arcade nostalgia. The default view is a more modern affair though, featuring side bars squashing the screen in. Far from a frustrating aspect ratio gimmick though, the side bars present you with a variety of challenges that, when completed, earn you experience points. The levelling up is cosmetic only, but it is suspiciously addictive seeing those numbers tally up as you play.
The only time the levelling system has any tangible effect is online, where your level is displayed proudly by your username. It’s unlikely to be a concern for you though, as getting into a decent game is quick enough to prevent you from staring at the match menu for too long. The same netcode used in the awesome Street Fighter 3: Third Strike Online Edition is back, and it’s just as good as always. It provides the only properly lag-free online experience in a 2D fighting game, making every match a good one. Add in powerful lobby options and tools (tournaments FTW!) and you have an awesome online option to show off your skills.
I vividly remember devouring Street Fighter 4’s initial UK release 2009 and, though the technical innovations were there, the online play was never the silky smooth experience that the game deserved. Darkstalkers provides this incredible online play, even if the lobbies are already becoming sparsely populated. It also shows where so many fighting game mechanics began, featuring some of the most brilliantly complex combat out there. If you love fighting games, you owe it to yourself to get it and, even if you don’t, you should at least try the demo out.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.