Review by JIrish

"Starting off on the wrong foot"

I love the Fatal Fury series most of all of SNK’s franchises. Terry Bogard, Andy Bogard, Joe Higashi, Mai Shiranui, Billy Kane, Kim Kaphwan, Geese Howard, Blue Mary, Ryuji Yamazaki, Duck King, Li Xiangfei, Wolfgang Krauser… this cast is hands down one of the best to grace the fighting game world. And yet, if SNK hadn’t had the benefit of being in the shadow of Street Fighter 2 and it’s pseudo-sequels, this first game in the series would have been my first impression of the series, and that would have been a very, very bad thing. Because there are only two things going for this game, and neither of them are what counts.

The story goes that the King of Fighters tournament, held every year in South Town, is once again in full swing, and once again being controlled directly by crime lord, industrial big-wig and all-around bad guy Geese Howard. Geese doesn’t like anyone who stands in the way of his getting power, so he makes enemies pretty quickly. Two of those enemies are back in town: the Bogard brothers, Terry (the one with the red jacket and hat) and Andy (the one in the white gi). The boys got a serious grudge with Geese, stemming from his killing their father around 10 years ago. They’ve also brought a friend with them, Muey Thai kickboxing champion Joe Higashi. You choose from one of the three of them, Terry the brawler, Andy the Koppo-Ken expert, and Joe the kickboxer.

Wait a second… only three characters to choose from? Is this for real? I’m afraid so. Once you’ve chosen your hero, you then get a choice of opponents: Capoeira master and Pao Pao Café owner Richard Myer; aging martial arts grand master Tung Fu Rue, who still has great power hidden inside him; boxing champion Michael Max, who is almost a carbon copy looks wise of Balrog (M. Bison in Japan) from Street Fighter; and the break dancing, fun loving fighter known as Duck King. All the while, Geese is watching and commenting on your progress while plotting against you. You’ll go through all four of these men, along with an arm-wrestling mini-game, before you begin the boss cycle against former Muay Thai kickboxing champion (and at the time, one of Joe’s principal rivals) Hwa Jai. After he’s done, Geese’s two henchmen, the large wrestler Raiden and pole-fighting punk Billy Kane await you. Then it’s off to Geese himself for the final showdown atop Howard Tower. At the very least some of these character designs are good, and all of them but Michael Max would continue to appear in various capacities throughout the series.

Ye Gods, I almost hate to say this… the game controls terribly. You can punch, kick, and throw, and each function has it’s own button. That’s it. Though the old Street Fighter motions like quarter circles and charge motions are here, executing them is a pain. Trying for a fireball move is almost like rolling dice, gambling on a result, and anything else is even worse. What’s more, some moves, even if you can execute them, are almost useless. There is so much time between the first frame of Andy’s Hishoken maneuver and his actually firing it, that you’re far more likely to get attacked while executing it than you are to actually hit the opponent with it.

Making matters worse, this game is harder than anything that has come before it, which isn’t much on the Neo Geo, but in the context of other fighting games, it’s a lot. You’ll be beaten from pillar to post when you’re just getting started, or more likely while you’re trying to execute one of the special moves. I won’t even mention how difficult Raiden, Billy and Geese can be, because if you can even get to them on the default difficulty levels, than you’re a fighting game expert, far better than I am, and probably don’t need me to tell you how hard they are, either. You can equal the odds by adding a second player, who will help you fight your opponent, and then the two of you will fight to determine who goes on in the game. This feature is pretty revolutionary for the time, and it simply being here is part of what saves this game from a 2 or worse.

Graphically, the game fares a little better but not by much. The characters are drawn pretty well, but animate poorly. Richard Myer looks especially jerky in his animations. Other graphics aren’t that great, either. The Power Wave effect is by far the worst incarnation on the Neo Geo. The backgrounds are pretty decent, though, but some of the animations are recycled frequently in them. At Michael Max’s stage, you’ll swear you’re seeing a multitude of twins cheering the fight.

The soundtrack is the games other saving point. The music at times is good or even great, especially at Raiden’s and Geese’s stages. But the sound effects are utterly ridiculous. Terry sounds ridiculous at the pitch his voice reaches when he shouts out “Power Wave” or “Burn Knuckle”. And there is one evil laugh sound that is used for all of your enemies’ win poses. Hearing that laugh while Duck King spins around in celebration or Tung Fu Rue bows is certainly surreal and definitely out of place. Other sounds are barely passable.

As much as I enjoy Fatal Fury as a series, I simply have a hard time really recommending this game to anyone but fans who have to have every game. The only major saving grace other than what I mentioned above was that the series wasn’t abandoned, and would eventually grow into an excellent franchise.

Reviewer's Rating:   1.5 - Bad

Originally Posted: 10/02/02, Updated 10/02/02

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