Review by Twipol

Reviewed: 03/04/03 | Updated: 07/04/03

King of Fighters ? Give me a break...

The world of video games has its share of lost treasures. I don't know if Real Bout Fatal Fury 2, bearing the name of such a famous series, is really one of them, but there's no doubt it has never had the success it deserves. RB 2 is the 7th episode out of 8 in Fatal Fury series, and sadly enough it is the only one that never came out on another system than the Neo Geo.

It looks like today, SNK rather owes its popularity to the King of Fighters series. At least, i have the feeling this is how they got to appeal to most 2-D fighting gamers. Ironically enough, KOF '94 inherited from many elements of Fatal Fury Special's game engine, then began its success story while Fatal Fury 3, followed by the Real Bout series, proposing something different and innovative, went a little bit more unnoticed.

Then again, innovations are not enough to make an excellent game, and though Fatal Fury 3 (1995) was full of good ideas, it also had many flaws that took SNK a long time to correct (Real Bout came out in 1996 and Real Bout Special in 1997). That's why i would say Real Bout 2 is the culmination of 3 years of trial and error. This time, SNK managed to make its game both original and really accomplished. Let's see why.

First, you'll have a look at the cast. Every character from Real Bout Special is here, and two newcomers, Li Xiangfei and Rick Strowd, join the party, bringing the number of playable characters to a nice 22. The more you play, the more you realize how each character has her/his personal style. You really play them the way they look. Xiangfei, young elusive kung-fu master, relies on her speed, while Geese's style is more composed, consisting in counters and a few destroying combos. Duck King's strategy focuses on fooling the opponent with his rather unusual moves, unlike Kim, the tae-kwon-do expert, who doesn't have any sophisticated dodges or counters but has the ability to combo off almost any of his moves. There's really something to suit all tastes.

RB 2 features the same buttons setting as its prequels, with A for light punch, B for light kick, C for strong attacks and D for line shifting. This is where KOF or Street Fighter hardcore fans may feel a bit surprised. Only 3 basic attacks, you may ask ? Don't worry. Thinking this makes the game less elaborate than its rivals would be a regrettable mistake. RB 2 relies on a brilliant chain combo system. Those three buttons offer a wide range of combinations. What's cool is that many characters have an easy 3-hit A-B-C combo, not too damaging and impossible to combo into special moves, that will satisfy beginners, while advanced players will enjoy all the other chain combo possibilities, like hitting low or overhead, setting juggle opportunities, canceling into special moves or even send opponents to back line to confuse them. Compared to Real Bout 1, the good news is that you cannot perform easy long chains followed by special moves anymore. In RB 2, everything has been cleverly designed, and that doesn't mean it spoils the fun.

The plane shifting system is another great feature. In RB 2, you fight mainly on the fore line and the back line allows you, just by pressing D, to dodge and retaliate. From this back line, you can perform an overhead attack, a low attack or a strong attack that may allow you to combo as soon as you are back to the fore line. When your opponent is already in the back line, pressing D will result in an attack to the back line while staying in the fore line. You can also combo off this attack.

Note that some stages don't have a back line. If you are hit by an attack that would normally send you to back line, here you will bump into background elements and sometimes your opponent can juggle you from this.

It may sound a bit complicated at first, but after a few games, it becomes really instinctive. Moreover, i would say that when you got used to it, it's hard to play other fighting games without feeling a lack of freedom.

In addition to the regular moves, each fighter has a very useful dodging attack - this move is similar to the old ''guard attack'' that was first introduced in Fatal Fury 2, but here it's also combo-able. You can still fool opponents with fake special moves, which also allow you to break a chain combo then start another one, offering advanced combo possibilities. Of course, the power gauge is still here, allowing you, at first, to counter with Breakshots (that is, performing a special move very quickly as soon as you block an attack) or to roll to back line when knocked down, then to perform, guess what, Power Specials (aka Ultra Deadly Attacks, Desperation Moves, well, as you prefer) - not to mention the good old ''flashing red'' life bar.

Now let's have a look at some move list... Great surprise : no more annoying commands here. Some Power Specials require a ''Power Geyser motion'' (quarter-circle backwards, down-forward, forward) and almost every other something like the ''Screw Upper motion'' (forward, half-circle forward). At last, you'll be able to perform Geese's Raging Storm without any problems ! Admittedly, Geese and Krauser's Deadly Rave require an extremely demanding timing, but SNK was clever enough to endow them of a second P. Power Special.

Not only the commands are very properly designed, but the controls are extremely responsive. I couldn't believe a game could be so fast (because RB 2 is really fast) and still have so responsive controls. Even in the heat of the battle, you never get lost. Performing combos is an absolute delight here : the initial & recovery lags of normal moves, as well as the hit stuns, have been very cleverly timed , so that the controls are very comfortable. Well, it's hard to explain, i would say RB 2's controls are incredibly ''clean'', even more than in any Street Fighter. Just try a good old ''jumping C, standing C, special move'' combo and you'll see the difference with KOF. In RB 2, screwing up such a basic combo is absolutely impossible even for an average player. Believe me : an absolute delight. This is how i can sum up RB 2's game engine & controls.

About other game play features, there's nothing really noteworthy in RB 2. As often, SNK gave us the bare minimum of options. Moreover, there is absolutely no plot here. The only text you may get to read is winning quotes after 2 players battles. Looks like SNK concentrated mainly on the game in itself, but the result is so good that we can't blame them. Even ending sequences consist only of a few pics, but most of them are funny. In a single player game, you have to fight 10 opponents to win the game. The fifth one will be a semi-boss - either Billy (burn him) or Laurence - and the tenth one, of course, will be either Krauser or Geese. If you fulfill some conditions, you will also fight Alex, an unplayable hidden character, at the end of the game, but what's cool is that you still get to see your normal ending no matter you win or lose.

The difficulty is quite reasonable. At level 1, you won't have trouble experimenting your techniques again the computer-dummy. Still, i found it was a bit harder than RB 1 but thankfully easier than Fatal Fury 3. Anyway there's no revolution concerning the IA. You can still trap the computer with one trick forever (e.g. with Joe, Ougon no Kakato then Tiger Kick and repeat all the time), but it also has irritating reactions such as jumping on you at the very moment you throw a fireball ! Anyway, no fighting game so far have fixed that kind of problems, and every fighting games fan knows that the most interesting is playing against human opponents.

Well, RB 2 is a pearl. Try it, really. The very little effort you may have to do to get used to its game play is worth. This is now my favorite 2D fighter, a notch above Mark of the Wolves and Vampire Savior. To think that i still have to play the most recent KOF's, the Last Blade series and SF III 3rd Strike... Life is great.

Graphics 8/10
Awesome backgrounds, brilliant character design, fast and smooth animation, impressive special moves... RB 2 looks great. Then again, maybe you will prefer KOF's modern-manga style to RB 2's cartoon style, but in my humble opinion, some characters, like Mai or Joe, look better here than in any other game. However, i confess Mark of the Wolves looks greater.

Music 7/10
This is where you can never be objective... I heard that some people loved the music in Fatal Fury 3 and Real Bout 1. But this is maybe the only time in a Neo Geo game i wished i could switch them off. Terry, Franco or Mary's themes sounded awful to me (please no hate mails !). To my great relief, the themes i really found too annoying were removed in RB 2, as if SNK could read my mind ! Now i find most of them cool. I like Mai and Mary's theme.

Sound effects 8/10
They are what you can expect from SNK : extraordinary digits. ''Armageddon Busteeeeer !''

Controls 9,5/10
Okay, then why not 10/10, after everything i said ? Because you still have to press two buttons at the same time for some moves, like B+C for many Power Specials, which is a littlebit annoying, depending on the joystick/pad you have. SNK could avoid it in some cases, but not in others, because a Neo Geo controller has only 4 buttons. In spite of this, RB 2 has the best controls i've ever seen in a 2D fighting game so far.

Game play 9,5/10
22 characters, all of them being very different and interesting, excellent balance, unique features, many possibilities... RB 2 achieves the feat of being both extremely elaborate and refreshing.

Replay value 9/10
As any top-notch fighting game, RB 2 can be played almost forever in 2P game.

Overall 9/10
Still one of the best fighting games known to man. To think it is by far less popular than its rivals makes me feel sad. I implore you to forget your favorite games for a while and at least give this one a try.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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