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Vampire / Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors - Arcade, PlayStation, PlayStation 2 (1994)

Arcade Flyer

Japanese PlayStation Cover

Darkstalkers was a labor of love on Capcom's part, and it shows. For one thing, the graphics are absolutely gorgeous for when it was released. Darkstalkers' vibrant, anime-style graphics and animations make Street Fighter II and most of SNK's games at that time look rather shoddy by comparison, and became the norm for all future Capcom fighting releases. The soundtrack is great (as is expected from a Capcom arcade game), and boasts an almost surprising level of variety.

But aesthetics and presentation aren't nearly as important as gameplay. Capcom did all they could to make Darkstalkers more than just "Street Fighter with monsters," and implemented a slew of new gameplay features. For one, it's the first fighting game that allows for air-blocking - and additionally, Morrigan and Demitri were tossing fireballs in midair a whole year before Akuma hit the scene. Speaking of fireballs: instead of simply canceling each other out, projectiles in the Darkstalkers series push against each other, until the one with greater momentum overpowers the other and continues across the screen. Block canceling and reversals also make their first appearance, and it's also the first Capcom fighting game to include a "dash" maneuver and a Super gauge (a pair of concepts borrowed from SNK's games). The way Darkstalkers' "Special" gauge works, however, is somewhat unorthodox. When it fills it up, it begins flashing and slowly decreases over the course of several seconds. While it is flashing, executing a special move will result in an enhanced version of that move, emptying the gauge completely. Each character also has a unique EX attack that can only be used while the Special gauge is flashing. This "use it or lose it" approach to Super Moves is unique, but can be rather restrictive. Vampire is also the beginning of the series' tradition of completely over-the-top super moves. Before, a Hadoken with a shadow-trail was considered an impressive super. Sasquatch's tremendous ice beams and Victor's screen-filling lighting attacks definitely upped the ante.

In terms of story, Darkstalkers is about as deep as the first couple of Street Fighter titles. In short: bunch of monsters decide to fight each other for some reason. All of them have their own backgrounds and goals, but they're usually about as simple as "vampire wants to rule the world" and "horrible sea mutant searches for love." But Darkstalkers is no poorer for this, and in the days before The King of Fighters, nobody really expected a story from a fighting game anyway.

Darkstalkers eventually saw a fairly decent PlayStation port. Load times, missing animation frames, and flattened sounds make it far from being arcade perfect, but it's still Darkstalkers on a console. However, given that it came out in 1996 - two years after the original arcade game and a month after the Saturn port of Night Warriors - the PlayStation port feels a bit redundant. It was actually ported by European developer Psygnosis rather than Capcom themselves. The Japanese version also has a video intro featuring various gameplay footage and a vocal rock song called "Trouble Man", which was used later on in both the anime and American cartoon. The staff roll also has a song called "The Rain". Both of these were excised from the overseas releases, but remnants can be found on the CD.

Darkstalkers was pretty cool for its time, but is relatively unpolished and clunky compared to its sequels and more recent 2D fighters. Still, every series has to start somewhere, and if there's one thing Capcom excels at, it's tweaking their games with subsequent updates.

Darkstalkers (Arcade)

Darkstalkers (Arcade)

Darkstalkers (Arcade)

Darkstalkers (Arcade)


Additional Screenshots


Vampire Hunter / Night Warriors: Darkstalkers' Revenge - Arcade, Saturn, PlayStation 2 (1995)

Japanese Arcade Flyer

American Arcade Flyer

American Dreamcast Cover

Now this is more like it. Night Warriors improves upon Darkstalkers in virtually every possible way, and is a far smoother and more enjoyable title. To get the gripes out of the way first: For some reason Capcom decided to recolor everything, and the character portrait artwork has been redone to make it look more anime style. Some characters look kind of silly because of this: it's hard to take Zabel seriously when he's bright pink. Sasquatch and Gallon's brown fur just makes them look dirty, and Felicia just looks unhealthy and pale. All the stage backgrounds and endings are exactly the same as in Darkstalkers, which is also kind of a bummer.

Otherwise, Night Warriors is great. Newcomers Lei-Lei and Donovan take center stage and bosses Phobos and Pyron join the fray as playable characters, raising the number of heads on the character select screen to fourteen. The biggest change to the gameplay is the addition of "Hunter Chains", which involve stringing together a series of weak-to-strong basic attacks. It's the basis for the combo system used in Capcom's beloved Marvel Vs. games, and makes Night Warriors a much more dynamic experience than its predecessor. Also new are recovery rolls, which allow you to slide forwards or backwards before getting back up after your character's been knocked over. This is important, since Night Warriors also introduces simple pursuit attacks against a downed opponent. The Super gauge now thankfully uses a stock system, making ES and EX attacks much less of a hassle than before. The soundtrack is also worth mentioning: it's mostly remixed tunes from the first game, but they're noticably better. Zabel and Victor's stage themes stand out in particular.

There was a Saturn-exclusive port of the game, which did happen to make it to America, but it's hard for me to rate it without ever having played it. But given that the Saturn (and the Dreamcast after it) seemed like it was built to play 2-D fighters, I'd imagine it was at the very least a better port than Vampire was on the Playstation.

As good as Night Warriors is, it's more of a transitional release than anything else. Capcom had just begun to tap into the series' potential and would take full advantage of it in the next installment.

Night Warriors (Arcade)

Night Warriors (Arcade)


Additional Screenshots


Vampire Savior / Darkstalkers 3: Jedah's Damnation - Arcade, Saturn, PlayStation, PlayStation 2 (1997)

American Arcade Flyer

Japanese PlayStation Cover

American PlayStation Cover

Here it is: the pinnacle of the Darkstalkers series and one of the most overlooked masterpieces of electronic entertainment. Darkstalkers 3 blows the previous two games out of the water, and one of the best 2D fighters Capcom has ever made. This is where Darkstalkers really hits its stride.

Probably taking a cue from the recent popularity of SNK's plot-driven The King of Fighters series, Capcom tried giving Darkstalkers 3 a deeper backstory than previous installments. It's set a number of years after Night Warriors, during a time of upheaval and chaos in Makai. Belial Aensland has finally kicked the bucket and the resulting power vacuum is shaking the demon world to its core. If things weren't bad enough already, Jedah Doma has mysteriously reappeared. Slain a century ago after the betrayal of his servant Ozomu, Jedah has somehow pieced his vaporized self back together. Seeing Makai in a state of stagnation and decay, Jedah decides what it needs is a fresh start. He creates Majigen: a separate world within Makai, and a womb for its new god. His plan is to draw all souls into Majigen, fuse them together into one being, and then reboot existence. (And the human world will be next, naturally.)

Presentation-wise, Darkstalkers 3 is top notch. The sprites haven't changed, but they still look just as good as they did three years ago, so no problem there. With one or two exceptions, all the stages have been overhauled, and they look amazing. Serious love and attention was put into designing the Majigen locales, especially Vanity Paradise, Tower of Arrogance, and Iron Horse, Iron Terror. Some of Darkstalkers 3's spooky/techno-pop tunes are the best the series has to offer, but a few less-inspired tracks keep the score from being quite as solid as Night Warriors'. The only real problem with the backdrops and music tunes is that there aren't enough of them, since they are no longer character-exclusive.

Darkstalkers 3 boasts a roster of fifteen characters. That's only one more than Night Warriors, but four new characters join the cast while Pyron, Phobos, and Donovan get the boot. Fortunately, the new guys are cool enough that the three exiles won't be terribly missed. Lilith, Q-Bee, Bulleta and Jedah are possibly the best set of newcomers to grace a fighting game sequel.

Darkstalkers 3 is the most fast-paced fighting game ever. Its blazing combos and rushdowns are akin to something out of a King of Fighters Halloween coke party. It even leaves Guilty Gear and the Marvel Vs. series in the dust in terms of speed. It's not at all uncommon for matches to be over within fifteen seconds. In addition to the sheer speed of the action, Darkstalkers 3 takes a different approach to how matches are set up. Each player has two life bars. Similar to Rare's Killer Instinct, when a player loses a life bar, there is a one- or two-second pause before that character gets back up and resumes fighting. In result, players' health isn't restored between rounds because there aren't any rounds. When a player takes damage, a portion of the depleted life bar flashes white, and slowly regenerates as long as the same player doesn't get hit again during the process.

In addition to ES and EX moves, Hunter Chains, pursuit attacks, and everything else introduced in Night Warriors, Darkstalkers 3 also includes Dark Force attacks. Each character has one or two Dark Forces, which are executed by tapping a pair of same-strength punch and kick buttons. For the cost of one stock, your character becomes powered up for a limited time. Bulleta's Dark Force allows her to fire missiles just by tapping punch buttons. Zabel's Dark Force has him swinging Le Malta around like a chainsaw. Lei-Lei gains super armor, meaning that getting hit won't interrupt her attacks. Dark Forces are accompanied by an ethereal background shift which doesn't have much of a bearing on gameplay, but sure looks cool.

Darkstalkers 3 never really took off in the States, but it was supposedly fairly popular in Japan. Two ports of the game appeared on the PlayStation and Saturn consoles. The Saturn version was virtually identical to its arcade counterpart, and uses the 4MB RAM cart to completely eliminate load times. Unfortunately, since this was only released in Japan, most of us probably had to settle for Darkstalkers 3 on the PlayStation. While inferior to the Saturn version, it is surprisingly decent, a relief after the abysmal PlayStation port of X-Men Vs. Street Fighter. Though there are a ton of missing animations and load times, it's still a close approximation to the original. Both versions include the three characters cut from the arcade game (Donovan, Phobos and Pyron). The PlayStation version also has a slew of extra options to make up for the inferior port quality, such as an art gallery, a character edit mode, the ability to turn on full Savior 2 or Hunter 2 modes, and options to change combo cancels and double jump options. Unfortunately, the minor bits of blood have been completely removed from the American version.

Darkstalkers 3 (Arcade)

Darkstalkers 3 (Arcade)

Darkstalkers 3 (Arcade)

Darkstalkers 3 (Arcade)

Darkstalkers 3 (Arcade)


Additional Screenshots


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