Celebrating the Monster Mash Melee That is Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors
When it comes to fighting games these days, Capcom tends to put all of their chips behind either their running juggernaut through the decades, Street Fighter, or massive crossovers, such as Marvel vs. Capcom. However, there was a time back when the arcade business was still booming that Capcom was pumping out original fighting games on a regular basis in attempts to capture the fire of Street Fighter II in every form possible. One of these would become one of their most novel ideas. What if all the classic horror movie monsters of yesteryear nostalgia fought each other in Street Fighter fashion. More than just a gimmick, this became one of Capcom’s most famous Street Fighter spinoffs. This month, we celebrate the original arcade release of the Darkstalkers franchise.
Known as the Vampire franchise in Japan, Darkstalkers was almost a game featuring the real, licensed characters of Universal Monsters. Capcom wanted to make a new fighting game based on the Street Fighter II engine and the concept of using iconic Frankenstein monsters, vampires, and wolf men made popular by the likes of classic actors such as Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr. as the characters was attractive. Unfortunately, the licensing could not be obtained from Universal Studios for use of the original characters. Refusing to quit on the concept, the developers then set to work on creating original characters based on the ideas of classic movie monsters.
Indeed, many of the characters in Darkstalkers are over-the-top counterparts of original and classic Hollywood movie monsters, with just a few creative additions like the cursed samurai Bishamon and the rock n’ roll zombie Lord Raptor. The werewolf character’s name, Jon Talbain, is even a direct reference to the 1941 film, The Wolf Man, in which the main character, Larry Talbot, goes to Wales to reconcile with his father, Sir John Talbot. Similar references include Victor von Gerdenheim, obviously based on Victor von Frankenstein and bearing resemblance to Frankenstein’s monster.
References aside, Darkstalkers gave players more than just nods to classic cinema. The characters were beautifully varied and colorful and each brought their own enjoyable style to the fighter formula. Each character had their unique attacks and specials, as well as a super meter that would allow characters to unleash either a super move or powered-up EX versions of their regular moves. This also one of the first of Capcom games that would use the gauge system, closely following Super Street Fighter II Turbo and most certainly offering a more refined version of the system that would inform many of Capcom’s games later on, even up to Street Fighter V’s EX moves.
Darkstalkers hasn’t seen much action outside of character cameos in other Capcom games as of late, but it stands as one of the better franchises to have come out of Capcom’s enormous landscape of arcade IPs during the 1990s. Its characters, particularly Demitri Maximoff and Morrigan Aensland, have become iconic regulars in video games even well beyond fighting games. Darkstalkers was an interesting place for Capcom to continue to experiment with their fighting formula, but it stands out for being far more than just a gimmick to keep the quarters flowing. It is easily one of Capcom’s best regular solo fighting franchises.