Publisher: SNK Playmore USA
Developer: SNK Playmore
Release Date: August 7, 2007
When it comes to the genre of fighting games, most everyone has heard of SNK. Creators of the 1999 Neo-Geo Multi Video arcade system that allowed more than one game on arcade machines via cartridge swap, SNK started creating fighting games around the same time Capcom (Street Fighter) did, so a rivalry sprang up. SNK's first game, Fatal Fury, blasted the competition with higher graphical quality, an innovative two-plane system and dynamic characters which were functionally different from one another. SNK also boasted an extra character over its competitor's first game, which had an extra year of development. With Fatal Fury's subsequent branch-offs and the well-known King of Fighters series, SNK deserved the title of "King of Fighters." The KoF series featured innovative fighting gameplay and more characters than the Street Fighter games, though both series have greatly improved since their initial efforts.
Now, with the 15th anniversary of the Fatal Fury franchise well under way, and with the Art of Fighting compilation released, the return to Fatal Fury is long overdue. SNK's newest release, Fatal Fury: Battle Archives Volume 1, is a gift to the fans, as is mentioned right in their instruction manual. The game provides the first Fatal Fury, two versions of Fatal Fury 2 — the original and the improved Fatal Fury Special — and Fatal Fury 3: Road to the Final Victory. The games were ported directly from their arcade counterparts, and the hard work these developers went through back in the '90s is a testament to video games in general. The graphics and gameplay retain their levels from the original releases over a decade ago.
Gameplay is very fresh and inviting; a choice of characters is displayed, and using their attacks and the gameplay fighting skills, the player goes through stage after stage. Bonus stages increase a score, used mainly to keep track of your fighting ability. After a gauntlet of fights, the player takes on the main boss, and this is where skills are truly tested. Over the years, the term "SNK boss syndrome" has rung true even on the lowest difficulty levels. The special moves they have, as well as the adaptive AI they possess that allow them to telegraph and counter the player's moves, makes the game incredibly tough. It also shows the level of ability the developers placed in their games; respectable AI wasn't a requirement until the late '90s, when fighting games became a major trend with titles such as Darkstalkers, Guilty Gear and Virtua Fighter.
However, the earlier games have a new term that I wish to add to the community: "SNK Early Fighter Syndrome." It refers to the fact that even on the lowest difficulty levels, the game — characters, bosses and all — is almost impossible to beat. In the first Fatal Fury, where three buttons were the primary controls, the game's simplicity is balanced by enemies who are completely relentless. They counter your attacks with ease, and their attacks do not allow for any chance to recover; the player gets pummeled by several strikes at once, while the first punch animates the character reeling. Also, the enemies actually get "breaks" — usually a power-up or transformation when they reach a certain level of health — where the player cannot attack them. The worst part is when a player has no chance to make an offense; the computer knows exactly how to prevent your punches, kicks and special moves by jumping in the air, blocking or simply changing planes. The player can't even do that at will in the first Fatal Fury; it requires the computer to switch before you are allowed to retaliate.
The only measure that allowed my progression to more challenging levels was rather simple: Attack constantly with no regard for defense or forethought. For a while, it seemed to work; the opponent wasn't reading my moves, the Power Wave I sent negated the opposing projectile and I was winning again and again. It was to my ominous realization that the game makes the player fight all of the available combatants to attain victory. Since the number of fighters increases with each game, the computer adapted to one's style of combat over subsequent matches, and it adapted to annihilate me again and again. Even the bonus stages, where simplistic button-mashing was the only objective, took far too much effort to win — and a trigger finger wilder than a squirrel on Jolt.
Of course, if getting pummeled by the computer isn't what the player wants, there's always versus play. As with all fighting games, beating up your friends is always entertaining, as skill and luck combine in an attempt to defeat the person next to you on the couch. Fatal Fury is no different in that regard, but in the original game, co-op mode allows two players to double-team the computer. After the beatdown is over, the two players fight a one-round match to determine who moves on. With two controllers plugged in, I pressed the "Start" button and let the second player stand there motionlessly. As expected, the computer recognized two players and instantly became more aggressive. While I watched the "second player" get pummeled by the enemy, it was easier for me to get behind and cause damage with the first controller. It seems that this is the only effective method to beat the computer.
Graphics are ripped right from the arcade systems and placed into the Battle Archives Volume 1 compilation. The detail is impressive, as the backgrounds express a vast atmosphere and extensively detailed buildings, people and objects, such as busy city streets, clock towers and electrically charged wrestling rings. As the rounds go by, the passage of time is portrayed with aesthetic changes, such as afternoon turning to dusk, or changes in weather. One of my favorites is the addition of a rainstorm during the fight against Tung Fu Rue in the first Fatal Fury because the sound of rain is also present, providing a more real atmosphere. In this double-plane setting, some of the background is interactive as well, with damaging results as you smash into the mechanism of the clock tower or the front of a car.
The quality of the graphics falls into the player's hands through color customization in the selection menu, so a touch of personalization never hurts. The music isn't exactly action-oriented, so sometimes it fits, but most of the time, it doesn't. A sound test is also available in the selection screen, but it isn't nearly interesting enough to keep you from the action.
Fatal Fury: Battle Archives Volume 1 is a different investment for different people. For an SNK fighting enthusiast and genre fanatic, this game is a must-have. The characters, fighting system and old-school graphics and sound really bring a person back to the genre's roots. For casual gamers, the incredible difficulty will quickly turn them off. Gamers looking for a challenge in their fighting games need look no further. Fatal Fury stands tall as a foundation for the fighting genre, and that deserves some respect.