Arcade Archives is a series of emulated arcade games from yesteryear, being republished by Hamster Corporation as downloadable titles for modern consoles and personal computers. Part of that is their converting of old Neo Geo engine games from the early to mid nineties, with a particular focus on SNK, the studio behind titles such as Fatal Fury and, later, the King of Fighters series. It’s worth pointing out here that the emulator was developed on PlayStation by Nippon Ichi Software, and ported by Hamster to the Xbox platform without any kind of optimisation to accommodate for the different chip architecture. This means almost every title suffers from slowdown and other issues, which seriously affect playability in some cases, lowering the final rating of the game.
Today, I’ll be taking a long, hard struggle through Fatal Fury: The King of Fighters.
After Capcom’s simple but significant introduction of the inaugural game in the now ubiquitous Street Fighter series in 1987, lead designer Takashi Nishiyama moved on to pastures new to develop a spiritual successor to it with SNK. Capcom retained ownership and went on to create Street Fighter II in 1991, which enjoyed great success across every platform from the arcade machine to the Commodore 64, and became a byword for one-on-one fighting games. During this time, SNK created the game which would morph into their tactical flagship series, The King of Fighters, with Fatal Fury.
Particular emphasis was placed on the story of the characters, and their reasons for entering the King of Fighters tournament, which was a great move at the time but is a cliched trope by today’s standards: Prime antagonist Geese Howard, a local crime boss, murdered rival fighter Jeff Bogard who was close to uncovering Howard’s crimes. Some ten years later, Bogard’s two sons – Terry and Andy – join the tournament with their friend Joe Higashi, to reach Howard and get their revenge for his killing of their father. It seems like a total McGuffin now, but at the time it was nice to have something more than just ‘You’re fighting for a crown’ as an excuse to play through. But how, exactly, does it play?
On the off-chance that you are one of the two people who haven’t seen a one-on-one fighter in action, they all work the same way: You pick a character, and make your way around different locations fighting different enemies using a combination of real-world and ‘special’ moves, which are often fantastical: Throwing fireballs, flying through the air, or performing impossible feats of speed and strength. Your chosen character stands on the left hand side of the screen, facing off against a CPU enemy on the right, and you proceed to pummel one another until someone falls – preferably your opponent. With Fatal Fury, SNK tried to do something more with the formula, apart from adding a proper story to it.
First of all is the two-lane fighting system. On most stages, you can move your character ‘in’ and ‘out’ of the screen, changing between foreground and background lanes. This was meant to provide an extra layer of tactics to the fighting, providing scope for dodging moves and getting the drop on your opponent, but in truth it’s barely noticeable. In fact, during the main single player story mode, you can only change lanes once the CPU has done so, leaving it largely useless. The second feature is the way the game responds to another player joining you. In most fighting games, the single player portion is put on hold and suspended in the background, and you’re taken to a screen where the other human player selects his character. You then dual it out as normal, and if you win, you can carry on from the start of the dingle player battle you were on. In Fatal Fury, the other player jumps right into the match, and you co-operatively team up against the CPU. If the opponent is defeated, you then play each other in a competitive match up as normal.
Unfortunately, neither system really stands Fatal Fury out from what was to become a crowded genre. That wouldn’t matter, of course, if the gameplay was solid and persistent, but it really isn’t. I can, and do, go back to Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat II and other games and still have a great time with them today. Street Fighter II is as playable as it ever was, and the core gameplay and balance holds up even against it’s own sequels. This proves it had great design right from the start. Going back into Fatal Fury, however, is cumbersome and rather disappointing.
First of all, there’s a lack of content: You can only select from one of the three characters to play as. Player two gets a little more choice when it comes to competitive match-ups, but if you want to master a huge roster of fighters, forget it: You get three, and they’re not entirely dissimilar. Secondly, the actual gameplay is slow and unrefined, and special moves such as throwing a fireball are all but useless, as they are so sluggish they’re easy to avoid. If anything, they make the player more vulnerable, as your opponent can jump over the attack and get a hit in while you attempt to pull the move off. Finally, even when you set the difficulty as low as it will go, you’ll have a hard time against the computer unless you rely on a specific set of chained moves, which works against the supposed extra layer of tactics the game aims to provide.
Hamster have added their stock features to this port, giving you the usual High Score mode – Try and make your way up online leaderboards using just one credit – and the Caravan mode, which is exactly the same except you have a five minute timer. Honestly, the Caravan mode is the best way to play this game, as by the time you get frustrated at how much it doesn’t hold up in today’s market, it’ll be game over anyway.
Thankfully, the simplicity of the game means it isn’t hampered too much by the awful Xbox porting process, but this means little in the grand scheme of things, and for once doesn’t affect my final rating. ACA NeoGeo Fatal Fury is impossible for me to recommend. If you are a collector, and wish to archive everything yourself, then grab it on an emulator such as MAME and play a much closer to original version of the game. Even someone who is fanatical about SNK fighters have nothing to gain by stumping up six quid for this version. It’s such a chore to play through, I can’t even recommend it just for the achievements. You’ll be beaten into submission long before you unlock them all.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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