If there’s one video game genre synonymous with SNK and Neo Geo it has to be fighting games. The system has a wealth of them from King of Fighters to Samurai Shodown. One of the earlier attempts for the company was Fatal Fury which was released in late 1991. While the series would have a legacy of its own, spawning a few other series, how does the original stack up? Well, let’s find out.
As with all of HAMSTERS Neo Geo ports, Fatal Fury contains both the Japanese and international releases, oddly enough, special move inputs can differ between the two. So if you want to actually learn the game it’s advised you pick one version and stick with it.
Astonishingly there are only 3 different fighters to choose from. SNK favourites Terry and Andy Bogard and Joe Higashi are here to seek revenge for the death of the two brothers’ father. Once you choose a character you then select your first opponent from a choice of four. Overall though in the arcade mode you need to defeat 8 different enemies in order to complete the game. Considering this, there are 11 fighters overall, but only three are playable. I find that slightly peculiar.
There’s a basic kick, punch and grab. That’s all. Of course you can perform each while ducking and jumping which changes them but it doesn’t have the depth of more well regarded fighting games. You quickly get to grips with each of the fighters’ abilities considering there’re so few. Fatal Fury is more reliant of special moves which can be learned after the intermittent bonus stages. While button inputs are supposedly simple, I found them rather finicky. Even a simple forward, back, A input would very rarely register. You’re never sure if it’s you don’t something wrong or the game, but I can’t help but having my suspicions as to which.
Something unique to Fatal Fury is that many of the stages have two lanes of battle. You switch between lanes by jumping or rolling but in actuality, you have very little say in this. It’s all seemingly done at random and feels like it’s more for show than actually useful for competitive fighting. It’s a feature that has potential to be something cool but the execution here in the original is not good.
For an early 1v1 one fighter Fatal Fury is trademarkedly slow. Almost to an unresponsive level. Not only that but I’m not entirely convinced by the hit detection either, as often times my punches were clearly touching the opponent but to no avail.
So I’m fairly crap at fighting games, but still, Fatal Fury seems an incredibly unfair game even when not taking into account the hit detection and dodgy special moves. Of course it’s designed to get as much money from you as possible but even on the lowest difficulty setting you’re ludicrously up against it at times. Even early opponents pull off spamming special moves with little room to breathe.
While you may think it’s harsh to critisise such an old game for being dated, you have to remember that Street Fighter 2 was released in arcades a few months short of a year earlier, ultimately making Fatal Fury almost obsolete at its birth. A game with more characters, more moves, far more technical polish and imagination was already unleashed to the world. Fatal Fury didn’t stand a chance.
To give it credit Fatal Fury does do somethings right. For starters it brought in an attempt at story telling. Between fights there are short and basic cutscenes which tell a very brief tale of the brothers seeking revenge on local crime boss Geese Howard who is hosting the King of Fighters tournament.
In an unusual multiplayer twist, if a second player joins in the middle of fighting the computer then they will join your side for a 2v1 situation. This is actually an awesome idea. Sadly, they don’t really follow through with the concept because as soon as that battle is over you go straight into Player 1 versus Player 2. You can’t continue through the arcade mode co-operatively unless you keep interrupting the game (and in actual arcades, keep using money).
The stages are nice and colourful, they have lots of personality and some even change form between rounds. For example, the second round of Tung Fu Rue may be throwing it down with rain while the third bout could be under moonlight. This is something I think is missing from a lot of fighting games even today. Dynamic stages are always a win.
The music is really top notch. There’re quite a lot of tracks as each opponent has their own theme which suits them incredibly well since the genre matches their personality or background. For example the Chinese master naturally has Chinese musical tropes infused into it. There’s some really cool rock music too which really gets you pumped up for the fight. It’s a shame the gameplay can’t keep up with the music.
Despite those few positives, this review comes across as highly negative but I don’t want to say Fatal Fury is a bad game. It just had dated mechanics that make it a mediocre experience, probably even for the time. HAMSTER, as always have done an excellent job in porting it and adding plenty of options for customisation but Fatal Fury is too basic to take seriously, and sluggish controls, questionable hit detection and lacking content means that it ends up feeling like the genre still finding its feet. In terms of comparison, it’s more like Street Fighter 1 than Street Fighter 2. Interesting considering Fatal Fury was designed by the very same person.
Even on a system such as the Switch which is very early in its life, there are already much better options for 2D fighter fans, even by the very same publisher, HAMSTER who provide the much more well regarded King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown games. Then of course there’s the new release of Street Fighter 2 coming soon. I’d say give Fatal Fury a pass for one of these other titles.
Game provided by HAMSTER Corp.