Retro Review: “Night Warriors” (SEGA Saturn, Festival of Dread Special)
It’s 1996, and Capcom was being a total tease by not releasing Street Fighter III. Instead, Capcom was intent on flooding the fighting game market with X-Men: Children of the Atom, the Street Fighter Alpha series, and what is arguably their most adventurous take on the fighting genre up to that time: the Darkstalkers series.
Released under the title Vampire: the Night Warriors in Japan, the first Darkstalkers game arrived in US arcades in 1994 and was followed by two sequels. While the original Darkstalkers game received a PlayStation port, Saturn owners were not given the opportunity to play a home version of the series until 1996, when the second installment, Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge, hit the shelves.
Finally, the wait was over! Now you just had to wait for the game to load.
The world of Night Warriors is a dark and horror-inspired one, where vampires, werewolves, zombies and succubuses (succubi?) battle it out for control of… something. Earth is merging with some kind of dark world, and… the final boss Pyron is an alien who tries to conquer earth using an army of Mayan robots…
So the plot doesn’t make much sense, and thankfully, it doesn’t need to. Fortunately, the sights, sounds, characters and fighting in Night Warriors easily makes up for the lack of a cohesive story. The gameplay is a six-button configuration precisely in the vein of the Street Fighter series. Each character has a set of unique, though also admittedly Street Fighter-inspired moves, some of which can be quite bizarre. From to a merman who can puff up like a puffer fish to a zombie who can transform his legs into chainsaws at will, it gets weird. It’s not quite JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure levels of weird, but close. The six-button controller of the SEGA Saturn was made for games like this, and it’s hard to imagine a more ideal pad to use outside of arcade sticks.
As a sequel, Night Warriors introduces a few new game mechanics on top of those in the first game. Your characters super meter now can charge up to three bars to use the ES Special moves (which deplete one bar) and EX Special moves (which use all three bars).
Did you know? According to the Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge anime, the non-PC term for the “Darkstalkers” is “Dark Ones.” Saying “dark ones” when among polite company could land you in PC prison at worst, or cause you to lose your YouTube monetization at best.
Night Warriors also adds four playable characters to the mix. Pyron and Huitzil are the boss characters from the first game while the other two are completely new additions. Donovan Bane is a vampire hunter armed with a living sword and Hsien-Ko is a Jiang Shi, which is a hopping vampire from Chinese mythology.
While the characters aren’t wildly out of balance, I’ve always felt as though the characters in Night Warriors are not as evenly matched as I’d like them to be. I suppose it’s unfair to keep comparing Night Warriors to Street Fighter II, but while I’ve met Street Fighter players who “main” characters spanning the full roster, characters such as Victor or Huitzil seem a bit too underwhelming. There’s definitely a reason why Morrigan Aensland continually appears in Capcom crossover games.
The characters animate extremely well and the designs are nice blend of fresh and iconic, with the 2D wizards at Capcom putting slick visual spins on classic horror characters. Even creatures as simple as a Sasquatch have a striking, eye-pleasing appeal, and of course there’s still Morrigan… I suppose there’s also a good reason why Capcom never updated the Morrigan character sprite for roughly a decade in their Versus series of games. She is a succubus after all… (Would I risk going to Hell for the chance to… *A-hem!*)
Like its other Capcom cousins, each character has his/her own stage, most of which are intricately detailed and busied with unique animations. Some stages are more interesting than others, with the low point being Rikuo’s stage, which is so bright and colorful, it seems to be taken from a different game. The soundtrack is also among Capcom’s best from the era, and each character’s theme matches the personality of the characters very well.
However, one of my gripes with Night Warriors in arcades was that I preferred the soundtrack from the original Darkstalkers game, but in a fortunate twist of fate, someone at Capcom agreed. One of the best features of this port of Night Warriors is that you can swap between the stages, soundtrack, and character costume colors of the first game in the series. This is unfortunately locked away using a code, but once the code is put in, you can always access these options in the main menu. Still, if you’re in the same very odd place as I am, you can mix & match stages, costumes and tunes to your own liking.
While all of this adds up to Night Warriors being a great port of the arcade game, there are still a couple of issues that plagued it, similar to other fighting games of the Saturn era. Night Warriors has only two game modes, arcade and versus. So modern fighting fans accustomed to online, training, and fully realized story modes will find Night Warriors light on features. The load times between matches are a bit irksome, though I never had to wait more than ten seconds for the match to begin.
The only other issue facing Night Warriors as an installment in the Darkstalkers series is that there are better, more complete editions to play. Not only are there affordable digital versions of Darkstalkers Resurrection for the Xbox 360 and PS3 (which bundles arcade versions of Night Warriors and Darkstalkers 3), but SEGA Saturn owners can also play a Japanese import of Darkstalkers 3, which added even more characters to the roster and changed up final bosses in arcade mode.
Given the availability of these other ports, it’s hard to give a full-throated recommendation to Night Warriors on Saturn outside of SEGA collectors or retro gamers who want to skip on messing around with imports, that is unless you fit into the very specific niche as me, with the whole choosing your own soundtrack and costumes thing. So while the Saturn port may not be the best way to experience the series, if you happen to be a 2D fighting fan who happened to miss this franchise in the 90s, you owe it to yourself to find a way to try it out. If the most convenient way to do so is the Saturn port of Night Warriors, you’re still going to have a bloody good time.
Thanks for reading!
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