The fighting stick felt foreign to me. My clumsy fingers could barely pull off a simple three-hit combo with the mummified Anakaris. It probably didn’t help that my childhood memories of Darkstalkers were nothing more than “that creepy fighting game standing near the Street Fighter machine.”
Darkstalkers’ grotesque character roster — consisting of vampires, demons, succubi, werewolves, and other monsters – gave the series a distinctive look and personality from the rest of its competition when Capcom first pushed it through arcades in the mid ’90s. Console versions and various compilations followed, but the developer hasn’t made a new entry since the debut of Darkstalkers 3 about 15 years ago.
But Capcom wants to let the fans know that it hasn’t forgotten about them. Due out some time later this year, Darkstalkers Resurrection for PlayStation Network ($14.99) and Xbox Live Arcade (1,200 Microsoft points) takes two of the games — Nightwarriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge and Darkstalkers 3 — and enhances them with high-resolution filters, YouTube support, and online multiplayer.
While the new stuff looked neat, what’s more impressive is how developer Iron Galaxy Studios put so much effort into making sure that the two Darkstalkers still play exactly the way you remember them.
Preserving the spirit of the original games
You don’t have to look any further than Darkstalkers Resurrection’s over-the-shoulder view (pictured up top) as proof of the team’s devotion. The gameplay screen shrinks down in favor of showing part of a digital arcade cabinet, complete with button layouts basked in a dimly lit room. When Resurrection producer Derek Neal showed this to me, I thought it was odd, given the skewed viewing angle. But I suppose if you’re a diehard Darkstalkers fan, it’s nice to have the option.
“We’ve tried to make this game as close to the original arcade version as possible,” explained Neal. “So if there’s anything that anyone can find that is different from the arcade version, we’d love to know about it because it’s exactly the sort of thing we’d be interested in fixing via patch or something like that. As far as we know, it’s as close to the original arcade version as possible.”
You can toggle other visual tricks individually through an extensive menu: scanlines, curved screens, widescreens (one that keeps the aspect ratio and another that stretches it), hi-res art for character selection, and much more. Or you can just leave these things off and play both games in all of their pixelated glory. It’s up to you.
But Neal, who had the remarkable ability to talk coherently while playing Darkstalkers at the same time, emphasized that these changes were all in the aesthetics and that the core gameplay and balance remains the same.
How fans shape the development process
This isn’t the first time Iron Galaxy Studios has worked on remixing beloved Capcom fighting games. In 2011, it released Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition featuring similar visual upgrades and online play. Just last year, it did the same thing with Marvel vs. Capcom Origins, a compilation of Marvel Super Heroes and Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Superheroes. And the developer has been closely listening to fan feedback along the way.
“Our whole strategy with these [HD rereleases] is to make sure each one is more awesome than the last,” said Neal. “And that we keep listening to fan feedback and keep improving what we’re doing. We can’t get every piece of fan feedback into every one of these games, but after Origins, I put up an email address — that went directly to me — that said, ‘Hey guys, tell us what you want to see in these games: what you like and what you didn’t like. Give us your opinions.’”
One thing that fans had influence over in Darkstalkers Resurrection is its tutorial mode. In Third Strike Online, Iron Galaxy had players go through a series of combo trials. But fans wanted more than that. So for Resurrection, it added text explanations (told from the point of view of the characters themselves) about each attack. In our demonstration, the mighty Sasquatch was teaching Neal how to properly use its low and high strikes.
“We try to find the [feedback] that [is] the best return on investment — the ones that when we put in the time and effort required to make this feature work, it’ll really make [the game] shine,” said Neal. “So that’s really what we’ve been trying to do: using our resources as wisely as possible to create the most compelling package that we can given the limited amount of time and money available to develop these things.”
It’s not Darkstalkers 4, but for now, it’ll have to do.