By the mid-90s Capcom was at the forefront of the fighting game craze thanks to the Street Fighter II series. In 1994 the company brought a brand-new series to arcades with Vampire: The Night Warriors, known in the U.S. as Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors.
It wouldn’t be cynical to say that the concept of Darkstalkers was “Street Fighter with monsters.” Instead of characters based on different martial arts and nationalities, Darkstalkers used creatures like vampires and werewolves, with some left-field ideas like Mayan robots thrown in for good measure. Likewise, the plot boils down to the characters participating in a tournament to prove they’re the strongest.
However, the gameplay was far from a World Warriors retread. The first Darkstalkers feels like a melting pot where Capcom threw in whatever mechanic they could think of. Fireballs would battle for supremacy rather than just canceling out. Each character had a unique dash: Series star Morrigan dashed at an angle to allow air attacks, while fishman Rikuo swam under projectiles. Air blocking and a faster pace would eventually be brought into the Street Fighter Alpha series.
Some of Darkstalkers’ game elements are different for the sake of being different, which leads to frustrating situations. The game’s super bar will increase the power of the next special move, a la the EX moves in later Street Fighter games. Players can also do a unique super move with the right combination of joystick motions and button presses.
While that’s different, it also means the player can’t use another special unless it’s certain to connect. The super bar is also attached to a timer, so the opponent can wait the bar out. Some might find the notations for some super and special moves unintuitive as well, though practice makes perfect.
While usual fighting game archetypes like Victor the slow-but-powerful Frankenstein monster make their appearance, other characters have more unique, experimental fighting styles. Some of Rikuo’s attacks didn’t cause damage but instead immobilized the foe temporarily. Rocker zombie Lord Raptor lacks on the special attack side but can teleport, dash into crouching attacks, air dash, and even crawl.
The mummy Anakaris probably takes the cake. For his arsenal he has stretching arms, the ability to hover in mid-air, a long range grab, the ability to absorb and store projectiles, and can curse characters into cute defenseless objects. Players who prefer learning complex characters will find a lot to like in this game.
Capcom’s Graphic History
Darkstalkers is a bit transitional graphically. The brighter, anime-style sprites are a step above the Street Fighter II series, but aren’t as refined as those in the Alpha or the Marvel Verses series. Morrigan is one of the few characters that regularly appear in other Capcom fighting games, and for a sexy succubus her sprite is downright ugly compared to newer sprites in games like Capcom Vs. SNK.
Darkstalkers’s processing power might not stand the test of time, but the animation more than makes up for it. Morrigan and Lord Raptor can turn their appendages into blades and buzzsaws, while catwoman Felicia and Sasquatch have more conventional but still dynamic moves. Characters don’t turn into generic flamed bodies when hit by vampire Demetri’s fireball; each fighter has a unique burnt-husk animation instead. The animations are proof that art design can overcome technological limits.
PlayStation, PSP and Beyond
Darkstalkers has had several more sequels, each bringing in more unique characters and dramatic changes in the fighting system. The original game was ported to the PlaySation 1 in 1996, but 2004’s Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower for the PSP allows players to adjust to settings to play out as whichever installment they prefer.
Darkstalkers also inspired animations in both the U.S. and Japan (guess which one had the bad animation and corny jokes) as well as comic and art books. While never as popular as Street Fighter, Darkstalkers creativity brought something new to the fighting game table.