Product Type: Capcom PSP games
Newest Review: ... a couple of notable new features. Firstly, WiFi brings the series' portable debut to life as no Capcom beat 'em up is ever complete with... more
Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower (PSP)
Member Name: tom1clare
Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower (PSP)
Date: 09/12/11, updated on 10/12/11 (45 review reads)
Advantages: Original and imaginative roster; polished gameplay; simple though attractive graphics; soundtrack
Disadvantages: Endings are low-fi; presentation is dated around the edges; a couple of awkward to control fighters
The PSP's 2005 launch saw a remarkably unlikely return to centre stage for a series that had been largely dormant for six years. DarkStalkers Chronicle is moulded as an anthology of sorts, but unlike Capcom's slightly unconvincing (and highly frequent) revamps of Streetfighter II, this feels very complete. It pools together the content of all three instalments of the Saturn/PSOne 2D beat 'em ups and more besides, as well as all the intricacies that the connoisseurs love to pick through.
What's easy to forget in the time that's passed is, even with its retro leanings, The Chaos Tower was almost certainly the best portable beat 'em up ever released at the time. This was of course as much down to the sizable technological leap afforded it by the then cutting-edge PSP, but as easy as it was to be wowed by a handheld fighter with pin-sharp visual clarity and no watering-down of the control scheme, the game also has an impressive degree of staying power. For those unfamiliar with DarkStalkers' homage to gothic anime and all things odd, there's the opportunity to sample an ageing though superbly crafted brawler, complete with one of the most eclectic character line-ups you could ever wish to see.
It's not just the newcomers who'll find stuff to like here though; long-term fans will appreciate a couple of notable new features. Firstly, WiFi brings the series' portable debut to life as no Capcom beat 'em up is ever complete without multiplayer, and playing against a friend predictably doesn't disappoint. Just as significant is the all-new Chaos Tower mode. An early foray into the tower-climbing quest trope, it sees the player assembling a team of three fighters and aiming to win bouts in order to move up "floors" with a view to facing tougher opponents and attaining artwork stills as a mini-incentive along the way. Getting knocked out eliminates a player permanently, leading to some tricky moments as you'll periodically face powerful mid-bosses, thus it's important to rotate and protect fighters low on health. You'll spend longer on the Arcade mode, but it's a nice addition.
And of course, it plays very well in a familiar kind of way. Strictly speaking, it doesn't do anything the Street Fighter Alpha games don't, but whilst D-Pad control is so often a hindrance to such titles, here it's actually very sprightly, and with a characteristically generous selection of difficulty settings and playing styles, it is in the classic Capcom style, a game with as much depth as you could ask for. Learning to block and time simple attacks proves as rewarding as executing the flashier special moves, and the computer opponents (even the last boss, Jedah) rarely use cheap tactics.
Of course, you can't weigh up a fighting game's credentials without looking at its cast, and on show here is an array of characters so strange that it's difficult to know quite where to begin. Morrigan is certainly the most recognisable figure; all boobs, wings and green hair, she's a fan favourite and an ideal starting point for newcomers as her mix of agility, projectile attacks and uppercuts will seem pretty accessible. What's ultra-impressive is the almost-complete absence of palette swapping as a means of expanding the quota of playable characters; Morrigan and Lilith do share similar features, but employ very different combat techniques. The other twenty or so protagonists are unique however, and whilst they aren't as iconic as those the other big franchises have mustered, there are some fantastically creative figures to play as.
The most distinctive include Pyron; literally a fireball in the shape of a human, Felicia; the blue-haired cat-woman and Sasquatch who, as the name suggests, is a Big Foot. The most memorable among this motley bunch however is Baby Bonnie Hood. Mimicking the look of Little Red Riding Hood, she's a wickedly humorous, dark skit on the fabled children's character, designed to highlight evil as a universally human trait that isn't dependent on a specific type of appearance. Beneath her cute veneer is a psychotic murderer whose ending sequence, which sees a family of wolves huddled around a TV worriedly learning of her exploits as she lurks in the woods, is absolute genius.
It would in retrospect have been nice to have had a moves list accessible from the pause menu, as gamers with little or no exposure to the genre are likely going to struggle to begin with. This is further compounded by the odd bulkier character using the old charge move sets (holding a direction before quickly pressing the opposite and an attack button) and these are really tough to make effective without guidance - the Frankenstein-esque Victor thus plays like lumbering wrestler Zangief from Streetfighter II, and is horribly unsuited to non-joystick control. Still, whilst this may be attributed to one of the less desirable aspects of nineties gaming, one aspect that doesn't disappoint is the hugely comprehensive and very listenable soundtrack that, unsurprisingly, has a boppy, nineties arcade exuberance to it at times.
Presentation-wise the game was perfect for showing off its hardware. The imaginative characters are a far cry from the pixelated hand-me-downs that beleaguered handheld fans had for so long had to put up with, but it's the acid-trip backdrops that really make things fizz, and while many would go on to surpass The Chaos Tower's relatively simplistic PSOne-era animations and unrefined menus, few can match the vivacity of what is an absolute festival of colour and activity. One area where it lets itself down though is in the visual quality of the ending videos; rather than being remastered properly, they are downsized to look miniature on the screen and look pixelated and unclear, looking like they've been lifted second-hand from a VHS recording.
In the end it's nice that DarkStalkers got to have its moment in the sunshine, as in retrospect, the gaming world would be less well off without its quirky, original cast and old-fashioned but watertight gameplay. As a collection, it doesn't lack for content and the retention of all aspects that made the games great in their heyday is first class, and with the new Chaos Tower mode and WiFi multiplayer, fans are unlikely to be put out. It may be starting to look its age, but should the series remain eternally overlooked, its finely-tuned controls and well-balanced gameplay remain evergreen.
Summary: The love-child of Streetfighter II and The Adams Family
- Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (PSP)
- Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (PSP)
- Persona 2: Innocent Sin (PSP)
- The Fast & The Furious Tokyo Drift (PSP)
- Tom Clancy's: Ghost Recon - Predator (PSP)
- The Cube (PSP)
- Valkyria Chronicles 2 Essentials(PSP) (PSP)
- Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection (PSP)
- Corpse Party (PSP)
- Obscure: The Aftermath (PSP)