Why did you buy a PSP? Was it to put some joy into that red double-decker ride of tedium you make to work each grey staccato morning following wet staccato evening? Maybe. Was it so you could watch movies while skiving in the toilets once you get there? Perhaps. Was it to replace your iPod as an elegant new portable music player? Don't be silly. No, more than likely all you want is for your glinting piece of sleek black plastic to throw bright, jaw-dropping shapes into the jealous minds of your friends and colleagues; to conjure larger than life characters bristling with animal strength and wonder, veins pulsing and dripping visual sweat as they haul you throat first into a little window on the future.
Well, if it's the future you're looking for, then Darkstalkers Chronicles is set to disappoint. You've played Street Fighter, right? That decade-old arcade stalwart of salty piers, onlookers' cheers and loser's tears: the one-on-one, two-dimensional fighting game which pits player on player in the best of three rounds, each punching and spin kicking the other into blurry-eyed submission; the last brute standing is the pixel champion. Well, Darkstalkers is its evil twin Goth brother: it's all bats and pointy hats to look at, but underneath the Emo pout and blue/black hair. It's Street Fighter in all but musical taste.
Which is no bad thing. As fighting games go, Street Fighter is still pretty much the best and Darkstalkers Chronicles works in exactly the same way. You choose one from the expansive line up of colourful monsters with issues, from Vampire Demitri or succubus Morrigan, through to angry werewolf Jon Talbain. You'll quickly find your favourite as each character is furnished with their own roster of moves ranging from the simple teeth-shattering jab through to elaborate special moves involving grenades hidden in baskets of flowers. Obviously the more impressive the move, the harder it is to pull off; you'll be contorting digits into all manner of unlikely shapes when trying to execute the most convoluted attacks which deal the greatest damage.
The PSP D-pad isn't naturally suited to this type of game and those with short attention spans and a dislike for thumb wars will likely just bash away at the buttons. But there's an easy control scheme for beginners (especially helpful as some of the hardest moves are particularly tricky), so learners and intermediate players can have some fun when playing each other. That said, there's wide scope for the dedicated to become accomplished and, should you earn your virtual black belt, then button mashers won't pose much of a threat.
The game is beautiful to look at, even though it maintains that old-skool cartoon flair, and each lithe move animation, arrogant victory pose and impact-punctuating firework, dazzles. There's a decent amount of content for a fighting game, too, including the standard arcade mode as well as a Chaos Tower mod, in which you choose three different characters to fight your way up through a skyscraper. Some of these battles also have special conditions (for example, you might be unable to punch in one fight), which provide additional variety.
The Wi-Fi mode, which enables up to four players to fight in a round-robin tournament works extremely well. Should you able to rope some friends in, you won't care so much about inspiring tech-jealousy as you will breaking each other's confidence as egos clash and tussle in this cobwebbed virtual boxing ring that's bathed in the light of a full moon.Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower is on sale now.