Review by Eddy_Hokkaido
"INITIATE SUPER DEATH BLOW!"
INTRO: Its late 1992 and 2D fighting games were the top dogs of arcade gaming. Capcom's Street Fighter II Champion edition, had been out for most of the year and was still attracting decent lines and crowds. Mortal Kombat was in its heyday, and on the Neo-Geo machine you had SNK's Fatal Fury and ADK's World Heroes with maybe one or two people around it at a time. Well, one day in my local arcade I had a dilemma. The line for champion edition was too long for my taste, didn't want to get my ass beat at MK, and the Neo(on which World Heroes resided) was being hogged by two guys playing Sengoku. A little discouraged I did what any arcade junkie would do, walk around aimlessly looking for something to put my tokens in, preferably some new fighting game I had not yet seen. Well, I was in luck because in the back area on the big screen setup there was a new fighting game, and even stranger it was a Neo-Geo fighting game! The game was Art of Fighting. Well, there was someone playing it, but he quickly lost to Jack, so I slid right in. I probably played it 3 times(beating Todo once, and one guy who challenged me) before I moved on to the now vacant Neo-Geo machine(and World Heroes), but even then I was still intrigued by this weird game were you had a meter for special moves. Well, it stayed on the big screen for about a month(sometimes gathering crowds, but usually vacant), after which it was replaced by I believe Martial Champions(Konami's foray in the fighting craze), which didn't last long either. Back then, I'd say I thought it was pretty good game, it was different, and the graphics and sound were top notch. But at the same time, I had never really gotten the hang of the play control and could never get very far, plus it was pretty rare that you'd actually get to fight another person, and in VS mode no one really knew any special moves for anyone other than Ryo or Robert. Also, by 1993, Neo-Geo games that did not have Samurai or Bust A in the title became extremely hard to find in my area. They were out there, but not having a car prevented me from playing them as often as I would have liked. Lets fast forward to now(2003). I've pretty much played every Neo(and just about every other 2D fighting game) ever made, and I can honestly say this is probably my favorite SNK fighting game of the early Neo-Geo era. And now that all that memory lane BS is done lets get down to why.
GRAPHICS: When this thing came out, it turned heads. The whole proximity zoom effect had not been done before, and when the characters were close together they were huge. Another innovative graphical effect was how the characters would get visibly battered and bruised based on how much damage they took. This also had never been done before, and with the exception of Art of Fighting 2, has not been done since. Character animation was pretty much on par with other 2D fighters of its day. Backgrounds and other visuals also well done.
SOUND: This was another area were this game really stood out. The music tracks were all very good, with your standard asian traditional mixed with rock kind of stuff and some jazzy kind of tunes for the stages that occur in night clubs. The sound effects are just awesome IMO. Especially, what would become the trademark Art of Fighting sound effect, which you are greeted with after connecting a special move. I must say, its the greatest sound effect ever in any fighting game I've ever played. If I ever, made a martial arts, you can be sure I'd steal this sound effect and put it in the film.
CONTROL: This game(and Fatal Fury too) just weren't as crisp as the Street Fighter II games when it came to control. Compared to SF II its kind of sluggish as far special move detection and what not. You can't just slap out quarter circle motions like you can SF II, you have take your time with them somewhat. Granted, its not that bad, but it takes some getting used too. Once you do get used to it though, you really don't even notice. The button layout is also strange at first. A is jab, B is short kick, but the C button is either a heavy punch or a heavy kick, depending on what the last light attack button used was, it also throws. D taunts. Also, you can do a medium punch or kick attack by hold C and pressing A or B. In addition, the 2 main characters(and some others) can do a wall jump or by pressing the C button when your character is against the wall in the air. Pretty strange layout, I know, but once you get a feel for it, its not bad. Back in the day, the fact that not all(if not most) of the special move commands did not follow the SF II norm was a turn off for a lot of people, but nowadays most people into Neo-Geo fighting games should be used to them. However the big turn off way back when and even today, is the Spirit meter. In Art of Fighting, most special moves require their own special amount of spirit energy, as displayed by the spirit bar. When a special move is used, the bar decreases. As the bar decreases it also changes color. At full the bar is green, at half the bar is yellow, and at 1/3 the bar is red. The color of the bar determines the strength and appearance, and the distance the special move will travel. Green being full strength full distance, and red being just all around crappy(and Capcom's inspiration for Dan Hibiki's special moves). If your spirit bar is completely depleted, you can still perform special moves but they will do either no or practically no damage, and will be completely stationary. When the bar is depleted, you are going to want to recharge it, and that is done by simply holding down any button but D. As far as my feelings on the Spirit Meter go, I think it makes this game interesting by bringing a kind of pseudo-realism to the whole concept Ki attacks, but at the same time I'm glad its not most 2d fighting games. That said I will say that out of all the games I've played that have a system like this, the Art of Fighting games do it best.
GAMEPLAY: 2 modes of play. Story Mode and VS Mode. In story mode you choose from either Ryo Sakazaki or Robert Garcia(another turnoff for everyone hung up on Street Fighter) as they embark on their quest to rescue Ryo's sister Yuri from her mysterious kidnappers. This quest basically involves whomever you've chosen driving from place to place around Southtown beating information out of every person you meet. Thats the story in a nutshell. Its seems bland by today's standards, but back in 92, a fighting game story that did not revolve around some mysterious tournament was unheard of. The order of the story mode is completely preset, and it goes like this: Todo, Jack, Bonus Game, Lee, King, Bonus Game, Mickey, John, Bonus Game, Mr. Big, and finally the final fight with Mr. Karate(aka Takuma Sakazaki). As you can see after every 2 fights, you get a bonus game, and in Art of Fighting bonus games yield more than just points. There are 3 different bonus games from which you can choose and they involve a feat of skill your character must perform. The Bottle Cut if done successfully, gives you a bigger spirit bar, the Ice Chop gives you a bigger Health bar, and The Super Death Blow allows you to use the HaohShoKohKen(the first super move ever by the way) for the rest of the game. None of these games are particularly hard to complete(the bottle cut can be frustrating though), and its cool that you get something out of them other than points. As far as the actual fighting goes the CPU AI can be pretty difficult and pull out some crazy stuff at times. To give you a perspective, on the default difficulty setting and one credit I can usually beat the game, but every now then I'll still lose to Todo. Also, anyone familiar with the concept of SNK Boss syndrome will find that Mr. Karate is no exception. Either way, this is certainly not one of the more difficult SNK fighting games, but it can still be challenging even after you've mastered it. The VS mode in this game seems rushed. In VS mode(which is only available 2 player) all the characters are selectable. However, some characters seem somewhat incomplete in playable form. For example, Mr. Big can't jump, Todo has one special move, and Lee, King, Mickey, and John don't have throws. VS mode is really nothing special.
OVERALL: As said earlier, out of SNK's first crop of Neo-Geo fighters, Art of Fighting is my favorite and in my opinion the best. Many will disagree, but I honestly think this game outshines any pre-alpha SF in Story mode. As a 1 player game, Art of Fighting is truly a classic, with many innovative graphical and gameplay related features(The first Super Move!!) that were ahead of its time. However, to some people(probably most) it will always be that Street Fighter clone with the annoying spirit bar. Its a shame, because once you get the hang of the control, it can be quite an enjoyable game.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 12/29/03
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