Arcade Archives is a series of emulated arcade games from yesteryear, being republished by Hamster Corporation as downloadable titles for modern consoles and personal computers. Part of that is their converting of old Neo Geo engine games from the early to mid nineties, with a particular focus on SNK, the studio behind titles such as Fatal Fury and, later, the King of Fighters series. It’s worth pointing out here that the emulator was developed on PlayStation by Nippon Ichi Software, and ported by Hamster to the Xbox platform without any kind of optimisation to accommodate for the different chip architecture. This means almost every title suffers from slowdown and other issues, which seriously affect playability in some cases, lowering the final rating of the game.
Today’s review will focus on ACA NEOGEO FATAL FURY SPECIAL, which is one of the latest ACA Neo Geo games to be released by Hamster.
By modern standards, this a very difficult game to review, because there is just so little to write about besides from just the one vs one combat that takes place at the heart of the game. The title screen features just four options, including either the original Japanese or English versions of the game, a Hi-Score mode or a Caravan mode, which basically offers players five minutes to score as many points as possible. The thing is, whenever you choose one of these options, you might be forgiven for missing a trick because all you do after that is pick your fighter, pick an opponent and fight. There’s no story or presentation as such, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t feel pretty underwhelming compared to its main period rival, Street Fighter II.
I understand from my research that this is a “Dream Match” game, meaning that it brings together characters from previous entries in the series (some of whom I believe are dead in the canon storyline) to do battle in a single game, which was probably an incredible bit of fan service back when it was released. Now though, I guess this is nothing special, and the complete lack of story and interesting presentation is kind of jarring, and it certainly took me some time to come to terms with.
The structure is actually quite similar to that of Street Fighter, except that players choose their own first opponent. There are fifteen playable characters, including bosses that had previously been unplayable in other Fatal Fury games up to the point of Special’s initial release. Whoever you play as, you may then (confusingly) choose to face one of the eight original fighters as your first opponent, before then fighting through the remainder of the roster. Players then fight the four bosses, and depending on their performance, there may be a final Dream Match against Ryo.
The game, as far as I can tell, is a faithful recreation of the original. Hamster have become extremely good at creating Neo Geo ports, and they look particularly good on the small, bright screen of the Nintendo Switch. Fatal Fury Special is not an inherently beautiful game, but it has chunky, bold characters that are reasonably well animated, and it has fairly varied and lively backdrops as well. Unusually (and annoyingly) for a two dimensional beat-em-up, players can also jump back and forth between the foreground and the background. This is a feature I didn’t like much, but it isn’t too intrusive.
It’s hard to be openly critical of the gameplay given that it is simply a faithful recreation of a much older game, but I don’t think Fatal Fury Special has aged well. At the time of release, it was intended to be faster than the original, and it included the ability to combine attacks for the first time. There were a few other balancing and gameplay tweaks applied as well, but none of these things really matter for this Switch release – what matters is how the game plays today.
The answer to that is subjective, of course, but in my opinion Fatal Fury Special is a bit clunky. I’ve already mentioned that I don’t enjoy the ability to jump back and forth, but that isn’t the only issue. The gameplay still feels quite sluggish to me, and it lacks the fluidity that Street Fighter had even at the time, let alone that of modern fighting games today. There are some decent characters and some feel more fun than others, but I found it difficult to get into a real flow with any of those I played with for a prolonged period.
One thing which I thought was interesting (if not necessarily always good) was the fact that the characters seem to vary more widely than in most beat-em-ups. There are some really specialised characters in Fatal Fury Special, with very short reach, very low power and very high speed for example. Some of these characters could become powerful with mastery, and I do seem to recall that Fatal Fury was considered more of a purist experience in the arcades than Street Fighter ever was, so perhaps that is a feature that some people will have. Unfortunately the lack of online play will mean it’s unlikely you’ll ever get to demonstrate your skills.
I can’t say I dislike Fatal Fury Special, but I do consider it to be a high quality port of a pretty average game. Like all the ACA titles, it is at least cheap, but I think if you were hoping to add a classic Neo Geo beat-em-up to your handheld roster, there are probably more feature rich titles to consider. I almost feel like Hamster would have been better off to release a single, more expensive collection of these games, rather than let some of the less well-loved ones trickle out as budget titles. That said, this game does only cost the same as a pie and a pint in central London, and that isn’t a lot of money for what remains a labour of love for Hamster.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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