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April 24, 2005

Review: Darkstalkers Chronicle (PSP) - Animated grief...

Darkstalkers has a very intricate pedigree of fighting game brethren. The Darkstalkers series has reached North America once or twice, but the majority of the games have remained in homeland Japan, due to the fact that games like Street Fighter and X-Men have ecclipsed it with their flashy 2 jillion hit combos, and mainstream appeal. Darkstalkers has (and probably always will be) the underdog in the world of 2-D fighters. The previous games have all had some cult following, but the games have just never lived up to the expectations of Street Fighter vets and 2-D fighter extremists. Moves are far more difficult to pull off, and thus performing the flashy finishing moves required too much thought. The games never caught on for good reason, they were just plain mediochre.

The PSP version, Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower, is no different. The style of Darkstalkers is all around unique. Nothing rehashed or reused from other Capcom 2-D fighting games, and the method of gameplay is slightly different. Darkstalkers Chronicle, is a hodge podge of previous Darkstalker games, ranging from Darkstalkers 1 through 3, and allows you to chose their move sets and special abilities according to each game. The abilities don't really vary that much, other than in the special finishing moves you can perform. The moves themselves aren't exactly easy to pull off, and more of a nuisance than anything. Simple low, medium and high punches and kicks are fair game in any fighting game, and it doesn't get much deeper then that. Though Darkstalkers' appeal is more in it's characters than anything. While there is no spoken dialogue to match any sort of cut-scene, small clips of each character can be unlocked, and a healthy dose of concept art is waiting to be discovered. While all small pittence when described in words, they make the characters infinitely more enjoyable. It's strange to see such a heavy attachment to characters, but they're so unique, and animate so fluidly, it's almost as if you're constantly craving another injection of your favourite anime drug.

The modes of play really aren't that intriguing. The WiFi multiplayer mode is great, but should have been accompanied by an online infrastructure mode, since the game is already barely worth the ticket price as is, for being such a barebones game. Standard Arcade mode where you chop your way through the thicket of opponent after opponent is present, and shouldn't come as a suprise to anyone. The meat of the game comes in the form of the Chaos Tower mode. Where you chose 3 individual characters, and battle your way up the tower, fighting enemy after enemy, each getting progessively harder as you ascend it's levels. Completing certain tasks in a match like defeating an enemy with a counter attack, or a certain kind of special attack, will let you climb to a higher level after that match. Completing it in bland and boring fasion, allows for passage of one more level, whereas fulfilling the task requirement can boost you up 4 or 5 levels in one go.

While I'd like to go on about the audio quality and smooth control scheme, I cannot. Neither are any good. The music is rough and filled with background static, and is often times reminiscent of MIDI type files with their mundane monotone scales and simplistic (lame) style. While varied, you'll want to play with the volume down low in order to avoid brain shattering ear aches. The voice work ends up being what it should be: just there. There is nothing special about it, as anything important worth hearing is either "Kyaaa!", "Hiii---YA!" or "Blarrrgh!". Something to note, that all the characters retain their Japanese voice actors, and often go through entire sentences of Nihon-go jargon before moving on to the fight. While wholesome and original, I'd like to know what exactly they're saying, as I proceed to wipe the floor with my opponents cartoony blood and/or ichor. It just makes the game feel rushed and sloppy.

Not helping matters either, the controls manage to bollocks the whole deal. While the D-pad is functional, performing moves with the analog stick would have been much smoother. Performing the half and quarter turn directional movements that are associated with special attacks (a la Street Fighter) are often difficult or even painful to pull off. A simple flick of the analog nub would have been many times more efficient and useful to execute these commands. This makes combat clunky, and often times choppy with sudden jolts of movement. It also doesn't bode well for the special attacks which require many of these types of directional inputs. All in all, the battle is stomachable, but barely.

When all is said and done, and you're fed up with Darkstalkers (at least for one session of play), you'll find yourself drawn back to it again and again. It's the kind of game you can play on and off, and really requires no thought to play. I wouldn't suggest playing for any longer than an hour at a time (tops), though I don't think most will make it that far in the first place. Darkstalkers is enjoyable, but marginally. It oozes with mediochrity, and sometimes just falls flat on it's face. It's a decent attempt at the 2-D fighting genre (which most will agree is almost cast from the same mold as handheld gaming). Darkstalkers just can't seem to keep up with itself. Being known for fast and furious combat on the Playstation and in the arcade, the combat is slowed to a turtle's pace with the absence of the analog stick. Colour me conflicted, but Darkstalkers is a love or hate experience, that is almost always either unusually addicting, or disgustingly awful. It squats firmly on the fence between good and bad.




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