Review by discoinferno84

"When I was still your golden boy..."

Geese Howard is dead. At least, that's what everyone believes. Only Terry Bogard was there to witness the villain's fateful plunge from the top of his skyscraper, and he knows better. He knows how Geese briefly clung to his outstretched hand, staring into his eyes with pure hatred. He knows how Geese wrestled free of his grasp, opting to commit suicide lest he be shamed. He also knows that Geese didn't die; the man had gained control of the Jin Scrolls – the legendary documents that grant immortality – just before their final clash. Or how he grinned ferociously at the last moment, laughing maniacally all the way down. There wasn't a body splattered across the pavement of Southtown; no trace of any suicide whatsoever. Nobody seems to care, though. There are more important things to worry about now. With Geese gone, a massive power vacuum has opened up in the city's underworld. Wolfgang Krauser has returned to usurp his half-brother's criminal empire, and he has no intention of cleaning up his newest acquisition. Unless Terry and the rest of the Real Bout crew stop him, Southtown could descend further into anarchy.

That might not be enough, though. Wolfgang Krauser may not have the charisma of the late crime lord, but he's got more than enough ridiculously broken moves to wipe the floor with just about everyone. Despite having backup from Mai, Joe, Franco, and the rest of the do-gooders from the last battle, that may not be enough. Especially since Yamazaki, Billy Kane, and the Jin Twins are still lurking around. Rather than merely relying on the veterans of the previous Real Bout installment, Terry pulled a few strings and gotten the entire crew from Fatal Fury Special in on the action. Tung Fu Rue is back, older and freakishly stronger than ever. Even Cheng has returned in all his fat-ridden glory to dish out some punishment Tai Chi style. At least, if Krauser's strangely sexy matador/fencer/bodyguard doesn't slice them all to shreds first. Considering that Herr Krauser himself is now a playable character, things are going to get more than a little dicey.

Don't worry, though. Real Bout Fatal Fury Special isn't particularly difficult…once you've mastered the new combat mechanics, of course. The basic foundation of the fighting hasn't changed at all; it still utilizes various button and directional pad inputs that allow you to perform a wide variety of moves. Each character comes packing a slew of punches, kicks, throws, dashes, blocks, counters, and all that other generic stuff you'd expect of a 2D fighter. There's also a wide variety of special attacks, ranging from Terry's standard arsenal of Burning Knuckles and Rising Tackles to Tung Fu Rue's apparent ability to summon his inner Incredible Hulk. Even the three-line movement system – the ability to sidestep into the fore and backgrounds of each stage to dodge attacks – is back and smoother than ever. The most drastic change lies with how all these moves work into the combat; Real Bout Special places a great emphasis on chaining attacks together and relying on faster moves to win. Nearly all of the moves have been restyled to fit the new style; attacks have been drastically cut back in terms of damage power, but allow you to easily move into the next attack. Take Billy Kane; his forte has always been strong attack combos with his staff. Now he can send you flying backwards, smack you over the head half a dozen times, send a flurry of jabs into your stomach, and smack you into the background in one long, devastating combo. That's not necessarily exclusive to him, either. Racking up quick attacks, a punch, and a few kicks can be a breeze if you get the timing down.

One of the most significant improvements can be attributed to the ring-out aspects of the combat. In the previous game, you could knock your foes into barriers placed around the stages. If damaged enough, these barriers would give way, granting you an automatic victory or humiliating loss. It was a broken system, though; you could be far from a chasm and still randomly stumble backwards into some live electrical wires or a passing subway train. Real Bout Special takes that concept and tweaks it slightly to make the game more balanced. There are still barriers, but they can't be broken through. There's nothing quite like shoving Hon Fu's sorry ass into a passing meat vender on the street, or using one of the Jin Twins' heads to smash a brick wall into pieces. Such tactics run the risk of cheapening the experience though; since you can pin your foes against the barriers, you'll be able to dish out combo after combo with a significantly less risk of being counterattacked. Thus the balance between cheap strategies, executing combos, and utilizing gameplay speed can make the experience both satisfying and disappointing. At least it's better than getting randomly ringed out every time you back up too far from the center of the stage.

Besides, you might not even get a chance to knock your opponents into such hazards. Though the game starts off fairly easy, the AI in the latter half of the gauntlet can prove brutally efficient at kicking your ass. It's all because of the emphasis placed on the speed of the combat and the ease by which the combos can be performed. Take Franco, for example; before, he was a lumbering, mustachioed juggernaut with a goofy accent and a couple of punching combos. Now he can riddle your character's body with a seriously of fast jabs, hooks, and a devastating haymaker. You could lose over half your health bar before you get a chance to even sidestep. That's aside from his new look; like all of the characters, his sprites have been revamped to make him maneuver with livelier animations. You can see the way his arms rotate and arc slightly in his default stance, or how his punches flow together like those of a real boxer's. The stages have gotten similar treatment; unlike the generic internationally-theme battlegrounds of old, you'll be treated to a variety of highly detailed and animated levels. Kicking Mai's ass is always a treat, but it's even better when you're doing it under the glow of a shrouded moon and a bunch of falling cherry blossom petals. It's stuff like this that make you wonder how you ever put up with the old Fatal Fury games in the first place.

If anything, you'll probably forget about the retro titles altogether once you've given this game a chance.Real Bout Fatal Fury Special marks yet another step forward for the franchise. Geese's downfall has allowed a handful of fan favorites back onto the playing field, making for a considerably sized roster and varied playing styles. Aside from the usual special moves and dodging mechanics, the game's true strength lies with the speed of its gameplay and the intricate combo system. The characters have all been revamped with better, faster moves than ever before. Being able to crush your foes into barricades is both a blessing and a curse; it's a huge improvement over the ring-out system of the last game, but it can be easily abused to cheapen the fighting. But hey, at least you'll get to see some of the most beautifully detailed characters and stages ever seen in a SNK game. Geese may be dead, but this series has never been better.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/03/08

Game Release: Real Bout Garou Densetsu Special (JP, 02/28/97)


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