Visual Memory #3 – ‘Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors’

Its cult following may be more famous than the game that spawned it but, as evidence of a Darkstalkers reboot continues to mount, Christopher Bell looks back to 1994 and the birth of Capcom’s original monster mash.

As franchises go, Darkstalkers is one of the few to have flourished beyond its video game origins. It’s been turned into a popular manga comic, a couple of animated series (avoid the Saturday morning American TV version at all costs!) and a 15th anniversary coffee-table tribute book, packed with gorgeous artwork. Its most popular characters, meanwhile, have gone on to star in a host of other high-profile titles including the Marvel vs Capcom series and a Magic: The Gathering-style card game. Most noticeably, they’ve become a mainstay of the cosplay circuit, with (mostly female) characters drawing eyes and camera lenses at conventions across the globe.

Not bad for a series that hasn’t seen a new release since 1998.

The story, for what it’s worth, is simple. Vampire lord Demitri Maximoff organises a tournament to decide which denizen of the afterlife is worthy to rule over the Demon World and so a 10-strong group of supernatural contenders duly comes together to duke it out. Hardly Steven King, I think you’ll agree, but at least it’s better than Twilight.

Darkstalkers screenshot

This isn’t just Zombie Streetfighter though and, from a technical perspective, the original Darkstalkers has certainly has earned its stripes. The first fighting game to be developed for the CPS2 arcade board (later used by Street Fighter Alpha,) Darkstalkers pioneered a lot of fighting systems that have since become the norm.  It introduced aerial blocking, for example, as well as chain combos and the “special” meter, which is key to executing devastating EX moves (super combos). The meter is charged by carrying out attacks but gradually empties if you remained passive. This simple twist ensures the game’s pace never lets up, forcing each player to go on the offensive to maintain their advantage. Play defensively for too long and you’ll find yourself overwhelmed.

Fan art inspired by Darkstalkers

The enduring appeal of the franchise lies squarely in its characters, who are an unlikely but memorable bunch of freaks and monsters, drawn from popular horror mythology. Egyptian mummy? Check. Werewolf? Check. Sexy succubus? Check. Semi-clad feline starlet with Hollywood ambitions? Er… check. Bold, colourful and with tongues firmly in cheek, it’s no wonder they’ve captured the imagination of people who aren’t particularly familiar with the game itself.

So why have Capcom allowed one of their most popular brands to lie dormant for so long? It’s a good question and hopefully one that’s about to become academic. Capcom are reportedly making a fourth game in the main series, using a modified Street Fighter X Tekken engine. A trademark has already been filed, so we may be raising hell (and its inhabitants) again very soon.

Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors (1994)
Developer: Capcom (PS1 version ported by Psygnosis (now Sony Liverpool))
Publisher: Capcom
Formats: Arcade, PS1, PS3 (through PSN)

Our headline cosplay photo features the truly extraordinary Linda Le as Morrigan. You can check out Linda’s website here.