Review by Kane

Reviewed: 10/05/01 | Updated: 02/02/03

The best fighter you've never heard of

Fans of the genre might have heard of the impressive game that is Garou, but sadly it is virtually unknown by the casual public. Neither the arcade version nor the Neo Geo port received a worthy reception, which persuaded SNK to port it to a more popular albeit agonizing system: the Dreamcast.

Ten years have passed since the last fight between good and evil in the Fatal Fury storyline… Time flies, but things more or less stay the same: when it seems that Geese Howard has finally been getting rid of once and for all, a new mysterious evil arises. The King of Fighters tournament is back!

”The lone wolves are back!”

Actually, only one of them is back this time around: fan favorite Terry Bogard with a new look that is more appropriate to express his sheer coolness. Other than that, the cast is entirely made of newcomers. What’s more, Terry isn’t the hero in this game, welcome Rock, the slickest protagonist in a fighting game ever! Offspring of the invincible Geese Howard and student under the older of the Bogard brothers, Rock gets the best of both worlds and literally plays like a dream. The new characters are all charismatic and their stories fit nicely in the story of South Town. Striking is the resemblance between Garou’s and Street Fighter III’s rosters: both games have twins with diametrically opposed personalities, small ninja wannabes, students of familiar martial arts, long-haired weirdos, scary wrestlers, and so on.

The main original feature of this game is the just defence system: very much like SFIII’s parries, Garou’s engine rewards players with a good sense of anticipation. By pressing backwards (which is technically more instinctive than tapping forward to perform a parry) right before getting hit on the ground or in the air, you gain a small amount of life back and cancel your hit stun, allowing you to hit your opponent with a special move –contrary to SFIII’s parries, JDing doesn’t let you follow-up with the attack of your choice-. While this has the potential to break the game in theory (gaining life back could make the fights longer and more defensive), it works wonders in the heat of the battle. Moreover, you have the possibility to just defend multi-hit moves, but this requires considerable commitment to master.

Garou is an obvious Street Fighter III rip-off to some extent, it’s undeniable, but it’s an awesome one! I actually like to think of this game as SNK’s answer to the aforementioned title. But considering Garou as a simple copy would be a mistake: it’s got its fair share of innovation.

New to the Fatal Fury series are the simple motions to execute desperation moves. Most of them can now be performed with a ‘double quarter circle forward’ motion a la Capcom. While this at first seems to simplify the gameplay in general, it has a good effect on the pace of the fights since it makes the game more combo-oriented and dynamic. Plus, the game is in full 2D now, similarly to Dominated Mind on PlayStation: no more of that old multi-plan crap. Yes indeed, Garou: MOTW is so much more fun and accessible than its numerous predecessors than you sometimes feel like it belongs to a totally different series.

But after some extended play, SNK veterans will feel at home. Players can still abuse the brake system to cancel moves and pull off crazy combos and the button layout –two punches, two kicks- is similar to KOF’s. Extremely balanced the characters are, from B. Jenet the sexy sailor (what did I just say?) to Marco the latino Kyokugen disciple. On the downside, this game could definitely have done with a few more characters. Overall, Garou’s gameplay is sharp as a razor blade and deserves a lot more credit than it gets. But then again, so is the fate of most SNK games...

...Although it seems the developers tried really hard to make Garou a success, this time. The graphics, without attaining the heights of Capcom’s most recent games, are creative and colorful. You have to realize that this game was first developed on the MVS, a 12-year-old piece of hardware… Keeping this in mind, the animation of the fighters is simply astonishing! While the numbers of frames rivals Street Fighter III’s and totally outshines CvS2’s, it’s the amount of detail that really makes this game something special. The wind blowing through Rock’s hair and Hotaru’s disgustingly cute fur companion jumping at her are sweet sights. The backgrounds are original and visually stunning, thanks to a more than welcome change of resolution. Yes people, it looks better than the original. Watching Garou is almost as orgasmic as actually playing it, because it looks better than you.

The ersatz of techno and dance that constitutes Garou’s soundtrack is fine, but not particularly exciting. Without a doubt, its most noticeable aspect is its lack of originality. Rock’s tune is highly reminiscent of Robert Miles’ ‘Children’, for instance. Luckily, the incredible quality of the sound effects and voices more than makes up for it. Don’t put the sound too loud or your neighbors could mistakenly load up their good old rifle after hearing a frightening “Raising Storm!!!”

Surprising is also the presence of an interesting and enjoyable storyline that not only gives the characters more personality, but also ties in with the KOF series nicely. To be honest, Garou’s story blows Third Strike’s out of the water. One thing remains a mystery though: most of the game’s endings were left open and obviously cleared the path for another sequel. However, SNK’s current situation seems to indicate that it will never be released on the market, which would be a shame. On a side note, you might be interested in learning that the Japanese version doesn’t support English text. Wait for the domestic version. Wait for the domestic version. Wait for the domestic version.

One thing that surely won’t be changed in the US version though is the lack of extras. Since SNK hasn’t exactly a history of being generous in this area, the fact that nothing was improved from the Neo Geo game didn’t come off as a surprise. You can still play a mildly entertaining survival with bonuses falling from the sky, but it’s not likely to do much for the hardcore player. Garou’s replay value is to be found in its depth and the fun it creates in versus mode.

Alas, one might not be as forgiving about the disappointing presentation of the game. Don’t get me wrong: the introduction is amazing, but the menus look pathetic, especially when compared to KOF 99 Evolution on the same console. Such a mistake is easily overshadowed by the enthralling contents of the game, however.

The Dreamcast’s announced death is leaving gamers around the world with few new titles worth picking up, and you know this game is a little late. But is Garou a fantastic game? Yes. Could this port have been better? Yes. Is this game worth a purchase? Oh baby, yeah.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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