ACA NEOGEO Fatal Fury Review – A Missing Link (Switch)

Sit down with Fatal Fury: King of Fighters, first released in 1991, and one thing will become abundantly clear. It’s not like other fighters at all. Peek behind the curtain to discover it was developed alongside Street Fighter 2 by the original Street Fighter‘s designer, Takashi Nishiyama, and things start to make a lot more sense.

 

Where Street Fighter 2‘s tremendous success went on to define the template of a modern fighting game, Fatal Fury‘s DNA has a lot more in common with its spiritual predecessor than it does with SNK’s later stellar range of fighters. Along with Street Fighter 2, Fatal Fury is a missing link between that original Street Fighter and the later SNK games. It’s interesting as a curio, but doesn’t hold up all that well by today’s standards, unlike, say Samurai Shodown 4.

 

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Fatal Fury is a missing link between that original Street Fighter and the later SNK games.

Fatal Fury only gives you three fighters to choose from — Terry Bogard, Andy Bogard, and Joe Higashi (later staples of the King of Fighters series). Their goal is to fight their way through South Town’s “King of Fighters” tournament to take on its organiser, Geese Howard. Revenge is the dish they’re looking to chow down on, as Geese is responsible for the death of the brothers’ father, Jeff Bogard.

 

Rather than fighting the other characters you can play as, your chosen character must scrap through a gauntlet of non-playable characters in standard best out of three matches. This give it a boss-rush sort of feel. You can even do two-player co-op against these enemy fighters, but at the cost of you each having less health. Because you’re fighting against opponents you can’t play as, the odds feel stacked against you. This does lead to some interesting scenarios where they’re quite obviously overpowered, and you have to identify and respond to their weaknesses and offensive strikes.

 

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At other times this lack of balance doesn’t work quite so well. They play by different rules, which at times can feel more frustrating than simply challenging. For instance, Fatal Fury introduced a two-lane environment. But you can’t actually switch between it yourself. Instead, you’ll have to wait for the opponent to move, and then just follow along.

 

At different points enemies will enter into different modes, like putting up a rock solid defence until they get a weapon back, or swelling to a huge, muscular size. More often than not it can feel frustrating being knocked about, rather than reaching the scrappy underdog heights of, say, Punch-Out!, a game of very different form, but of similar concept.

 

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Move choice is a bit limited, as there are only three options — a punch, kick, and a throw.

Combos aren’t really a thing. It’s more about timing when to unleash an attack, doing a great big kick just as your opponent leaves themselves open. Move choice is a bit limited, as there are only three options — a punch, kick, and a throw. The throw, of course, being useless when you’re not next to an enemy, but being powerful when you can get one out.

 

You also have a range of special moves you can get out too, and these will mostly be what you fall back on. Oddly, the game doesn’t tell you how to do these right away by design, it only reveals the inputs as you progress, after the bonus rounds (an arm wrestling match). Even this re-release omits these “secret” moves from the digital manual, though you can use them right away if you know how. It seems like a weird choice. It’s also pretty strict on you getting the inputs exactly right. Inputting the moves was much harder and more unpredictable on the Switch’s controls for Fatal Fury than Samurai Shodown 4, or The King of Fighters.

 

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Being an interesting historical item sadly doesn’t make Fatal Fury all that fun these days.

Fatal Fury is probably one of the most interesting titles in the ACA NEOGEO range historically. The NEOGEO library as a whole is quite important, but Fatal Fury is a special midpoint between the truly old fighting games and the more “modern” take on retro fighters that most people think of when they think 90s arcades, sweat, and Space Raiders (the baked, corn snack).

 

Being an interesting historical item sadly doesn’t make Fatal Fury all that fun these days. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re into video game history, but NEOGEO has far better fighting games than this one (and already available on Switch to boot).

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