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Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower

Reviewed June 2005 by Tony Peak

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 5
Release Date: March, 2005
ESRB Rating: "T" for Teen
Genre: Fighting
Price: $39.99

Darkstalkers has a long and often times confusing history in the US, due in part to the US and Japanese versions often taking different names. The series first hit the US in early '96 as Nightwarriors: DarkStalkers Revenge for the Sega Saturn, followed shortly by Darkstalkers for the Sony Playstation. Even though the Sega Saturn version never saw a very wide distribution due to the hardware, and the Playstation edition had a lot of missing animation and bad loading times, Darkstalkers still became a cult hit in the US. It was eventually followed by Darkstalkers 3 back in '98.

Darkstalkers was always somewhat overshadowed by the Street Fighter lineup and despite a growing fanbase, never quite saw the same popularity. Its strengths were in its CPS-2 animation, memorable character designs, and of course it's strong fighting system. The biggest adaptation of Darkstalkers in the US is probably the Marvel vs Capcom series, which features many of the cast favorites including Felicia, Morrigan, Bulleta, and more.

Fast forward to present day, and seemingly out of nowhere we're presented with Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower for the Sony PSP. The history lesson above is partially because Chaos Tower is somewhat of a compilation of all the past Darkstalker series, and partially because it is also an improved port of a rare Japan only release for the Sega Dreamcast back in 2000. That's a lot of history to catch up on in one game, if you're new to the series.

Gameplay

Chaos Tower incorporates nearly all of the previous games styles into one single game. At the beginning of aracde mode, you select if you would like to play in Darkstalkers, Nightwarriors, or Darkstalkers 3 mode. The differences are minor, but still important. Darkstalkers for example has a single special bar and round based combat, while Darkstalkers 3 has multiple special bar levels and combat quickly continues after a knock-out without pause.

Even when selecting your character, you'll again choose from the games list to determine your character's move sets. While Darkstalkers 3 is usually a good choice, a few characters have noticeably good moves in the older games. For example, I personally prefer Felicia's Nightwarrior moves, as they offer a greater range of combat choices and the special attack strikes easier. Other than these choices, arcade mode works pretty much as expected, unlocking endings from the original games and giving a generic, shared ending for Chaos Tower.

A new addition, which I believe was not in the original Dreamcast version, is the tower mode. In this mode, you'll choose three fighters with whom to climb a 100 level tower, fighting new challengers each step of the way. Some stages will even have special conditions, like no punches, and completing requirements will send you down different paths of the tower. Unfortunately you won't get a life restore between rounds, but I believe the life of the unused characters very slowly refills little by little. I say I believe because I seemed to notice it, but it's so slow it's not very useful. This tends to make the tower challenge artificially hard, and for me limited the appeal somewhat over a standard Survival mode, which is not included.

Graphics

Graphics is one of the areas where this version of Darkstalkers really shines. To begin with, the Playstation versions of Darkstalkers had loading and animation problems, which hampered the true fluidity of the game somewhat. The Saturn and Dreamcast versions were better, but the Saturn version is rare and the Dreamcast version is far harder to come by still. Chaos Tower, however, is quite likely the highest quality NA release of Darkstalkers seen to date.

You're given the option of between having the full screen display, or scaling down to the normal view at any time. Personally, I always stick with the full display. The game looks excellent set to the PSP's screen ratio with a minimal of stretching. All of the moves, specials, and misc. animations are as smooth and detailed as you'd expect. The PSP's rich and vibrant screen displays the action wonderfully and seems perfectly suited to this genre.

Sound

Thankfully, Capcom followed tradition and while they translated the between round text into English, all of the original Japanese voices are intact. While this may leave a few players a bit confused with the lack of subtitles, it's generally accepted that this is a good thing in fighters and adds to the style and feel. All of the sound effects are generally above average, but the music is sadly quite forgettable. Thankfully, there's nothing overly annoying like the menu music that often plagues Capcom fighters. (Marvel vs Capcom 2, anyone?)

Conclusion

While Darkstalkers is a title fans like myself will surely appreciate and newcomers can enjoy, one has to wonder why now? Five years after this title's first release and over 11 years since it started in '94, a few problems plague this title as they have the other compilations such as Marvel vs Capcom 2. That is, many of these sprites are simply showing their age. Thankfully on a new system, with a wide screen, and strictly in the Darkstalkers universe, Chaos Tower manages to look much newer than it actually is, and less dated when not compared against characters of unrelated franchises.

The PSP's controls, while fine for the task, obviously just don't feel as good as an arcade cabinet or a good arcade controller. If you hate playing 2D fighters on a regular Playstation controller, the PSP probably won't change your mind, especially when you've got the screen in the middle. Personally, I had little problems with the controls, but I do have a big gripe that you can't simply pull up a move list in game. This seems pretty important, when the new 'easy mode' controls change how the controls are set up, and with so many different games built into one. It's a pretty hard to get around oversight, short of memory from past games and trial and error.

Finally, the loading times are just not satisfying. It's not so bad that you'll be shaking your fist at the screen like the PS1 versions, but it's more frequent than it should be. Between every challenger in arcade mode, and every floor on Tower mode (which moves quickly), you'll be greeted with another short loading message. Even when a fight demo loops in the background, the game noticeably takes a few seconds to load. More of the game should have been streamed into memory at one time, so that I could play through the entire arcade set and whole sections of the tower uninterrupted.

If you're a fan of Darkstalkers and you're a fan of 2D fighters, rest assured this is a very solid showing of the series. This is quite easily the best pure Darkstalkers release in the US to date, and I certainly can't think of any other portable fighter that compares. Newcomers to the series have an excellent opportunity to catch up on past happenings and enjoy it for themselves. Even though it's not a spectacular showing short of being true to the original, if you think you'd like this game, you probably will.

 

Screen shots:

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Playing Hints and Tips

- You're going to need a move list, and right now the only place to get one is on Capcom's Japanese website. Replace the final number in this url with 01-18, and 19 for a hidden character: www.capcom.co.jp/vampire_cct/01.html.

- If the normal moves give you a hard time, try the easy control mode. It fits the PSP's control system somewhat better, but you'll be a bit more limited in your attack options.

- Try all of the characters, each Darkstalker's character has a very different style from the others. Find the ones that best suit your own style.

- There are 3 hidden chars. For Marionett, in arcade mode highlight the ? in character selection and press START seven times, then press any punch or kick. For Shadow highlight the ? and press START five times, then any punch or kick.

- For Oboro Bishamon, in any mode highlight Bishamon, Hold Start and press any P or K.

 

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics

Darkstalkers looks absolutely excellent on the PSP screen, vibrant, fluid, and detailed as one would hope. But honestly, if you’re a long time fan of the series you’ve almost seen it before. Almost, because Darkstalkers plain looks great widescreen. The backgrounds are detailed and exciting, the alternate color schemes are fun, and the unlockable illustrations are nifty.

Sound

The music isn’t highly memorable, but it does fit the themes of the levels very well. Most importantly, it’s not annoying. All of the voice acting is crisp and clear, and all of the favorite lines are there. I’m very pleased the Japanese dialog was left intact.

Fun Meter

Capcom’s 2D lineup has always been easy to jump into and play, and Darkstalkers really is no exception. I have my gripes with the tower mode, but overall Darkstalkers is as fun as ever. Each of the 18+ characters controls uniquely enough that once you’ve mastered one, you can switch for a whole new experience. Tower mode will force you to master three different characters, so there’s a lot of fun to be had.

Addictivity

The fun of Darkstalkers will keep you playing for a good long while, but like a pure arcade fighter, there’s really not much to keep you coming back. The Tower mode is artificially hard and rather slower than it should be due to loading. There’s no survival mode, and the only secrets to unlock are endings and illustrations. Compared to the nearly endless cast, replay and unlocking in modern 2D fighters like Marvel vs Capcom 2, Darkstalkers is a bit standard.

Total Score= 3.875 Dragons, 77.5%



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