What would make for a successful port of Darkstalkers?

I’ve been a fan of the Darkstalkers series ever since I stumbled across a random arcade cabinet with Vampire Savior (aka Darkstalkers 3) as a kid in a hotel one holiday break. I was really young at the time, to the point where all of the sexual innuendo went completely over my head. Heck, I legitimately could not tell what gender certain characters were. Even so, the artstyle, character designs, atmosphere, and creativity just left an insane impression on me. To this day, while I’m far from good at any 2D fighters (including Darkstalkers), the series still holds a special place in my heart. I spent many a bus ride to and from school happily playing Chaos Tower on my PSP, trying to unlock all of the endings, while also attempting to track down the OVA and eventually watch it.

So when I learned that Darkstalkers Resurrection was going to be released while I was away at college (and I would be therefore unable to buy it immediately), I wanted nothing more than to do everything in my power to help it succeed. I tried telling people in general about the series, showed the trailers to various friends who I thought might be interested, eventually bought myself a copy on my Xbox 360 during the first break I was home after its release, etc. So when I learned that, despite being a digital bestseller, it was written off as a commercial failure without any evidence provided (namely how many copies Capcom expected to sell and how many ACTUALLY sold), I was furious. In the time since, I’ve come to realize something: EVERY port of Darkstalkers has had something that prevented it from being a truly good re-release. While some of them are elements I had to do extensive research on (for example, the gameplay of various characters seems to suffer in the ports of Darkstalkers 3 that have all 18 main characters available and not just 15), others are aspects even I can confirm despite my lack of skill in the genre.

So as much as I would love nothing more than to see this amazing trailer come to actual fruition:

NYCC 2012: Darkstalkers Are Not Dead

I honestly would NOT be surprised if the next time Capcom tries to give us a Darkstalkers game, it’s yet another port rather than an actual new game in the series, BUT…if that is how it’s going to be, Capcom needs to learn from past mistakes so that the series really gets to shine. As for what they can do to make it so…well, I have several suggestions. While I’ll be using Resurrection as my main frame of reference, I will also be including concepts utilized in Chaos Tower as well as other Darkstalkers ports and even other Capcom Collections.

Strong Gameplay vs. All Main Characters needs to stop

When it comes to the roster size in Darkstalkers 3 and its various ports, there ALWAYS seems to one of two problems. Either not all 18 of the main characters are available, or all 18 are playable in a single game but the gameplay itself suffers in some way or another, be it framerate, inaccurate hitboxes, etc. One could argue that back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the amount of memory was the reason for this. But this should not have been an issue in 2013, nor should it be an issue going forward with future ports. Have the game playtested by people who know the ins and outs of the various characters to make sure the fighters play the way they are supposed to, but in the end, fans should no longer have to choose between gameplay and roster size when said roster at ABSOLUTE MAX is under 25 playable characters, including secret characters.

No more Japanese and/or console exclusives

Several ports in the series never officially left the shores of Japan, including one that features a secret character that has never been included in a port of the series before or since. Even among the ports that were released in the West, said games were often exclusive to one or possibly two consoles, severely limiting the potential reach. Should there be another collection of Darkstalkers games released, unlike the last installment of Resurrection, said game should be released on more than just the online stores of the current Xbox and Playstation consoles. They should also be available on platforms such as Steam or even Nintendo (admittedly, were it not for games such as Bayonetta 2 on the Wii U, even I wouldn’t have been sure that putting a game like Darkstalkers on the Nintendo Switch could be lucrative). This would help expand the potential market of fans looking to return to or even discover the series and support it in a reasonable manner.

All secret characters and their methods of unlocking/selecting available ingame

Within the series, there are five secret characters, all of whom have appeared in some version of Darkstalkers 3. They are Marionette, Shadow, Dee, Oboro Bishamon, and Dark Talbain. However, Dee has only ever appeared in one game exclusive to Japan, Dark Talbain is unplayable in Chaos Tower, and while Marionette and Shadow are primarily gameplay options for Arcade mode, Marionette is absent in Resurrection, and the methods for selecting any of these secret characters are not stated within the game itself. If another port for the series is to be made, not only should all of these characters return, there should be an option in the gallery of using in-game points unlocked through the awards system (more on that later) to discover what inputs are needed to select each of these secret fighters and which modes they are available in. Note that while this does imply that Dee is available for play in a brand new port released outside Japan, and that he as well as Oboro Bishamon and Dark Talbain are available for play both in and out of Arcade Mode, this does NOT mean I want a port to be the debut of Marionette and Shadow as actual fighters rather than their usual function of altering the gameplay of Arcade Mode. Even I can acknowledge that is something better saved for a brand new game rather than a port.of already made games.

Previous features need to return

There are various features that are available in one port or another, but not all of them. In addition to the natural inclusion of the classic Arcade Mode and Local Match for both Night Warriors and Darkstalkers 3, a future installment should include all of the online features available in Resurrection. These include but are by no means limited to Ranked Match, Tournament, Replays, and a direct upload to YouTube function but one that ACTUALLY works. That last one is due to the game freezing whenever I attempted to perform said feature on the Xbox 360, but when I tried reaching out to both Capcom and Microsoft, each company just told me to ask the other. In addition, there are various options for single players and additional content that are available in earlier ports. These include the Original Character feature in the PS1 port of Darkstalkers 3, the Chaos Tower found in the game by the same name, an options menu for changing various settings (such as Arcade difficulty or controls), the Gallery, and the Tutorials/Challenges as well as the Awards system and Achievements/Trophies in Resurrection. Admittedly, given how some of these features work in each of the ports they came from, just throwing them all into one game would not work. As a result, I have thought of a way of blending some of these features in a way that should make sense and hopefully work.

With Darkstalkers 3 on the PlayStation, the Original Character options enable players to customize and level up a character of their choosing, where reaching certain levels unlocked different parts of the Collection, The Chaos Tower allows players to create a team of three Darkstalkers and fight their way up a tower, with the health of each fighter not being used healing between matches and where meeting certain criteria would grant them an opportunity to face specific fights and therefore unlock unique illustrations in the Chronicles Mode. In Resurrection, the Awards system rewards points for performing specific actions and with these points, players can purchase bonus content such as art and arcade endings in the Vault. This begs the question: how would I go about feasibly integrating all of these features into a single game?

First of all, in a future port of Darkstalkers, there would naturally be the gallery mode (effectively the Collection/Chronicles/Vault from the earlier ports), but there should also be a Shop Menu, with the points used for said shop being earned through the Awards system implemented in Resurrection. The shop itself would have a fair number of songs and voice clips as well as concept and cabinet art available from the start, but some content such as game openings (like those for the original Arcade games and their various ports), character endings, high scores, specific illustrations, and the methods for selecting secret characters would only be added after beating either Night Warriors or Darkstalkers 3 with specific fighters or by progressing through Chaos Tower. As for Chaos Tower, in addition to selecting a team of three characters to play as, it will now include the leveling system found with the Original Character feature. Everything bought within the shop would be viewable in the gallery. As a little bonus, taking a cue from the Mega Man Anniversary Collection, it would be a neat treat if the players could potentially unlock the first episode of either the Darkstalkers cartoon or the OVA, if not both.

This point I will admit could be one of the trickiest to implement. Yet even acknowledging how much easier and even more cost effective it is to just simply port a game raises many questions about the lack of a Darkstalkers game on Steam and other modern platforms, especially Resurrection. Not only are most of the features I’ve listed in this point concepts that have already been included in previous Darkstalkers games in some form or another, but they’ve all been done in previous Capcom titles. Therefore, it stands to reason that the framework is already there.

Be honest and upfront about sales, both expected and realized

As mentioned previously, Darkstalkers Resurrection, despite only being available on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live, was a digital bestseller. However, Capcom officially deemed it a commercial failure, yet did not state how many copies needed to be sold in order for the game to be deemed a success, nor how many copies actually sold. In addition, no record of EITHER can be found anywhere online, even on their official website. While I acknowledge that Capcom is under no obligation to share this information, especially in so public a manner, they have shown themselves more than able to do just that with games that both heavily underperformed and were poorly received such as DmC: Devil May Cry and Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. Whether it was out of fear of being seen as unreasonable or just simple negligence, this cannot be repeated if a port of the series is to be used yet again as a means of testing the waters for interest in the series’ future. Public relations is especially important in this day and age, and many fans including myself still remember all too well some of Capcom’s bigger PR fiascos from this past decade alone.

Above all, the game needs to have heart and soul

When a game, be it a port or something brand new, is made solely with the intention of money, it shows. Whether it’s trying to be rushed by a specific date, or simply cash in on a pre-existing franchise’s reputation, the fans are going to be able to tell, and the game’s sales and reception will suffer as a result. From the presentation and execution of the game as a whole to clear signs of there being attention to little details, it becomes blatantly clear when and how much the people working on a game care about it. For a frame of reference, let’s take a look at Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. I recently borrowed a copy of that game from a local library for two weeks (technically one week with only one renewal), and while I quickly developed MANY issues with that game, Jedah Dohma was never one of them. The Dark Messiah is an absolute delight throughout the story mode, his gameplay is tons of fun, the translation of several of his moves into 3D (despite being toned down due to the graphic nature of them in the source material) was incredible, and the voice actor that was selected to play him was also the same person who voiced Pyron, another Darkstalkers character and the first main villain of the series, in the OVA series from the late 1990s. With all of these factors taken into consideration, it paints a picture of someone, if not multiple people, who worked on the game genuinely caring about the Darkstalkers series. That same love and attention NEEDS to be demonstrated in any future Darkstalkers games, be they ports or brand new installments. Anything less will just damage the game, hurting not only its potential sales numbers, but its reception in the eyes of critics and fans alike.

In the end, these are my thoughts on what needs to go into any future ports of old games in the Darkstalkers series. While I would much rather see a brand new game in the series first and foremost (any ideas for which I will save for a future post), if we are to see another port of older games first, this is how I feel such a game can truly shine and succeed. If anyone has other thoughts on what other elements should go into a future port (within reason) that will help give this series the justice it so rightly deserves, please feel free to share them and I may very well try to implement them into my points above.