Genre: Fighting Developer: SNK Publisher: Takara Players: 1-2 Released: 1993
Back when the Neo Geo was getting a lot of attention for its price, large megabit carts and “arcade at home” experience, people who owned a Genesis figured they’d only get to play Neo Geo games at the arcade. After all, how could those titles be brought home in respectable fashion since the Genesis cartridge sizes were generally so much smaller in megabits, and the Genesis was noticeably weaker spec-wise? Enter Takara, a company that went after the seemingly impossible… cramming a Neo Geo game into a Genesis cartridge. Their first port was Fatal Fury… a game that would launch not one, but two very successful franchises for SNK. Was Takara’s effort a legit knockout, or just a sucker punch? Read on.
Somewhere in America, the city of South Town goes about it’s daily routine. The people calling it home head to work, get stuck in traffic, talk with their friends… the usual things in life. But for a trio of men, life isn’t as simple as that. Brothers Terry and Andy Bogard have bigger things on their minds as they and their friend Joe Higashi try to confront the man who murdered Jeff Bogard, Terry and Andy’s father. And on this day, as fate would have it, a new fighting tournament is announced. Called “The King of Fighters,” it’s sponsored by none other than Geese Howard, the man who took Jeff’s life. Upon learning this, and without hesitation, Terry, Andy and Joe enter the tournament in hopes of reaching Geese to deliver long overdue vengeance.
The graphics for Fatal Fury do a fairly nice job of replicating the original game. On the character side of things, they’re good sized on the screen and they feature levels of animation that hold up well against the original Neo-Geo game a good deal of the time. The colors and details of the characters also hold up similarly well, with the more limited Genesis color palette being put to good use. There are missing frames of animation, make no mistake about that, and some of the details in the characters get a little lost due to the sprites being shrunk down a bit. But the Genesis version does a respectable job of recreating the characters and making them resemble their Neo-Geo counterparts.
The backgrounds fair about the same against their SNK originals. There is noticeable color and detail loss, along with animation cuts (two frames to the Neo-Geo’s four), but each one retains the time cycling feature where each stage transitions through three appearances. As an example, Sound Beach goes from afternoon in Round one, to evening in Round two, to night in Round three. There have been some bits taken out (background characters/objects removed, etc.), replaced (Hwa Jai is now in Duck King’s background instead of Richard Meyer, etc.) or toned down (the waves on Sound Beach, etc.), but despite the losses, they still replicate the Neo Geo ones fairly well. However, it should be noted that some backgrounds did get a little touch or two not found in the original game… like the rotating Ferris Wheel on the Sound Beach background. Not a big deal really, but it’s there. So if you take all that and tack on some of the between round cinemas, the game as a whole does a decent job in reproducing what was seen in the much bigger SNK cart visually.
Aurally, the Genesis port does rather well trying to keep up with the original game that spawned it. Voice samples are sadly missing from the announcer and the fighters, but the cuts don’t quite amount to Mortal Kombat II levels of trimming. And while they’re a bit static-filled and at times sound like the characters were breathing in helium when compared to the original voices, there are still a good number of samples featured in the game for the different characters. The sound effects, like the voices, are downgraded a bit, but they do their job pretty well. Punches, slams, special moves… they sound all right. Not spectacular, but all right. Musically, Takara did a good job. The original game’s music was enjoyable with a diversity of styles from ethnic, to rock, to R&B. And while not laden with the higher quality instrument samples of the original, the Genesis’ music still captures the feel of each song while using synths that sound good.
The gameplay is what you’d expect from a fighting game. You take on a series of challengers, punching and kicking your way through with basic and special attacks until you eventually reach a final boss. Each round has a time limit, and it’s a “best two out of three” set up. However, Fatal Fury does add an interesting twist to the concept. Your characters can fight on two separate planes… a foreground and a background plane. Not only that, but you can move between them at will, allowing you to dodge attacks (and attack) in a new way. There are three characters to choose from, with each having a distinctly different fighting style and four special moves at their disposal. And unlike the fighting games of today, there are only three buttons to use… punch, kick and throw. It may seem simplistic in this age of twenty-three special moves and twelve buttons to use in-game, but it works well thanks to the good controls that make pulling the moves off relatively easy. You also get a two player mode where you can use any of the characters in the game (except for Geese Howard… unless you use a cheat). So all in all, it plays like your standard fighting game and brings over most of the gameplay traits featured in the original Neo Geo game.
It seems like a rather good port thus far, right? Well, here’s the rub… Fatal Fury wasn’t a spectacular game to begin with on the Neo-Geo. The SNK original didn’t exactly give Street Fighter II much competition in terms of quality thanks to a low player selection count, a single main ending and other shortcomings that make the game feel rather lacking… even for the time period. It’s great that characters like Richard Meyer and Billy Kane have such unique fighting styles, but not having the ability to pick and play as them in the main game really hurts its replay factor, especially considering it came out after SF II. All of these things were carried over into the Genesis port, but wound up being accompanied by other problems.
As mentioned earlier, animation frames were removed, leaving the characters noticeably framey or jerky with some of their motions and giving the game less fluidity than the original it’s based off of. However, these weren’t the only noticeable cuts done to the game. Two characters (Hwa Jai and Billy Kane) and two backgrounds (South Town Village and The Happy Park) were removed from the Genesis port, resulting in a game with less content. Sure, Takara tried to make up for this by having you fight the two playable characters you didn’t pick, but it’s a hollow gesture that just feels like a cheap attempt to try and cover up the reduction in the roster. Factor in the aforementioned color and detail loss with some of the backgrounds, and the game starts seeming more lackluster.
On the more minor side of things, the removals continue with the bonus rounds. These weren’t big aspects of the game, but they were quick, unique, and now, gone. But you know, perhaps the most niggling little thing about this game is that it just lacks that extra bit of spark or character to make it stand out. It really doesn’t leave much of an impression on you as you play it, nor does it draw you back for more when you’re done. It may have a few interesting traits, but some of the game’s parts are more interesting than the whole they helped create.
So what can be said in the end? Fatal Fury for the Genesis is a fair port of a decent fighting game. The various cuts it suffered to get the original 55Mb game it into a 12Mb cart hurt, resulting in fewer fighters, voices, and stages, while some of what remained took considerable downgrading hits in terms of detail and color in spots. It plays fine thanks to the responsive controls, but Fatal Fury just doesn’t do enough to really elevate itself above mediocrity. It’s hard to believe that Fatal Fury came out eight months after Street Fighter II in the arcades, but it did. And what felt like a competent yet underwhelming fighter back then (despite a few interesting traits), continued to feel like one in 1993 when Fatal Fury hit the Genesis… and time’s passing hasn’t changed that.
SCORE: 5 out of 10