Review by hangedman

"Listen to me, people. Terry is AMERICAN. AMERICAN. You don't even care, do you?"

Engrish in America? Get out!

Fatal Fury lurches forward yet again, withstanding the indignities thrown at it from inferior home ports as well as horrible original developments alike. SNK is resilient, I'll give it that. In the midst of bankruptcy SNK reaches its hand out of the grave in order to bestow a few last words, spoken through FF:MotW, KOF 2000, and Last Blade 2. The question is, are we willing to listen attentively?

My answer is, “sort of.” I’m a fan of the original Fatal Fury, there’s no question on that one. I’m also a patron of the King of Fighters series; I actually mod-chipped my PlayStation so long ago for KOF’97. I also am fond of Terry Bogard, but in a purely heterosexual way (just to clarify). After Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves was named Gamespot’s “fighter of the year,” and also claimed the title of “being under 20 bucks on,” I went for it. And I was disappointed.

It’s too bad, because the premise is good. Terry Bogard, our favorite Engrish-hollering protagonist, has finally killed arch-enemy Geese Howard, the only White guy to get away with wearing those puffy Japanese Dojo pants without looking like a total ****ing gimp. Though Geese is dead, he leaves behind his son, Rock Howard. Terry takes Rock under his wing and trains him in a bizarre hybrid of both his and Geese’s moves. Eventually, Rock turns 16 (unequivocal adulthood, in anime), and decides to do some soul-searching. Of course, this soul searching is to be done through tournament combat run by a crime-boss with ulterior motives and frequented by a bunch of other guys looking to battle for personal vendettas and symbolic goals—never for the prize money, of course.

The fighters are your usual cast of freaks and stereotypes. There’s Freeman, the metal-head goth that tears into people with hand-swipes, there’s the mandatory “big but slow” guy, Tizoc, and there’s also the little dorky ninja kid whose voice will make you want to kill someone: Hokutomaru. All pale in comparison to one fighter, however, the stocky Kushnood Butt. Tough life, to have the last name Butt. Their stories are relegated to a few Street Fighter Alpha style character-to-character comments and a supremely sucky ending, but Rock’s tale makes a damned good premise for extending the series.

Gameplay-wise, Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves is very similar to its other flagship franchise (King of Fighters) in the basics: there are four buttons, weak punch / kick and strong punch / kick, and attacking builds a gauge where one can build up the power to perform a super-move. Special moves are accomplished by various quarter-circle and “Z” motions (dragon punch), much like every other 2d fighter on the face of the godforsaken planet—not that I’m complaining, though.

However, these are just the basics. Every little impeccable detail I liked from KOF was meticulously exorcised from FF:MOTW, it seems.

So outside of the basics, this game is nothing like KOF.

Maybe it’s because I was expecting King of Fighters in that I was disappointed in the gameplay. Terry’s older now, and because of Alzheimer’s disease, Terry apparently forgot how to roll, and he forgot how to teach Rock this move, and I’m guessing there was eventually some moratorium placed on rolling between the last KOF game and FF:MOTW’s future to prevent everyone else from doing it. The gist of the roll is that you’re invulnerable, and you can dodge attacks like this in 2d. It worked really well. I used it a lot; perhaps to the point where it was a crutch for me, but I thought it was the best innovation SNK brought to 2d fighters. Enough about rolling: it’s gone.

And with it gone, I don’t even get a suitable replacement. Taking its place or the “line evasion” system of past FF games is a sort of awkward guard-crush, where depending on whether your foe is standing or crouching, you can perform an unblockable hit. It’s nothing major: your 50/50 chance of prediction amounts to damage on par with a regular punch. Another unique-to-MOTW gameplay staple is the “Just Defense,” which is a long way of saying, “parry.” Hit back right before a move hits you, and you’ll block it and recover some life. It’s a good way to reverse an obvious projectile attack or jump in, and it can reward you for a successful defense. My only complaint is that the time window seems too small for the casual gamer.

I used to think that I was more than a casual gamer for titles like these, but the rest of the gameplay makes me reconsider. I talk to a lot of people that play these types of games, and they really get into the nuances. I don’t. Given this, the computer’s style of play seems very fast, damaging, and cheap. Many special moves seem downright worthless because of long lag times, situational priorities, and other such miscellany. Some moves can be intentionally ended early to perform another move halfway through, but I’ve found absolutely no practical applications of this as a casual fighting game fan: the extra work in performing one of these combos added a jab’s worth of damage extra than the normal one I’d do.

More things to worry about

Also, MOTW has a feature called the T.O.P. mode, which knowing SNK was some goofy acronym to say “section of your lifebar that makes you more powerful.” It’s a gimmick, but it’s neat: you pick a section of your life bar that will give you heightened abilities, so when your life decreases to that point, you get T.O.P. mode. Set it large, and your abilities are only somewhat reinforced. You’ll do an extra 25% damage with every attack. Set it smaller, and you can be capable of doing 75% extra damage, though this is at the risk of eating an attack and having your bar decrease past that point. You also get another special move that you can only do with T.O.P. on, so that’s something extra.

The thing is that playing MOTW against the computer is more frustrating than it is fun. Most attacks will be “just guarded,” leading to a few counter-attacks and guard crushes. It’s bad enough that the CPU knows what I’m going to do instantly, but it also recovers its life from that opportunity in small chunks and tears through my blocks. The combo system is a little anal as well, or at least I’ve found. Again, I’ll stress that I’m no perfectionist. This game felt like a joke the computer was playing on me at times—I could be winning, but only if it let me. It could have just as easily blocked and countered anything I did, and this was on the normal setting.

By the way, if you’re somehow not familiar of SNK in a graphical sense, think in terms of the early ‘90s, because the Neo Geo is essentially a 16-bit system. There are a lot of tricks they’ve decided that they can pull out to make it look less dated (for a game made in ’99 on the same hardware), but the sprites are immensely pixilated and lo-res, even if they do have a lot of animation. Thank god SNK has style and personality going for it in the sub-par graphics, otherwise I don’t know how people like myself would be tolerant of it. Make no mistake: the characters are exploding with personality and excellent animation, but it feels wasted on the typical Neo-Geo sprites. However good one can rationalize the graphics in MOTW, it’s eclipsed by anything other than another DC Neo-Geo fighter.

MOTW is not my cup of tea. It could be because I get pummeled—every now and then I do happen to purchase a game that I absolutely suck at. It seems that outside of the fighting engine I really didn’t care for too much, there wasn’t anything else worth saving, and nothing pushed me too much into wanting to master the game. Factor in the average sound and pretty poor graphics, and I couldn’t recommend this game too highly to people. Regardless, it’s an SNK game with Terry Bogard, and I guess I can stomach it for that reason.

Still, I can’t help but think that much of Fatal Fury’s appeal has died along with Geese Howard.

”GET SEWIOUS!” 5 / 10
Nothing spectacular in the world of 2d fighters.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 08/06/02, Updated 08/06/02

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