Of course, the Super NES and other long-dormant game systems live on today through independent creators, not large companies and familiar series. Even so, Unholy Night: The Darkness Hunter has a pedigree. The developer, Foxbat, includes veterans from SNK's Neo Geo fighters and Eolith’s little-seen 2004 arcade release Chaos Breaker. However, their new fighting game is devoted to the Super NES, and they even began a Kickstarter to fund a run of actual cartridges.
Unholy Night is a throwback in its choice of console, but in many ways it’s a collection of every fighting game staple modern and distant. And those aren’t necessarily inventive or accomplished ways. The swordsman Blaze, ostensibly the hero, has weirdly oversized hands, and the knight called Reinhardt appears to wear his armored gown at nipple-height. The other fighters are less oddly drawn but no less cliché. We have a knife-packing maid named April, an older fencer named Chronos, and Nightmare, a woman who wields dark magic and wears even less than the half-naked werewolf.
Oh yeah, the werewolf. He’s called Wurzel, but that’s clearly Jon Talbain from the Darkstalkers games. Poor guy. Like an actor down on his luck, he was driven into low-budget indie fare after he missed the cut for Marvel vs. Capcom 3.
If Unholy Night is technically a Super NES game, it doesn’t look like a hardware-pusher. You might mistake it for a Game Boy Advance title on account of the small characters, static backgrounds, and sluggish frame rate. It’s not very impressive compared to Super Street Fighter II, WeaponLord, Battle Tycoon, or the underrated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters. At most, Unholy Night has aerial combos and a few other flourishes that most Super NES games didn’t try.
I also wonder why Foxbat went with the Super NES in the first place. The developers clearly know Neo Geo games, and that system’s nutty fan base is still making titles for it. Even the box art for Unholy Night evokes a Neo Geo cover with its red-and-black palette and proud “32 MEG” label.
I’m still interested in Unholy Night, but I can blame that on the fact that I came of age during the fighting game craze of the 1990s. Some claim that it stifled innovation, and they’re not wrong. Yet it was the final glory of the arcade, a time when you could walk into your local Chuck E. Cheese imitation (mine was called Cap’n Bogey’s) or any mall cubbyhole and see a new fighting game every weekend. Companies dug desperately for the next Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat, and arcade owners didn’t hesitate to stock the latest attempts. You never knew what might show up or how quickly it might be gone. Maybe it’d stick around like Primal Rage or Killer Instinct. Maybe it’d vanish after a month like Superior Soldiers or BloodStorm, not to be seen again until you discovered MAME a decade later.
I saw nothing wrong with this industry-swallowing specter, because I like fighting games. They emphasize characters above all else, relying on visually striking and conceptually intriguing combatants, be they robots or dinosaurs or just international stereotypes. They were perfectly suited to grabbing your attention in the arcades of the 1990s, and they had better payoffs for a largely unskilled kid like me. Shooters, driving games, and merciless old Atari-era relics would kill you quickly, but a fighting game could be trusted to hand you the first match at the very least.
Fighting games also made for ideal rentals when they came to home systems. RPGs and lengthy, replayable adventures offered the best value when you were actually buying games on a budget supplied by allowances, paper routes, birthdays, and Christmases. Yet even a mediocre fighting game could fill a weekend for cheap.
I’d like to give Unholy Night a spin for a few days and then rush it back to Hollywood Video, but that won’t happen for several reasons. Buying an actual cartridge is the only legal option here, and it seems Amazon Japan will sell the game alongside the Kickstarter. Of course, some cheater will dump Unholy Night online seconds after its release, but that doesn’t count.
I’m reluctant to donate to the Kickstarter, and it’s not so much Unholy Night’s fault. I was lucky with nearly all my pledges; even when the final product was disappointing, I still had something for my money. Yet there’s one giant hole whenever I look at the projects I backed, and it keeps me from throwing in any more cash. You probably know what I’m talking about, and its name rhymes with “Unstrung Glory.”