Platform: Playstation Portable
Rating: E (Everyone)
Release Date: 03/22/2005
It’s tough being a hardcore 2D fan in the current gaming landscape. Our last bastion of 2D goodness, Gameboy Advance, is suddenly on its dying days, with very few new titles on the horizon. It’s successor, Nintendo DS, has had a nice selection of 2D games, including the recently released Yoshi game as well as a new 2D Mario title in the works. PSP is clearly positioning itself as a next generation 3D powered portable, with over 90% of launch and future titles being polygon-fueled experiences.
However, in an odd attempt to throw the hardcore audience a bone, Capcom is delivering an extensive version of its classic Darkstalkers series, combining all of the titles in the series and offering a wide variety of gameplay options, including and most notably the ability to play the game against other human players using the PSP’s WiFi capability. It is a nice treat to have a polished, beautiful, old school fighting game on hand for the PSP launch for breaks between 3D racing and next generation sports gaming.
They are all fighting each other! That’s basically the story, and if you are expecting much more out of a 2D fighter, you’re likely to be disappointed.
That said, the characters in the game are well designed and varied. There are monsters galore, with Vampires, werewolves, scanitly clad Little Red Riding Hood and many more.
The real “story” of this game is that it’s a combination of a number of older Darkstalkers/Vampire Chronicles games that have graced arcades and consoles over the past decade or so. The game itself was released in Japan for Dreamcast with a very limited run towards only available in certain outlets, so it’s not a port that many players would have played the original of.
The game includes a variety of character types, including Vampire, Vampire Hunter, Vampire Saber, Vampire Saber 2, and others. Encompassing modes from all of the games, they include Vampire Mode, Vampire Hunter Mode, and Vampire Saber Mode, as well as custom settings such as Gauge Type and Game Rule.
Story Rating: 5/10
Just the fact that I’m playing a 2D game on a next generation PSP system is encouraging in some way. Of course, it’s a port of a 5 year old Dreamcast title, but nevertheless it’s nice to see Sony throw a bone to the hardcore crowd by including Darkstalkers with the launch lineup. The graphics look vibrant and crisp, and there is sometimes a lot going on on the screen.
2D hand drawn artwork is already a lost art in the world of video games, and Darkstalkers is a great example of why it should still be around. The game feels like a living breathing cartoon, with lush environments and creative character design. Each of the nearly 20 characters is extremely well detailed, with a wide variety of animations and cool mannerisms. The overall impact of the game stands out as one of the most stunning games at PSP launch, an impressive feat with some 3D heavyweights launching as well.
Graphics Rating: 9/10
Capcom has had interesting choices for music in their 2D fighting games over the years, and Dark Stalkers comes in with that hard driving guitar rock that still seems popular in Japan but not as popular in America. It does work well though, with the high impact and high energy music fitting the action of the game nicely.
The effects and voice clips are what you would probably expect out of this game.
Sound Rating: 7/10
It’s always a challenge to port a 6 button arcade fighter to a modern controller with only really 4 face buttons. The same control problems that face a console are in effect here, because the PSP features only 4 face buttons, meaning 2 attacks are relegated to shoulder buttons. However, veterans of 2D fighters on any generation of consoles is used to this type of controller setup, and after a small adjustment, it’s not tough at all to pull off any move.
The game allows for a large amount of control customization, as each fighter has several modes and versions. Each mode has various differences, including speed, combos and special moves. Mixing and matching them creates interesting results, and because it comprises so many games, it sometimes creates some unbalanced matchups.
The game allows for a choice between a typical control scheme and an easy setup that basically removes all challenge from the game by assigning special moves to simple button combos instead of fireball motions, etc. For gamers that have trouble adjusting to the D-Pad and button config, this mode might be a good option, but I cant see this being used by any self respecting gamer.
Control Rating: 6.5/10
With nearly 20 characters and what seems like infinite combinations of modes and fighting styles, fans of this game will have a ton to enjoy here. Each character has the option of using several fighting styles, and the overall gameplay of the matches can be chosen as well – either using an authentic earlier edition of the gameplay style, or using a more modern mode.
What’s more exciting is the inclusion of a multi-player WiFi mode. I had the opportunity to test this out, and the experience is amazing. There is virtually no lag or problems with the connection during the fight, so the replayability, if you know others with a PSP and this game, is virtually endless. There are so many options, characters and fighting styles to learn, that this game could keep you occupied for a helluva long time.
Replay Rating: 8/10
Darkstalkers has traditionally had some unbalanced characters that were more powerful than the rest, and this remains true with the PSP version. Again because the game is a combination of many games, the strong characters from some games seem to dominate weak characters from others.
Balance Rating: 5/10
As I’ve noted in some of my other PSP reviews, I found originality to be the toughest area to evaluate for launch PSP games. As a new console with nearly no equal, it’s hard to know what to compare this game to.
The experience of playing Darkstalkers on a handheld, with the huge clear screen, is memorable. Even longtime 3D fans take note at the crisp colors and incredibly vibrant graphics and animation.
It’s essentially a pixel-perfect port of the arcade Darkstalkers games, and it adds Wi-Fi multiplayer support and some bonus extras into the mix, to good effect.
Originality Rating: 8/10
It largely depends on whether you are a 2D fighting fan or not, but Darkstalkers is an addictive game. There are just a ton of characters and options and modes to choose from, and that’s just the single player mode. The addition of wireless multiplayer makes Dark Stalkers a perfect showcase of the PSP’s WiFi capabilities. It isn’t, however, available over the internet, and the WiFi is limited to
The quick pick up gameplay of Darkstalkers is a nice change from the modern, more complicated 3D games that make up the rest of the PSP lineup.
Addictiveness Rating: 8/10
It’s amazing that in less than a decade, gaming has seen its most popular and system selling genre, 2D fighting, drift into almost total obscurity. Hardcore gamers, and many readers of this site, will be thrilled to have a high quality and polished 2D fighter on the PSP. There are so many characters here that the matchups are nearly endless. Playing this game over the WiFi connection also is a great experience.
Having played Street Fighter Alpha 3 for Gameboy Advance, previously one of the best handheld fighting games, Dark Stalkers feels like a substantial step forward in every way, including graphics, feel and depth.
Appeal Rating: 9/10
The problem for me is that the Dark Stalkers series is about 10th on my list of classic 2D franchises that I’d like to see an arcade-perfect port of on PSP. It’s not that I dislike the series, it just always came off very generic to me. For fans of this series, this version would be the pinnacle, and with the addition of WiFi play, it really is a worthy package.
Misc Rating: 6/10