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Darkstalkers (PlayStation) artwork

Darkstalkers (PlayStation) review


"Though being highly aware of them all, I'm amazed to say I'd never actually played one of Capcom's cartoon beat-em-ups prior to this one, either at the arcade or on a console. When I saw this game going cheap second-hand, and that it had a mob of supernatural/mythical creatures (vampire, catwoman, a Frankenstein type, werewolf, succubus) scrapping in colourful 2D Street Fighter style, I thought it looked pretty cool and it was time to have a go. "



Though being highly aware of them all, I'm amazed to say I'd never actually played one of Capcom's cartoon beat-em-ups prior to this one, either at the arcade or on a console. When I saw this game going cheap second-hand, and that it had a mob of supernatural/mythical creatures (vampire, catwoman, a Frankenstein type, werewolf, succubus) scrapping in colourful 2D Street Fighter style, I thought it looked pretty cool and it was time to have a go.

First impressions: It looks and feels really fun. The characters are varied, imaginative, dynamic. You have serious elegant types like Demetri the vampire, then you have ridiculous (and cute? hmmmm...) 'things' like Sasquatch the snowman. My favourite is Felicia the catwoman, who rakes people with her cat claws to elicit great spurts of blood, and meeeows a lot. It's odd that for such a small-feeling game, some of its cast members - such as Morrigan the succubus - went on to acquire a wider degree of fame in the Capcom canon.

Dark Stalker's music is particularly good techno grooves and I would (and do occasionally) listen to it on its own. The backgrounds are neat too, each character with his/her own themed homeworld featuring animated spooky busywork in the background.

But some silver linings have a cloud, and this is very much the case here. Dark Stalkers is insanely hard, both in terms of the computer's smartness if you're playing solo, and due to the controls. I've said it before and I'll say it again: The Playstation controller just isn't cut out for this kind of game.

Even on the lowest AI setting - and there are about eight as I recall - and on the slowest of three speeds, I get my ass seriously knocked the hell down unless I'm playing my fave character, Felicia. I don't think I'm particularly awful at one-on-one fighters in general. I can take Soul Blade on Ultra Hard and Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi on Jedi, to pull two different Playstation examples out of the blue. And this isn't just a 2D versus 3D issue, either.

In Dark Stalkers, the four main buttons deliver the low power and medium power punches and kicks respectively. The top two shoulder buttons give the 'fierce' punch and kick. It's not very intuitive. There's a power-up system where you earn energy by attacking and defending, and when your meter's full, you're granted a short period of time during which you can launch your special attacks. When and if they work, they look spectacular. (Assuming the computer doesn't block them... the game is pretty cheap in this department.) The samurai cuts people in half, the pharaoh has a curse which can turn folks into small animals, catwoman makes like Sonic the Hedgehog with claws on your face... but frankly, lots of the specials are just too hard to pull off on the Playstation controller, especially in the tiny window of Special Time that you've got before your energy runs out again. Anything involving a combination of rolling the pad 180 degrees and simultaneously hitting a shoulder button and a particular other button within a fraction of a second is too much for my money. Computer ain't gonna stand around giving you time to figure it all out; it's gonna slap you stupid.

So basically I only enjoy fighting the computer using the characters who have less extravagant special moves, and even then it's still a major uphill battle and far too frustrating. In the end, the real shame is that I'm not even utilising half the game's cast. In taking on another human player there's a bit more fun to be had, and now you'll both be equally crippled by the annoying controls!

If you can hack your way through the eight standard characters in the solo game, there are a couple of alien bosses to deal with. I've finished the game once, but it took a zillion continues, and Felicia's ending wasn't particularly spectacular in any way that made up for the very tiresome ride I'd had. You can't play the bosses either, or unlock any new characters, things which might bother you if you were weaned on newer fighting games.

In summary, Dark Stalkers is one of the more unique 2D fighters in terms of the strange variety of monsters you get to play, and the sights and sounds on offer. It's a refreshing change from a bunch of kung-fu guys, a bunch of sword-wielding guys, etc... But I find the gameplay seriously painful due to the controls and the VERY harsh computer AI. Unless you are a veteran 2D console scrapper, you'll be struggling first, then pissed off later. This game could go down well casually when playing against your friends, but otherwise its only real attraction on the Playstation is novelty. I bought it mostly because this genre was a hole in my videogaming experience, and the disc was a bargain at the price, but I almost never touch this anymore. When I do, it's to listen to the music.

-- Dark Stalkers -- 5/10 --

Rating: 5/10

bloomer's avatar
Community review by bloomer (March 07, 2004)

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