Between Street Fighter and Mega Man, it's clear that Capcom really knows how to run with an idea...and often, they'll run that idea all the way into the ground. That's not always a bad thing, though, since the ground is where zombies come from, and we love zombies.
We also dig monsters in general, especially when we can make them fight. Luckily, Capcom knows a thing or two about that, and in the wake of Street Fighter II, the company delivered a decisive change of pace when they introduced the Darkstalkers series. Instead of sensitive martial artists, Darkstalkers featured ghouls, ghosts, vampires and other delightful denizens of the underworld duking it out for no good reason whatsoever. We were pleased, except the series really never went anywhere.
But via the PSP and Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower, you can now have a monster in your pocket. I don't know why Capcom decided to bring Darkstalkers to the PSP before their flagship Street Fighter, but hey, it's about time the underappreciated series got some props.
While Darkstalkers never enjoyed the same following as Street Fighter, the series does possess a unique charm. Every character is chock full o' personality, from the half-naked succubus to the goofy sasquatch. The quirkiness survives intact on the comparatively small screen of the PSP, offering a faithful fighting port.
One word of warning, though: The PSP control pad isn't ideal for some of the moves. Diagonals take some getting used to due to the design of the hardware. Remember how you first felt trying to play with the separated buttons of the original Playstation's D-pad? The PSP's D-pad is flatter and flush against the console, making it a bit hard to get used to when trying to pull off quarter-circle fireballs.
But after you've gotten over the pad, getting into the game is easy. Darkstalkers uses the same 2D fighting system as the one from Street Fighter, coupled with some more over-the-top moves and combos. It's solid, intuitive and will make perfect sense to 2D fighting fans.
Darkstalkers Chronicle includes various different character control schemes. For example, you can play as Lord Raptor, the British zombie rocker, circa original Darkstalkers or play as the readjusted Raptor from Darkstalkers 3. There are also Turbo and Auto options for all the characters, letting you customize the feel a bit.
However, The Chaos Tower doesn't serve up full emulated ports of each separate Darkstalkers game. No matter what mode you play and what character settings you choose, the Arcade gauntlet will be the same. It's taken right out of Darkstalkers 3, featuring six matches that end with a battle against Jedah in the Cradle of Life. Most gamers probably haven't spent enough time with Darkstalkers 3 to notice the similarity, though.
Thankfully, the PSP includes a remixed single-player mode called The Chaos Tower. Here you select three characters and are tasked to make your way to the top of the tower. Each floor has varied match challenges and limitations, perhaps requiring you to win with a special move or fight without throwing any punches. Your characters do not replenish health, giving it something of a Survival mode flair. Succeed and you'll unlock extras like fancy artwork; fail and you'll just have to do it again. It offers a nice change of pace from the normal Arcade matches, but The Chaos Tower mode isn't very new in its concepts.
It is pretty new in its ability to be played wirelessly, however. Darkstalkers is a fine game for wireless multiplayer and works well. Purportedly it supports both Ad Hoc and Infrastructure modes (at least according to the game box), but in truth you can only play against other PSP owners in your immediate area. Don't expect to connect to a wireless router and play online. Bummer.
Even though the framerate is a touch behind the arcade original, the graphics are actually quite smooth considering this is on a portable system. The animations are slick and fluid despite the dated 2D design. Couple that with the imaginative character designs and insane moves and you wind up with a capable, pretty fighter.
The audio is equally accurate, with cool little techno and horror tunes that help bring out the kitsch. Even from the PSP's little speakers, the stereo effects are crisp.
Sadly, the game loses its technical edge in its long loading times. It's rough waiting for matches to load, especially when the payoff is a graphically straightforward 2D fighting game. It gets off the hook a little since it's a launch title, but it's still a noticeable flaw.
While Darkstalkers Chronicle might be a fairly dated 2D fighting game, it is given new life by way of the PSP's power and portability. Good, classic gameplay makes up for what it lacks in originality and its few flaws are relatively minor, resulting in one of Capcom's better ideas.