Review by JIrish

Reviewed: 04/19/03 | Updated: 04/19/03

Okay!!... or not

As much as it pains me to say it, the first Fatal Fury game was depressingly bad. SNK had its work cut out for them to turn that stinkbomb of a first start into a worthy franchise with this second game. A few of the ingredients were in place with that first game, namely a decent cast and some better than average music. So, taking some of that with them, they eventually came up with Fatal Fury 2. It was an improvement, but was it enough?

The story goes that the King of Fighters tournament, introduced in the previous game when it was run by Geese Howard, has been taken over by the German fighting powerhouse and snappy dresser Wolfgang Krauser. Kruaser has turned the event into an international one, allowing the best of the best from around the world to come and fight for the title of the World’s Best. Any excuse to bash some digital heads, eh?

We have 8 playable characters this time. Terry Bogard, Andy Bogard, and Joe Higashi all return from the first game, where they were the only playable characters. Raiden removes his mask, and becomes playable himself as the good-natured Big Bear. The other four folks are all new. There’s Jubei Yamada, the girl-crazy, aging Judo master. Cheng Sinzan represents Hong Kong, where he is a greedy businessman who doesn’t let anything, even the law, stand in the way of making a buck. Kim Kaphwan, a native of South Korea, is the Tai Kwan Doe champion, and believes in justice with a conviction that would make a priest blush. Finally, rounding out the octet, is Mai Shiranui. Though her infamous bouncy qualities are present, this isn’t her most overt appearance on the fan service scale. In fact, here she comes off more as just a fan-throwing Chun Li clone. Put together, the eight characters seen here are a fairly balanced group, much like that other group of eight that Capcom came up with. Defeat the others, and you go on to the boss cycle, featuring the returning Billy Kane, brutal bald boxer Axel Hawk, murderous matador Laurence Blood, and Kruaser himself.

To be brutally honest, there are a lot of parallels that can be drawn from this cast and that of Capcom’s Street Fighter II. Though some characters on both sides are unique (Dhalsim for Capcom, Kim for SNK, etc), the Mai/Chun Li, Axel/Balrog, Laurence/Vega, etc comparisons are simply too obvious to ignore, especially since this game was released right in the middle of Street Fighter Mania. It would take a few more games for Fatal Fury to develop it’s own identity, but for now, let’s just call a spade a spade and be thankful that this game has enough on it’s own merits to not be considered another Fighter’s History.

The game is a far more refined version of the 2D fighting that we saw in the first Fatal Fury. There are now four attack buttons, representing light and heavy kicks and punches. The ability to switch from the front of the play area to the rear of the same still exists, with slightly improved application, in theory. I say in theory because after playing this game for ages, I still can’t figure out how to make it work consistently. Control features the Capcom-inspired quarter circle and “z” motions for the special moves, and this time there’s a better than 50/50 chance that they’ll actually work! Gone, though, is the option to have two players double team the computer opponent. To be honest, given a choice between keeping that option and only having 3 playable characters, or losing it and having 8 characters to chose, I’d take the latter option.

New this year to the game are taunts, which you get by pressing the C button while far away from your opponent. It’s a cute touch, though it doesn’t have the same application of draining spirit energy it has in the Art of Fighting series, so it’s merely a cosmetic touch. This game also introduced to the world the Super Move. When your life bar was depleted enough to start flashing red, you could execute this really powerful move to possibly turn the match back in your favor. That is, if you can pull off the notoriously hard controller motions associated with them.

Graphics wise, this is a huge step forward from Fatal Fury 1. Terry, Andy and Joe now not only look different, their moves are drawn differently, too. As well, all the characters are drawn a little bigger than last time, and with some more personality. Characters still only have one win pose, though. The backgrounds have also been greatly improved since last time. No “multiple sets of twins” cheering you on like before. Instead, each stage is individual and well drawn, particularly Krauser’s. There’s even a few stages, like Terry’s and Mai’s, featuring scrolling backgrounds. There’s also some hidden gags in these stages, as well, but finding them requires certain circumstances to happen in the game itself.

Here we see SNK starting to become the masterful composers of music they’re known as today. Terry’s theme, for example, is considered a staple classic, revisited several times in the Fatal Fury and King of Fighters franchises. The music for the other members of the cast is also functional, setting the proper mood for the stage and the character. Sound is also improved a lot, but we’re still a ways away from perfection, too. At least Terry doesn’t sound like a falsetto when he says “Powah Wave” this time.

Oh, and there’s one other thing. If anything is a constant in Neo Geo fighting games, they’re hard. Really hard. The default difficulty levels will confound you when you’re getting started, and Level 8 is for the masochistic only. And on any level, the bosses will drive you batty. Come to this one equipped with a lot of patience, and plenty of free time, too.

The Fatal Fury series has come a long way over the course of the first two games, but with some glaring control issues, and the simple fact that the series is still in the shadow of Ryu and company, it’s still not quite there yet. Thankfully, these steps in the right direction combined with the relative cheapness of changing Neo Geo games for arcade operators kept SNK with just enough push to carry onward with the franchise. Greatness is still to come, but for those wanting to see the more humble beginnings, this game is worth at least a look.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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