(Note: This is a review of a new HD re release of two fairly old games. While I will touch on the merits of the games in question, the review and final score are largely focused on the qualities of this particular release and the new features it brings to the table.)
Last year, the organisers of the Evo Championship Series fighting game tournament held a charity drive to decide on the eighth official game for 2013’s line up. Players donated money to the game of their choice, and all the money raised (an amazing US$225,000) was donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation; Darkstalkers 3 raised a measly $131, beating only the as-yet unreleased Injustice: Gods Among Us, and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, which has had more than its fair share of time on the tournament circuit. To call the Darkstalkers series a niche interest, at least from a competitive players’ perspective, is something of an understatement.
Still, support for - and interest in - Capcom’s ‘other’ fighting game series seems to be on the rise, thanks to Street Fighter IV producer Yoshinori Ono’s continual teasing of the possibility of a series reboot, and the appearance of a number of Darkstalkers characters in crossover games like Marvel vs Capcom 3 and Project X Zone.
And, popular or not, the Darkstalkers franchise is responsible for many systems that would later become staples in Capcom’s other fighting series, (including but not limited to: chain combos, push blocking, air dashing, alpha counters/guard cancels, air blocking, EX specials, and super armour) making Darkstalkers Resurrection an important fighting game history lesson.
The Darkstalkers series takes a gothic horror approach to fighting games, with a bizarre cast based on many classic monsters - vampires, werewolves, zombies, yetis, and so on - with a few less conventional characters thrown into the mix, like Q-Bee, a humanoid queen bee, and B. B. Hood, a monster hunter dressed like Little Red Riding Hood and carrying picnic basket full of heavy weaponry. There’s some sort of story which brings all these monsters and monster hunters together to fight for some reason, but it’s not really important to the game or evident without diving into a wealth of other media.
Resurrection compiles the second and third of the three core arcade games in the series, Night Warriors: Darkstalkers Revenge (also known as Vampire Hunter in Japan), and Darkstalkers 3 (or Vampire Savior) respectively.
Of the two, Night Warriors is slower paced and more akin to Street Fighter Alpha, while Darkstalkers 3 turns up the heat and breaks convention by having character health and on screen position carry over from round to round, effectively turning a KO into an extended knockdown.
Darkstalkers 3 is generally considered the tournament standard for the series, but they’re both great games, and it’s nice to have both of them as an option.
If you’ve played either of Iron Galaxy’s other releases, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect from Resurrection, with a feature set that basically comprises the best parts of 3rd Strike OE and MvC Origins. The usual handful of HD filters (smooth, crisp, or none) and view modes (4:3, stretched, arcade cabinet, and MvC Origins’ over the shoulder view) make their return, as does the Vault system - you earn ‘Vault Points’ by completing certain in-game challenges (“Win 10 matches”, “Freeze an opponent 20 times”, etc), which you can use to unlock art and videos. Sadly, even with HD filters, the games in this package really show their age - the sprites are well drawn and animated, but are still limited by the technology of their day.
Trial mode is back again as well, after a disappointing sabbatical from MvC Origins, and it’s better than ever. Trials in Night Warriors follow the standard “complete an increasingly hard series of combos” formula, but with the game demonstrating the combo first, and explaining when and why to use it in a match.
Darkstalkers 3 takes this a step further, with a Tutorial Mode instead of trials, which asks you to complete a series of lessons on how to play your chosen character. Combos and their usage make up a lot of the lessons, but other important tactics like defence, mixups, unblockable setups, resets, and a range of character specific tricks are also covered.
They’re not comprehensive character guides by any means, but they give a better idea of how to play a character than any “here, do this fancy pants combo” trial mode ever could. A neat touch is the fact that the characters themselves are the ones giving the lessons (to themselves, somehow), with the explanations very much in character, often in hilarious fashion.
For example, the samurai ghost Bishamon stresses the need to use “sharp” attacks while teaching you how to “cut down many creatures”. Morrigan, the overtly sexual succubus, talks about her preference to “be on top” when teaching the player about overhead attacks.
Sadly, the trial modes are not without their problems, which although minor, seem to largely just be due to oversight. Moves in combos are listed by name rather than command, but there is no quick button to bring up a command list; instead, you have to pause the game, scroll down to Command List and select it, then back all the way out when you’re done. There’s also no way to go straight from one trial to the next, with the game instead sending you back to the selection screen when you complete the one you’re on, and no way to re-watch the computer’s demonstration without exiting the trial and loading it up again. Again, these are only mildly annoying, but they're simple issues that really shouldn’t have been overlooked.
Given the competitive and reaction-dependent nature of one on one fighting games, the online features and netplay quality are always going to be of utmost importance. Fortunately, this is an area where Darkstalkers really shines (ironically). It uses the highly regarded GGPO system to create really smooth online play virtually free of input lag, though games with bad connections can get very visually choppy as a result. Fortunately, games like that are fairly rare, even when playing against opponents from the UK, US, and Japan. In fact, I’ve yet to get a game with someone from Australia or New Zealand, but most of my games have been pretty much flawless (in terms of lag - certainly not in terms of my skills with the game). Good matchmaking also helps here, and you have decent control of your matchmaking settings; although I would recommend turning off “Same Region” because players in New Zealand are so few.
The online modes are your standard fare: Quick Match, Ranked Match, and eight player Player Match lobbies. In addition, 3rd Strike OE’s Tournament Mode is back, allowing players to create their own knockout tournaments for up to eight players, and the Replay theatre from Iron Galaxy’s previous ventures is still intact, complete with direct to YouTube uploading and powerful replay search functions.
Some will love the games included in Darkstalkers Resurrection, and others will find them just too bizarre or complex; but as far the port itself is concerned, this is as close to perfect as I have seen - Iron Galaxy have raised the already high bar they set for fighting game HD polish ups in 2011 with 3rd Strike OE.
If you’re a fan of Darkstalkers at all, waste no time in picking this up. If you haven’t played the series before, but have any interest in fighting games, you’d do well to consider this as well - this is the definitive Darkstalkers, and you may just find that something special that’s gripped the series’ cult of fans. And hey, every sale helps convince Capcom to greenlight Darkstalkers 4.