Darkstalkers Week: Darkstalkers 1 and 2 for Zombies (Part 1)
A Sort of Quick Recap of the Important Aspects for the First Game in The Series
1994 was a very important year for Capcom especially in regards to fighting games. Three important fighting games were released though out that year: Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo/ Super Street Fighter 2 X (SSF2T), X-Men: Children of The Atom (XCOTA), and finally Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors/ Vampire: The Night Warriors. While all three of these game would be very important for Capcom, Darkstalkers would have the one of the biggest influence on the future of both Marvel and Street Fighter series. The new mechanics, cast of characters, and sprite would have people looking back on this game for years.
Tech and Mechanics
One very important part of the popularity of Darkstalkers is loud and colorful 2-D sprites. It makes sense to have a monster fighting game to have nice looking sprites but Darkstalkers' sprites were not just good looking but extremely expressive. From idle animations, normal attacks, and even special attacks, the animations that each sprite had were amazingly and vanishingly detailed with traits of the characters own personality littered in. (Side note: For a great piece about Darkstalkers and breaking down the series relation to animation, read this post by Art-Eater.)
This amazing sprite work was largely due to two factors: the CPS 2 and Bengus. The CPS, Capcom's arcade hardware board, has been the technical backbone of many of its 2D gaming achievements. The second generation of the board started be use in games in the previous year, however, many games in 1994 really started to push and show what it was capable of doing. Bengus is also another important part of Darkstalkers' ionic and famous design. Many hardcore Capcom fans should already know who Bengus is. Bengus is the legendary artist and designer behind many Capcom games, especially in the characters design in Street Fighter II. He was the main character designer through out the whole Darkstalkers series.While Darkstalkers allowed Bengus' designs to be a little more creative, you can still see the same similar design principles that he used in designing the Street Fighter characters present. 1UP's Noe V. has a very excellent blog profiling Bengus' style through out the years on his Capcom Unity page.
Fighting design wasn't the only thing Darkstalkers borrowed from Street Fighter. From a glance, the fighting game mechanics behind both games look virtually identical. Both games featured 8-way movement with 6 buttons each corresponding to punches and kicks of different strengths (IE: Light Punch, Medium Punch, Heavy Punch, Light Kick, Medium Kick, etc...). The characters in Darkstalkers had a robust suite of normal moves as well as special attacks done with a motion of the joystick plus a button, like Street Fighter. Also like SF, doing a special attack motion in conjunction with a different button strength with yield different properties for the attack. However, Darkstalkers did differ from Street Fighter in one important way: its combo system. Street Fighter II, and largely the whole Street Fighter series, runs primarily off of a combo system called links. A link is a defined according to the SRK wiki as “A combo method where you combo two moves in a row not based on any special system built-in combo method. The first move simply recovers fast enough and the second move simply comes out quickly enough for the two to connect.” A recurring link combo for example in Street Fighter is Ryu's forward HP in SRK, forward heavy punch (also known as his solar plexus) into a shoryuken. The solar plexus causes enough hit stun, the animation period after the move connects on an opponent, to allow Ryu to recover from the move and perform another move that will connect. In Darkstalkers, the combo system is basied off of chain combos which the SRK wiki defines as “The ability for certain characters to cancel a Normal Move into another Normal Move.” In chain combos its possible to start with a basic combo, such as light, medium, and heavy attack, and go into a special move. This dramatically changes the flow of battle making fights much faster than they were in the Street Fighter series. The Marvel Vs. Capcom series would also utilize chain combos and gain a similar affect.
Morrigan's Light, Medium, and Heavy Kicks. This is roughly what a chain combo consists of.
Another difference with the Darkstalkers compared to Street Fighter was the use of a new concept at to fighitng games, meter. All three of the aforementioned Capcom fighting games at the beginning of the blog were the first Capcom fighting games to use a meter. The meter appeared beneath characters and would build gradually over time through damage an attacks. Eventually when the meter was full characters could unleash a singular powerful attacks known as super attacks or supers. Darkstalkers use of the meter would be different and interesting. Just like XCOTA and SSF2T, Darkstalkers built meter gradually through attacks and combos. However, the meter would go down over time especially after taking damage or idle periods. Also, once the meter was full, you had a brief window to use it. Interestingly, meter could be used in two ways. One way was to use it as a super attack by inputting a special motion. For example, Morrigan's iconic super move Darkness Illusion could be done by pressing LP, LP, forward, LK,HP (light punch, light punch, the direction forward, light kick, heavy punch). Alternately, the meter could also be use to power up any existing special attacks by inputting the motion for that move and two of same button types. For example, Demitri's chaos flame fireball attack (quarter circle and punch=QC P) would like QC PP and would give him a bigger fireball and higher damage. This ability to power up to your attack function similar to what would be know later on in the Street Fighter series as EX attacks, although in Darkstalkers its called ES attacks. You could only use an ES attack or a super though, because the meter would instantly deplete and you would have to start from the beginning again.
One final aspect of Darkstalkers' fighting game mechanics was guard canceling. Guard canceling allow players to cancel their guard animation into an attack that could help them turn the tide if an opponent was giving them pressure from barrage of attacks. Again, the Street Fighter franchise, specifically the Alpha/Zero Series, would use a similar mechanic as well known as an alpha counter. There are a lot of important mechanics that Darkstalkers would implement an other Capcom fighters would use. However, the biggest one that most couldn't utilize was their diverse cast. The 10 original Darkstalkers fighters would be games greatest strength in their whole uniqueness in personality and mechanics.
Characters And Story
The cast of the first Darkstalkers would be very important for the series. Not only introducing iconic characters that would be warmly welcomed into Capcom's history but also their individuality and twist on familiar play styles. The world that the Darkstalkers inhabited was familiar but different. The Darkstalkers games take place in both the human world and the demon world, also known as Makai. The story can get a bit convoluted at times but is still simple enough to understand and is clearly reflected on the characters. Take for example the two most important characters in the Darkstalkers franchise, Demitri Maximov and Morrigan Aesnsland.
Demitri and Morrigan.
Demitri Maximov, a haughty, proud, and powerful vampire. He challenged the ruler of Makai, Beral Aesnland, and lost badly. Beral cast him as well as his castle where he lived out of Makai and human world for 100 years. During that time Demitri prepared himself to get a rematch and fostered his own powers. He is so powerful, in fact, he has an aura to protect him from the sunlight as seen on his idle animations.
Demitri's concept designs depicted show his origins mostly inspired by Hollywood's depiction of vampires. His final design is very reflective of that with only his body proportions being a bit different. Demitri's final design has body proportions that are more anime-like with a very pronounced, exaggerated muscular structure. They are reminiscent of proportions you would find in the popular manga Hokuto no Ken, Fist of the North Star. A lot of Demitri's design stems from his elegant and cultured exterior which hides his animistic, violent vampire nature that comes out in a his moves.
Morrigan Aesnland, adoptive daughter of Beral, is a very flirtatious succubus. The Succubi are demons that usually are women (the male version is known as incubus) that feed of the life energy of men to sustain themselves. Morrigan, however doesn't do this. Morrigan, while being apart of a higher part of demon society, finds her life to be boring and frequently visits the human world. She enjoys visiting and incorporates human technology into her attacks such as jet packs. Speaking of which, she has a flock of bats that accompanies here where ever she goes and can change into whatever she needs them to be such as clothing, her wings, and even weaponry.
Morrigan's early concept designs seem to be all over the place. Originally she was supposed to be a vampire but that was latter scrapped, although the bat motif remained. One of the more outlandish concept design made her look more man-ly and reminiscent of the manga character Devil Man. However, the biggest design influence for Morrigan appears to be from the comic book heroine, Vampirella, with one of sketches literally featuring Morrigan in a very Vampirella-esqe costume. That costume is definitely reflective of what would later be her final designs.
There are a few reasons I chose to talk about Morrigan and Demitri's story and design great depth. First of which is that the story for all three games largely revolves around them. Secondly, they are both largely representative of the Darkstalkers brand, shown in many crossovers together, although Morrigan has been in more than Demitri. However, the most important reason is that both them have very similar play styles as well. Demitri and Morrigan are both considered shotos, characters who style are similar to Ryu's from Street Fighter. They both have fireball attacks, special anti-air attacks (aka shoryukens aka SRKs), and are ideal characters for beginners to Darkstalkers. However, there is one big difference to Ryu and that's with their ability in the air. Unlike Street Fighter II, Darkstalkers utilizes the aerial space. Many characters have aerial attacks such as fire balls, throws, and other attacks. Morrigan can do her fireball attack, soul fist, in the air. More importantly, it comes at different angles allowing her to keep opponents away and still deal damage. Demitri can do his fireball attack in the air too but it comes out straight ahead. Demitri also has an interesting attack, bat spin (backwards quarter circle and kick=BQC K) which is a multiple hit spin drill attack where he disappears briefly and then appears over the opponent head (placement and damage varies on button strength). It can lead to great mix ups or good to apply pressure to an opponent.
Another area where they both differ is their dashes. Dashes, which happen by pressing forward twice in a quick motion, are actual different for each character in Darkstalkers and are important parts to utilizing the strengths of each Darkstalker. Morrigan's dash for example made her go off the ground and over the opponent’s head which mean she could use air attacks or fireballs to mix up or cross up* opponents (*Cross ups are any attacks that force the opponent to block in the opposite direct). Demitri's dash allowed him to disappear are reappear behind the opponent. He was also one of the few characters who could back dash too ( this feature would become standard in Night Warriors). Demitri and Morrigan's plays style twisted the influential design of Ryu and allowed them to be their own characters, as well as incorporating their story into their design. Let's look at the other reaming characters and the play styles that make them unique.
Felicia- Its kind of obvious that if I'm going to talk about Demitri and Morrigan, Felicia had to follow. Arguably one of the more popular characters from in and outside of Darkstalkers, Felicia is one design that's hard not to forget. Literally. Felicia is a cat-woman, one of the few types of creatures widely accepted in the human world at least as performers in the Darkstalkers universe, who dreams of becoming a star. It should be noted that originally, Felicia was supposed to be the “sexy” character of Darkstalkers while Morrigan was initially designed to be the “cute.” Later this was reversed although I'm having a hard time believing a pretty much naked, cat-woman is supposed to be “cute”. Felicia plays similarly to another cat loving person in Street Fighter, Cammy. Both women are considered to be rush down fighters, fighters that usually have low health but make up for it with quick moves and high damage potential. Felicia can seriously be a pain if you let her get in close to you. This is made ever so more trouble some with her dash which she leaps up off the ground. This allows her to access some of her aerial moves and can lead into seriously nasty cross ups.
Lord Raptor/Zabel- An Australian Rocker with a taste for the Dark Arts, Lord Raptor (Zabel in Japan and L. Raptor for short) gave up his soul as well as 100 of his fans for power in his last living concert. Now as a zombie he gathers souls for his Emperor Ozomu as well for his own power. L.Raptor is is hard to pin down play style wise because he literally has an answer to everything: Great and long reaching normal attacks, amazing air attacks as well as an air grab and dash, but Raptor has one unique ability that really makes me stand out. Raptor has the ability to crouch walk, which is literally what it sounds like: he can walk around low to the ground. While it doesn't sound very important, it actually is because Raptor can pressure opponents with low attacks and dodge many attacks.
Jon Talbain/ Gallon- Jon Talbain, Gallon in Japan, is a werewolf from Great Britain who tries to desperately to control the beast with inside him. Now, I know what your thinking, you've heard it all before. Except, Talbain tries to control the beast inside him... by studying martial arts. That's right, he's a KUNG FU WEREWOLF. Again, a KUNG FU WEREWOLF. While awesome as that is, it shouldn't be too surprising if your familiar with martial art mythos. Many real world martial arts mythical origins stem from fighting mythical beast, monsters, and demons. Also, many of those martial arts have about not just conquering mythical demons but the demons in oneself. Talbain is a manifestation of both of those ideals. Talbain's play style is just like Felicia's in that its a rush down. One of Talbain's siganture moves is a dive attack, Beast Rush, similar to Street Fighter II's Claw's (Vega in US, Barlog in Japan) diving attacks.
Victor- Victor, short for Victor von Gerdenheim, is the Frankenstein archetype of Darkstalkers. Created by the doctor of the same name, strives to be the strongest in the world as for his doctor's wishes after he dies shortly after creating Victor. Victor is the grappler of the game and functions similar to Street Fighter grappler Zangeif. He share's similar moves such as lariat spins (Gyro Crush) and a projectile eating movie similar to Gief's green glove attack (Giga Hammer). He also has a healthy amount of electric like attacks, featuring a super move reminiscent of Blanka's electric attacks.
Anakaris- Anakaris is a mummy from Egypt and bit of an odd character to play as and against. Made a prince of a long forgotten Egyptian empire at 12, he ruled over his land until his death at age 27. Resurrected as a mummy, he seeks to reclaim his kingdom. As character, Anakaris is a bit slow but amazing reach on his normals. Think of Anakaris like Dhalsim from Street Fighter. His dash allows him to float in the air for a brief period. On top of that he has a command grab that can reach opponents from the other side of the screen. However, the most note worthy thing his arsenal is his air projectile attack, royal judgment. Being hit by this turns the player into something that can not attack Anakaris for a few seconds. Every character has something different to turn into. Its a very unique, strange attack that will be come apart of the Darkstalkers legacy especially when we get to Darkstalkers 3.
Sasquatch- Sasquatch is a....well Sasquatch from Canada. He's not the last of his kind and lives with a whole tribe of Sasquatches. In fact, the Sasquatch tribe in the Darkstalkers world is pretty advance despite their looks having their own parcel system to communicate with tribes around the globe. Sasquatch is a big, heavy brawler character with his dash allowing him to hop and giving him some mix up options. On top of that, Sasquatch has the ability to fire an ice projectile to stun opponents.
Bishamon- Bishamon is a cursed samurai from Japan. Wearing an cursed, posed armor that demands blood to survive on, Bishamon hunts for Darkstalkers and losing himself to the blood lustful desires of the armor. Bishamon is sort of similar to Guile in the sense that he has good zoning potential. He has a slash attack that can reach pretty far and send his katana out to reach and bring in opponents. He also has a pair ghost that work as his projectiles that he can send out and “posses” people to stun them. Bishamon also should be noted that he is one of the few characters in Darkstalkers that can slice opponents in half. This effect is only achieved if its the end of a round. If not the characters with come back to together in a comical fashion.
Rikuo/Aulbath- Rikuo, Aulbath in Japan, is a mer-creature who seems to be inspired by film the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Last of his kind he searches for more of his people possibly somewhere out in the world. Rikuo has some great normal attacks to cause some serious damage up close. He also has two unique projectiles that help him do that. Sonic wave helps stun opponents while poison breath stun and damages opponents for additional attacks.
Besides just the 10 playable characters, Darkstalkers also featured two non-playable opponents who serve as bosses. They are only available after you beat 9 opponents in arcade mode (there are no mirror matches in Darkstalkers).
Huitzil, Phobos in Japan, is a robot created to eradicate all life on Earth. Part of a large group of robots, they originally did, or at least they did 65 million years ago when they killed off the dinosaurs. After doing that they went to into suspended animation in what would become Mexico. They would eventually be awakened by Mayans and used with their culture until that part ancient Mayan culture disappeared (Note: Mayans are not extinct and many Mayans are a very large part of Mexico today). The strange thing about Huitzil's design is that despite being a credited to Mexico, the robot body design is reminiscent of dogu figures designs from an early historical period in Japan. Also, despite being accredited with the Mayan culture, Huitzli's name is actually based on Aztec folklore, while his Japanese name comes from a moon of Mars and Greek Mythology. Reawakened by their creator, Huitzil fight the player before reaching the final boss. Huitzil fights similar to Sentinel from X-men Children of The Atom but also is a zoning character. He has many projectile attacks, including a really annoying freezing laser beam. What's worse is that he can fire that beam from a crouching position and directly overhead making coming close him a pain.
After beating Huitzil, you finally face off against the final boss of Darkstalkers, Pyron. An alien being comprised of fire-ly energy from the planet Hellstorm, Pyron is a powerful force not be reckoned with. Pyron created the Huitzil to prepare the planet to be consumed by him over 65 million years ago. However, he didn't for some reason but has reawakened again. Pyron is a nasty character to fight against hosting a robust suite of moves to annoy you with: tele-ports, fireballs, air fire balls that produce columns of fire to make it impossible to get around, a command grab, and a Psycho Crusher-like move that will put some serious pressure on you (not mention take a fair amount of chip damage off)
After you defeat Pyron, you are treated to your characters ending. While most are predicable the outcome is, the two worth noting are once again Demitri's and Morrigan's. In Demitri's ending, he is victorious over Pyron showing his strengths of his new found power. In Morrigan's ending, she returns home after defeating Pyron by siphoning out his energy. Why are these two seemingly un-importat endings worth noting? You'll have to wait till tomorrow when we discuss Darkstalkers' “sequel” Nightwarriors.