You can count the fighting games I’ve played seriously since IK+ on Atari ST on one hand… Best of the Best on Game Boy. Mortal Kombat on my brother’s Sega Mega Drive. Then there was Tekken 2 on the original PlayStation, and a bit later Tekken Advance on GBA, and some Soul Calibur Broken Destiny on PSP. And, much more recently, the Arcade Archives release of Yie Ar Kung-Fu as well as ACA NEOGEO King of the Monsters on Nintendo Switch. Okay, you’d need seven fingers on that one hand, which actually isn’t unheard of where I am in the wilds of North Bedfordshire, but you get the point!

I do also want to give a shoutout to Fighting Spirit on Amiga CD32, which I recently discovered as I write thanks to the A500 Mini, and also Saturday Night Slam Masters on the two-day old (also as I write, but also some time before you read this) Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium on Switch too, both of which will undoubtedly be added to that list shortly. Keep meaning to spend a bit more time with Virtua Fighter on the Sega Astro City Mini too – we’ll be needing two hands soon… All the same, based on this you might well be wondering why I was quite as excited as I was when the Capcom Fighting Collection for Switch (and everywhere else but that’s where I wanted it) was announced and then finally released in June of 2022. And it wasn’t just to own another version of Street Fighter II, which I already owned on more systems than any other game ever but had still never even loaded up on any of them! No, it was all about the Darkstalkers games on there, making up no less than half of the ten game collection!

As I’m never likely to cover it in more detail anywhere else, let’s have a really quick look at what else is on this thing… For Darkstalkers, we’ve got Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors, Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge, Vampire Savior: The Lord of Vampire, Vampire Hunter 2: Darkstalkers’ Revenge and Vampire Savior 2: The Lord of Vampire. We’ll come back to most of those in a bit, but apart from Darkstalkers, we’ve also got a couple of Pocket Fighter games in Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo and Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix, plus Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition, Cyberbots: Full Metal Madness and Red Earth, which I think is the first time that’s ever been officially released anywhere outside of the arcades. It’s a really well presented compilation, with both Japanese and English versions (where available) immediately accessible from a clean carousel menu, single player and excellent online modes, copious display settings, modern conveniences like quick saves, training modes and a museum with a ton of concept and development artwork, plus all the music. I won’t spend too much time on all of the games here as I’ve not really spent too much time playing all of them so far, but apart from the Darkstalkers titles, I have had a great time exploring the high fantasy combat of Red Earth, and especially the only non-fighter here, Puyo-style puzzler of sorts Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. No hurry to get to grips with the rest though – it’s a fantastic compilation that’s going to be around these parts for a long time!

That just leaves us with Darkstalkers then, and while I’m sure there’s still some raised eyebrows about my never having played a Street Fighter revelation, you might have also noticed there was no mention of Darkstalkers either on that extended one-handed list we began with here! Let me quickly take you behind the scenes to explain… What you’re currently reading was originally intended to be about rediscovering Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge, the 1995 second game in the series, and actually the specific reason I was so excited about that Capcom Fighting Collection. While I’d never played it that seriously, from what I had there was always something magical about its refined gameplay and sumptuous gothic presentation that I’d never forget. And for a good few weeks after its most recent reemergence, I played one character in that one game non-stop, and to the exclusion of everything else on the compilation, until those dabbles with Red Earth and Puzzle Fighter, and then a curiosity about what came next in the series before I returned…

I spend way longer than is healthy thinking about my big list of favourite games, which currently numbers just under two hundred, all in order but constantly evolving, and as I write there’s also a list of seven more games I need to consider for inclusion, from oversights like Toobin’ and Wonder Boy to potential new entries like Cave’s legendary schmup Mushihimesama and Wonder Boy sequel Monster World IV from another recent compilation on Switch, the Wonder Boy Collection. And then, somewhere in-between, the most recent addition to my shortlist, Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge, but with, unusually because I’m usually way more conservative about my big list, a note to myself in brackets after it, “or should it be Vampire Savior 2: The Lord of the Vampire instead?” Given the title at the top of this page, you’ve probably already worked out the answer!

We should have a look at the series as a whole before we dive into that potential new imposter though, but speaking of Wonder Boy, I’m having similar nightmares at the thought of having to describe the evolution of this series as I suffered when we broached that particular mess here a while back! First up, when we talk about “Darkstalkers” games, in Japan we’re talking “Vampire” so Capcom’s 1994 first game in the series, Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors, is also known as Vampire: The Night Warriors. As we’ve already established, I know nothing about Street Fighter II, but the story goes that Capcom wanted to get another fighting game out of its engine. The story then gets as convoluted as the naming is probably about to get, but one way or another they also wanted a game about fighting monsters, which may have been based on Japanese and then international folklore, or may have been based on Universal Monsters, albeit without the movie studio’s blessing. The ten characters we ended up with suggest a bit of both, with werewolves and a take on Frankenstein’s Monster, sasquatch and samurai, a merman and a mummy, a cyborg zombie with a chainsaw leg and an electric guitar, then every flavour of vampire you could wish for!

Each character comes with their own environment to fight in, and whether it’s a luxurious castle interior, a lavish Egyptian tomb or a neon-drenched casino, you can bet it’s going to be full of decadent colours and teeming with its own form of life. You can apply the same kind of sentiment to both the mass of violent and environmental sound effects, and even more so to the soundtrack for each too, uniquely themed and effortlessly blending classical and electronic, rock and jazz like some kind of upbeat take on Castlevania! And all of it is just there to support that eclectic cast of fighters and the endless creativity behind both the depth of their move-sets and their movement itself, with jaw-dropping transitions and non-stop motion all over their huge and totally distinct forms. In every form they decide to take! There’s incredibly fluidity to playing it too, once a few of the more complex moves start to click, and while it might have all been lifted from Street Fighter II, it in turn adds its own flourishes with air blocks, chain combos and temporarily powered-up specials, which would then be added back to Street Fighter III, as well, of course, as the later Darkstalkers games, which we’re going to spend some time with now…

We don’t need to spend much time with the 1995 sequel though, Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge, because it’s just even more of everything I’ve just gushed about – the visuals are bolder, the sound’s been beefed up, and the animation is even more complex and, amazingly, even smoother! There’s two new characters and two of the bosses from the first game are also now playable, and this time making your way through all the other fighters solo is now vaguely fleshed out into something more like a story, with everyone getting their own ending too. Under the hood, the combat has had a revamp, with a new auto-block feature, should you want it, as well as turbo speed, but the main difference is in the specials, which you can now stack up and apply far more strategically. And your favourite characters and their move-sets from the original might be familiar, but everything together feels smoother in action too, and, solo at least, it’s a bit more accessible as a result. Absolutely stunning game, and the more you give, the more it keeps giving back.

Vampire Savior: The Lord of Vampire, or Vampire Savior: World of Darkness, or plain old Vampire Savior, or just Darkstalkers 3 even, arrived in the arcades by whatever name you know it in 1997. I’ve not mentioned any home console ports so far, but briefly the first got a PlayStation version a couple of years after the original in 1996, while the second only came to Sega Saturn, also in 1996. Things get a bit more complicated with this one though, and we also have to factor in the two remaining games that feature on our Capcom Fighting Collection, Vampire Hunter 2: Darkstalkers’ Revenge and Vampire Savior 2: The Lord of Vampire. Calling them further sequels would be a bit of a stretch though – more like Japan-only updates to the arcade machine, which actually both also released in the same year as the original, 1997. We can quickly cover both now too, with Vampire Hunter 2: Darkstalkers’ Revenge offering a modified character roster and a few tweaks to colours, music and move sets, and Vampire Savior 2: The Lord of Vampire removing three characters from Vampire Savior: The Lord of Vampires and in turn replacing them with ones that were cut from the previous game. I think! Come back, Wonder Boy, all is forgiven! Anyway, having now lost the will to live, we’ll briefly conclude here with the 1998 Saturn port getting the original Vampire Savior roster with three returning characters from the first game, and the PlayStation effectively got a compilation of Vampire Savior and the two arcade updates.

Phew! There were later variations for Dreamcast and PSP, as well as PS2, PS3 and Xbox 360 remasters and compilations, but I think we’re about up to speed with main ports, sequels and so on now, and I’ve definitely got no intention of opening the can of worms that is Darkstalkers anime and manga, TV series and comics! Instead, let’s direct what’s left of our attention to Vampire Savior: The Lord of Vampire, although saying it’s everything we’ve loved about the series so far but turned up to eleven wouldn’t be far wrong, meaning for a lot of it we can focus on differences over fundamentals. One fundamental we’ve not really covered so far is the plot though, so let’s start there. Such as it is… Earth is slowly merging with some kind of chaos realm called Makai. It’s not clear why, but it’s a great excuse for our menagerie of Darkstalkers to turn up for a scrap to decide who will rule the night! There does seem to be an alien overlord who also appears with his army of robots and conquering Earth on his mind, but that’s about as much as I can glean on the backstory up to the third game!

Fortunately there’s a bit more to go on with Vampire Savior though, so let me provide an extract from Capcom’s prerelease press material to get you fully up to speed… “In this latest gathering of fire and darkness, we find that the Dark Realm has lost its monarch and been thrown into chaos.” Possibly that alien overlord (and sometime playable character) Pyron? It continues… “Now, one lone soul by the name of Jedah has been resurrected from the bottom of oblivion, only to create a closed battle stage, known as the “Damned Dimension.” Summoning all worthy spirits, Jedah declares, “All living and dead souls shall merge with me! That is your only hope for ultimate salvation!” Now, the Darkstalkers’ battle for the night is held once again, but this time for their own survival.” Glad we cleared that up, although of all the nonsense just spouted, it’s the bit about “creating a closed battle stage” that gets me the most – such a cheap cop out!

Who cares if there’s no plot to speak of though! I’m good with just a regular fight your way through everyone else to get to your character’s only-in-Japan ending. By this point, the roster is mostly familiar from the second game, but removing the aforementioned Pyron and a couple of others, and instead adding new characters in their place. And you know what? I think it’s about time we introduced ourselves to the stars of the show! As we’ve not really gone into any of the cast so far, we’ll go alphabetically using the original Japanese-English versions of the names and just have a quick look at each… And please keep in mind I’m a fighting game amateur and this is actually the first time I’ve ever written about one, so go easy on me! Anakaris is the oversized mummy of an Egyptian pharaoh with a load of spectacular, unpredictable attacks but not much in the way of defence. Aulbath is our Amazonian merman with a mean dash and an unblockable projectile, and I reckon is my favourite character that isn’t a busty vampire! Another unblockable projectile attack with the samurai warrior Bishamon, and he’s got a bunch of other serious sword-based attacks too, but they’re all about timing and positioning so not massively beginner-friendly. This also applies to Bulleta, a deadly take on Little Red Riding Hood with some nice concealed weapons and great jump attacks with huge combo potential, but that’s all some serious practice away!

Demitri is a pretty straightforward vampire with a decent fireball attack and a decent – if not spectacular – move-set in general that rewards patient play. Apart from being a cat-woman, Felicia is similar but without the fireball and patience is optional too as it’s easy to jump between high-damage strategies. Gallon, or Jon Talbain, is the game’s resident werewolf, and is fast with a long reach but has limited defensive capabilities that mean you can do a hell of a lot of damage in one go but take it too! Jedah is, as we already learned, our big bad final boss, and while he’s not the fastest, he is stacked with a load of unblockable attacks. Lei-Lei is one of those Chinese vampire zombie lady things and features some very unpredictable movement options and massive special attacks, but minimal defence. Lilith is a succubus and my second-favourite big-boobed character, although those might explain her slightly crappy move-set and movement – insane combo possibilities though! Morrigan Aensland isn’t just my favourite big-boobed character, but my favourite series character overall – whatever the game, we don’t touch another character until we’ve smashed it with Morrigan! She’s another succubus, and despite being a bit weak, together with low starting health, she’s got a great set of, er, moves, with fireballs, blades, bullet barrages and specials out of nowhere ready for bring on some saucy winning animations and provocative cut-scenes between bouts. Which unfortunately doesn’t really make them any less pointless than the ones for less busty characters, although there’s definitely no end-game sequence more delightfully cringeworthy!

Q-Bee is the leader of a race of bees that eat souls, and she’s another fantastic offensive character, with big air-dashes and so much quick and unpredictable mobility in general compensating for her rubbish health. Loads of fun though! Sasquatch is of the Canadian variety of Bigfoot, which apparently means he’s got loads of health and is surprisingly quick on his paws, with a powerful move-set that seems to be one of the more beginner-friendly. Victor is our lumbering not-Frankenstein’s Monster, and strangely reminds me of the wrestling guy in Pit-Fighter to play, except you can electrify this guy”s massive attacks too! Finally we’ve got Zabel Zarock, our rockstar cyborg zombie guy with an insane move-set that takes a bit of work but is just so much fun to try and master; no projectile is about all I can see as a downside, although that guitar celebration more than compensates! And apart from Shadow, the secret mode character that has you playing the next round as the character you’ve just defeated, that’s our cast of characters in Vampire Savior: The Lord of Vampire.

While I’ve tried to give a flavour of playing as each one, having done so I’m now more aware than ever before that there’s a huge difference between “finishing” a fighting game as a couple of characters and actually mastering even one of them. I’ve honestly no idea about stuff like recovery frames or tech hits or guard cancels, but I am like a pig in muck gradually making my way through a move list (conveniently provided in the pause menu in the Capcom Fighting Collection), one move at a time, and then trying to get my fingers around specials and supers and working out the timing and positioning without getting too heavy about it. I might never win an online game, but I will have a blast doing it! And how can you not have a blast – even if you’re simply mashing at buttons – when something looks and sounds and plays and moves like this? As we alluded to earlier, all of this is everything that made that first two Darkstalkers games so special, and then some! The post-gothic sensory overload has taken a turn for the more sinister, with the gaudy cartoon style replaced by a more realistic, almost pre-rendered vibe, and while all the trademark colours and over-the-top attention to detail are all still present and correct, we’re now finding them on grotesque babies with exposed glowing brains and eyes in their feet, or hellish, living steampunk locomotives. That’s not to say it’s all grim though, and there’s still plenty of dark fairytale luxury to counter the proto-occult symbolism and lavish sexualisation. I won’t go on about everything else again that we’ve covered already… Except the animation, which has now gone out of this world, and as much as I appreciate Morrigan’s post-match costume changes depending on how you’ve just won, it’s those special moves that are now simply mesmerising, over and over, for every character without fail!

As incredible as that all is, I think I might still prefer the more primitive but possibly more striking art style of the second game; I definitely prefer that glorious Egyptian tomb over the scorched pyramid exterior! Maybe that goes for the soundtrack too – I kind of like the less bombastic, although the sound effects are also another level here. Gameplay though? Well, while there might have been some doubt when we started this journey, there’s none now – it’s Vampire Savior every time! And I think that’s mostly down to its doing away with the best of three round system from the first two games and pretty much every other fighter I can think of too. Instead, you have this Damage Gauge System, which is effectively one round with two life bars, and whenever you deplete your opponent’s first one, you’ll both reset but keep all of your remaining health. As well as the continuity this brings to the game, the potential for ebb and flow really ups the excitement too! It’s also possible to recover some lost health after taking a hit if you don’t take any more before it creeps back up again, and there’s that Dark Force system that allows you to do unique time-limited supers by stacking them up. Combined with the optional auto-block and turbo speed, it all adds up to something far more than the sum of its parts, which is a very fun fighting game, whatever the depth you’re playing at!

Vampire Savior: The Lord of Vampire, the third game in the Darkstalkers series (just to be sure!), has been an unusual one to write about here, and not only because we started out with another game in mind entirely! On top of that, normally, and when I’m covering an arcade game in particular, I’ll have been researching original flyers and operator’s manuals and the like, but to this point, apart from that Capcom press release blurb and some images from the Capcom Fighting Collection gallery, I’ve just been shooting from the hip with my Switch at my side for reference. Which might imply a bonus boost of passion, but equally might also mean I’ve been talking even more crap than usual! Also of note, just to stay behind the scenes for a sec, I usually play a load of a game, then write a bit, research a bit, write a bit, play a bit more, write a bit more and so on over the course of a week or two to come up with these things. And usually at my desk on a laptop. Everything you’ve just read came from two sittings though, two evenings in a row, and the whole lot straight onto a cumbersome iPad touchscreen. And while some of the above might happen sometimes, I can’t think of a time like this for all at once. Weird! I’m sure it’s partly down to the excitement of writing about a genre I’ve never written about before, but I’m also sure it’s mostly down to first rediscovering a wonderful fighting game and then discovering something even more wonderful right on the back on it, and in all senses. Passion indeed, although with a few moment’s hindsight, the less hot-blooded me is now getting worried about not doing my research, and there’s no doubt I will end up looking up some manuals and flyers and stuff after all, although now we’re out from behind the scenes you’ll never know if anything came of that!

(Note from future self: nothing got changed after all, but there are some really cool flyers and stuff in the Capcom Fighting Collection bonus content if you have it).