Does this game seem familiar? If so, that's probably because Darkstalker was released on the Dreamcast, five years ago. Now, the game has been re-hashed and ported to the PSP, with a few additions. And with fighters on the PSP still a rare old breed, fans who seriously want a scrap may have no choice but to pick this title up alongside their new handheld.
The most notable new addition is the all-new 'Tower' mode. Ostensibly, this is the main drawcard of the game, and works similarly to a tournament, with players working their way up a ladder (featuring an unlimited amount of characters) by battling opponents, all whilst using only three fighters along the way. After each fight, characters heal a small amount after each battle. As the player progresses through the game, it will often throw handicaps in the direction of the player, such as taking away the punch and/or kick options. It's in this mode that players can unlock bonuses, such as character art, and it's an addictive, time-consuming part of the game.
For those after a bit more of a quick fix, the game features an Arcade option with three different fighters. In total there's eighteen fighters and seven battles per game. The first mode (which is just called Darkstalkers) is like a traditional fighting game, with the winner being the first player to win two matches. The game features a bar that can be filled up to unleash a more powerful attack, and Darkstalkers will allow the player to fill up the bar once. The second mode is called Nightwarriors, and this is essentially the same mode, except more than one bar can be filled. The third mode is called Darkstalkers 3, which is a system where the player will not regain all their health after a battle.
The Mode Selection screen is deceptive, because originally players will think they have a plethora of game modes to choose from, but in reality it's all one mode that has been altered a little each time. There's also a Training mode in the game, and whilst most people are always unlikely to go to the Training mode in games, it's highly advisable for this game.
The wide range of fighters is what really makes this game something different. All of the characters are widely likable, and draw heavily from pop culture, with players able to choose from characters such as werewolfs and vampires.
Gameplay-wise, we didn't have any issues with the game except the controls. With most PSP games we've played, we've had to make some adjustment due to the controls, and Darkstalkers is no different. Rather than try and master the large combos that are possible in Darkstalkers, players may just mash the PSP buttons and hope a move materialises. Regrettably, more often than not, it will.
The gameplay is fairly addictive though, and it's easy to get involved in this game. Darkstalkers really isn't a game that is easy to pick up and play, and requires a little bit of fighting game skill to get fully immersed. The loading also doesn't help, and at the 'Game Over' screen it can take far too long for the game to restart. And when facing dire humiliation, there's nothing worse than staring at a loading screen (and we're unfortunately talking from experience).
Whilst only being a 2D fighter, the visuals in the game are surprisingly good. There has been a lot of scepticism regarding whether the PSP can pull off truly great 2D graphics, and after playing this game we can assure PSP fans that they have nothing to worry about. The visuals are clean, crisp and well-drawn, and due to the less demanding nature of 2D visuals, there's no slowdown to report.
The sound in the game is nearly exactly the same as the Dreamcast version, and that's a hell of an achievement. The music never borders on tedious, and can become almost captivating; on numerous occasions, we found ourselves humming along to the music, and the PSP is more than capable of outputting the music really well.
The game itself won't last as long as we hoped it would. Yes, there's wireless multiplayer and yes, it's a nice addition to the game, but without this, this game would only really be worth a rental. In wireless multiplayer, it's possible to go across the room and still maintain a fairly sturdy link, and some of the battles in multiplayer are pleasingly intense between players of similar skill. This game will only support multiplayer if both players own a copy of the game though, so it could be an expensive investment.
Overall, Darkstalkers is the best the fighting genre has to offer PSP owners right now, and if you are a fighting game fan, then the lack of competition means this game is the one to pick up. Anyone who is a previous fan of the Darkstalkers series, or possibly even Street Fighter (as the game strongly resembles Street Fighter). As for the rest of you, perhaps waiting would be the best idea.