Data East has always had a weird inconsistency in the quality of their games, their arcade games especially. Some of them range from the unforgivably bad, like Tattoo Assassins, their failed attempt at toppling Mortal Kombat. Some are them are spectacular, like the pinball/run'n'gun hybrid Nitro Ball. Some, like Trio the Punch, are just too far beyond the comprehension of those of on the western side of the planet. Night Slashers, on the other hand, isn't really the best they've ever done, but it's far, far from the worst.
Night Slashers is a beat-em-up, and not one that's likely to revolutionize the genre, at that. What makes it unique, though, is its campy horror setting. Despite the fact it takes place in more modern times, it's more or less the closest you'll get to seeing Castlevania in beat-em-up form. Despite the modern urban setting, you'll see about as many zombies, werewolves, and vampires as all the Belmonts put together would. The story is that the dead have risen from their graves, and monsters and mutants prey upon what's left of the living. Three monster hunters have joined together, using their knowledge of the occult to slay the undead scourge.
A European martial artist, who wears a nice suit while he's going around kicking the crap out of zombies. He's your standard "average" guy for a beat-em-up. He does, however, look a lot like Jean Claude Van Damme, so if you ever wanted to see him DTD a werewolf, this is the game for you.
An American street brawler, who's the requisite "strong but slow" guy expected for the genre. Unlike the other two characters, who use crosses and mystical slips of paper to attack enemies, Jake has two big metal arms, and that's all he needs. Besides being able to do more damage with them, they have guns inside. Why would you want to pick anybody else? He also has a rockin' '80s metal hairdo, and a move where he grabs an enemy by the feet and slams them into the ground, which looks awesome.
She's your usual "agile speedster" character type, and the only one of the playable characters who doesn't speak English. As you can tell, she's not really very interesting compared to the cyborg. If you squint really hard, you could pretend you're playing as Chun Li, in an effort to make her slightly less boring.
As said before, Night Slashers isn't incredibly different from most brawlers you might have played before. If you're familiar with Capcom's beat-em-ups, like Final Fight or Captain Commando, you'll be able to get into it just fine. You've got your standard multi-hit combo, performed by rapidly hitting the attack button. Then there are two kinds of aerial attacks, one performed by hitting attack while in the air, and the other done by hitting down and attack. And of course by hitting both buttons you get your standard special move for clearing out enemies crowded around you. You can grab enemies and throw them in different directions, and you can run by double tapping left or right. Sounds pretty familiar so far, right? There are, however, a few interesting touches.
There's actually a third button that, when pressed, will cause your character to do a screen-clearing elemental attack, Golden Axe style. Unfortunately, this shaves off so much of your health that you might as well just fight your opponents normally, unless you've got some health items nearby already. It also double-functions as a blocking button when your health is low. What's more interesting is that your downward aerial attack will actually imbed enemies in the ground. From there, you can kick at their exposed heads and deal extra damage to them. You can also make a fiery circle form around your character by holding down the attack button. Once it forms all the way, you can perform a unique attack on the ground or in the air by letting go of the attack button. If you charge it too long, though, you'll end up getting stunned. Sadly, however, weapon variety is pretty limited compared to most beat-em-ups. You'll find knives, briefcases you can smack enemies around with, and elemental orbs you can throw at enemies, but these tend to be surprisingly rare.
The enemies you fight range from the standard horror staples, like zombies, vampires, and werewolves. They all tend to go down pretty fast, so much so that the game doesn't even bother giving you a health bar for them. It's actually pretty cool to be able to tear through enemies so quickly. Say what you will about Capcom beat-em-ups, but kicking three zombies so hard in the face that they all fall apart into a bloody mess at the same time just isn't something that happens in any of them. Each stage also has at least one mini-boss, along with the final fight at the end. The bosses themselves all are from the kind you'd expect to see in a game like this, like a wrestling Frankenstein, or a mad scientist. What's really weird, though, is when Gepetto and Pinocchio team up to fight you. And of course, you've got Dracula in there, because you have to have Dracula. Sure, they never actually refer to him by name, but it's definitely Dracula. Unlike Castlevania, however, he's not even close to being the final boss. That position is filled by somebody much, much sillier.
What makes up for the rather average gameplay, however, is just the way the game feels. The first thing you see once the first stage begins is your character's van running over about two dozen zombies, before crashing into a wall. Needless to say, it's an interesting first impression, and while the game never does something quite that awesome for the rest of its duration, the presentation for the most part tends to keep that same kind of pace. There are also two bonus stages in the game, one where you try to kick as many grounded zombies as possible within a time limit; the other, much more interesting one is basically zombie bowling. Here you mash the attack button to see how far you can chuck a zombie into a row of other zombies set up like bowling pins. The better you do, the more of them explode, and the bigger your bonus.
Blood and gore isn't an entirely new thing for beat-em-ups, but Night Slashers is still surprisingly graphic. The player characters don't do as much as bleed a single drop of blood, but the same doesn't apply to their enemies. Zombies blow apart into meaty chunks, vampires melt into a bloody mess, werewolves melt into puddles of goo, heads fly... it's pretty surprising the first time you see it, even if none of the violence is technically on human beings. Besides the blood, there's other need touches, like the way the screen violently shakes every time you do a throw, giving your moves some nice feedback to them. It does help to lessen the repetition these kinds of games bring in, especially once the game starts running out of new enemies to bring at you. Once you get past the third stage, the game just seems to start running out of steam, although it's short enough you probably won't be screaming at the screen for it to just please, please end. (So it's still a better game than Sengoku 3.)
Besides the level of violence, there's also the music and voice work that add to the experience. The voice work is some of the most enthusiastic, overacted stuff you've heard in a beat-em-up since Captain America and the Avengers, and while none of the lines are as awkward as "You will be the one escaping!", it still has about that level of cheese. Jake announces to bosses that "I have the power to destroy you!", while Christopher tells enemies that "You caught me off guard!" every single time he gets knocked down. Sadly, however, Hong Hua's spoken lines are in Chinese. Each character also has a short, unique conversation before every boss fight. These are just as enjoyably cheesy even without the voice acting, with lines like "The only thing that's gonna need transforming is your face after I'm through with it!" The music is an interesting mix of synth guitars and creepy organs, and the game's best songs are probably the tracks for Stage 1 and 3, both of which are reused later in the game. Lazy, sure, but they're good enough songs it's nice to hear them again.
The Japanese version of the game is generally worth playing over the US version. The biggest problem with the American version is that all the blood's been recolored to green, and some of the more violent death animations for the enemies have been removed. The American version, sadly, is also missing a nice little touch where the "Go" arrow would flip over to reveal the words "To Hell!" written in blood. The Japanese version also has a few extra pictures in the between-level-cutscenes. On the other hand, however, you will be missing out on the banter with the bosses, although Christopher and Jake's lines are still voiced in English no matter what version you play. The American version is also a little more difficult.
So, Night Slashers, to be perfectly honest, is in its gameplay only really slightly above average. The game ended mostly forgotten after its release, overshadowed by titles such as The Punisher and Battle Circuit. There are far worse beat-em-ups, but it's been done a lot better before. What makes it special, though, is the campy horror theme, along with some memorable music. If you've got a couple of friends, you'll hardly regret playing through just to enjoy the voice acting alone.