Review by JIrish

"What happens when a series is almost great, but not quite"

Hot on the heels of Fatal Fury 2 comes what can only be described as SNK’s answer to the many, many upgrades of Street Fighter II: Fatal Fury special. This wasn’t even close to being a new game, it was instead intended to be an improvement on an existing game with new features and the like. What we got was the first inklings that Fatal Fury as a series was going to stick around for a while, and that it might actually deserve to do so.

Everyone from Fatal Fury 2 from Terry Bogard on down returns to the game, more or less unchanged, with a couple exceptions that I’ll mention a little later. The four boss characters from the previous game, meanwhile, are now fully playable for the first time, meaning Billy Kane, Axel Hawk, Laurence Blood and Wolfgang Krauser are finally going to come out and play. There’s another boss making his playable debut, as well, none other than Fatal Fury 1’s kingpin Geese Howard. Also, wise old Tung Fu Rue and break-dancing goofball Duck King make the jump from the first game to this game’s playable roster, making for a grand total of 15 characters to chose from, just one short of Capcom’s eventual 16 in the Street Fighter II cycle.

Wait, that’s not quite accurate. Art of Fighting fans who would have to wait a little longer to see the further exploits of the Kyokugen Karate crew got a special treat with this game. Ryo Sakazaki would come out and challenge anybody who could manage to get a perfect game, meaning you could not even so much as lose a round if you wanted to take on the poster boy for SNK’s second Neo Geo fighting franchise. This crossover would definitely not be the last, as I’m sure you all probably know by now that this was just a hint of things to come with King of Fighters ’94.

The game follows the same story and format as the previous game. Pick your player character, pick your first opponent, and get ready to bust some heads in an effort to eventually defeat tournament host Krauser. All the taunts, line jumps, and super moves from the last game are all present, and the controls remain unchanged. Whether this is a good thing or not all depends on how often you could accurately get some of the more intricate moves to work. Geese, Duck and Tung all have been greatly upgraded since we last saw them, too, with a full compliment of new moves. Geese’s Raging Storm, in fact, remains one of the most difficult moves to execute in any fighting game, its now notorious “pretzel” controller motion one of the most confounding and difficult to master. There is also one other change to note, and that’s Mai Shiranui’s Musosabi no-Mai move can now be executed in any stage you desire, not just hers like last time.

Graphics remain mostly unchanged from the last time we saw Terry and company, with a few noticeable exceptions. These are mostly to the stages, such as Jubei Yamada’s stage now featuring illustrations of women instead of tigers, and Andy Bogard’s stage now has giant baby ducks running in the background for some reason. In fact, strange and odd stuff seems to be a reoccurring theme in this game, but you have to be ready to make certain circumstances happen to see much of it. Of the three new stages for the “new” characters, Duck King’s dance club is by far the most active and eye-catching, filled to the brim with dancers and flashing lights. The three characters themselves are all very much improved in the looks department since we last saw them, too.

Sound-wise, again there isn’t very much new here. There are three new songs to go along with the three new stages, and each one at least does the job of setting the mood for a jumping night club (Duck King), a quiet Chinese valley (Tung Fu Rue) or a Japanese-style temple atop an American skyscraper (Geese Howard).

So has anything else changed? Certainly not the difficulty, that’s for sure. On the standard level of difficulty (Four), you’ll have one heck of a time getting past even the non-boss characters. Anything higher will either require the patience of a saint or the skill level of your average top tournament winner. Add to that the sometimes sloppy controls, and this can be a recipe for trouble.

Still, the additional characters and the quick change in Mai’s move list are steps in the right direction for this series. It’s not a huge leap forward, so I can only merit giving this game a 7 as opposed to anything higher. But it’s still enough to show that SNK is starting to really learn the ropes when it comes to making a fighting game. And the best is still yet to come…

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 04/23/03, Updated 04/23/03

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