Collection of four Garou Densetsu aka "Fatal Fury" Neo*Geo fighting games, done up in a fairly no-frills package. As with the other ports in the NeoGeo Online Collection, load times are non-existent after the first brief one from the title selection screen, optional arranged soundtracks are available (haven't checked those out yet), full button remapping per game is supported, sprite palette customization is offered, no progressive-scan option is available (unlike other recent SNK port series), and the games themselves otherwise appear to be straight conversions of the AES ROMs. In other words, these are very solid ports, and the question of whether or not the collection is for you pretty much comes down to the included games themselves.
Only three playable characters (Terry, Andy, and Joe), clunky controls, crude--if large--sprites, and a very sluggish pace make this a pretty un-fun fighting game. The few special moves available are surprisingly hard to pull off, perhaps in part due to the chunky framerate, and tend to do way too much damage. The AI is incredibly cheap and stupid. The backgrounds are fairly ugly, but colorful and lively, and they do change to later times of day as you go through the rounds of a match, which is a nice touch.
The controls in this first game are different than the SNK NeoGeo-standard weak punch, weak kick, strong punch, strong kick found in the later games. Here you've just got punch, kick, and throw. I couldn't seem to land "throw" much, although it did ridiculous damage when the AI landed it on me.
The "sway line" or whatever it was called--dual-plane fighting system where you can either fight in the foreground or background, and automatically attack between them if your opponent is on the other one, and sometimes get knocked from one to the other--began here, and yes it sucked from the very beginning, as far as I'm concerned. In this first game, it seems that you can transition between the plans with just a stick and maybe a single-button press, which is easily done by mistake. Later games in the series required pressing two specific buttons in tandem.
The enemy designs are a very mixed back as well. Duck King is a pimp, as always, but goony characters such as Richard Meyer and Michael Max (looking quite a bit like a Street Fighter sprite rip) were thankfully not kept for later games.
Garou Densetsu 2
A step in the right direction, with the playable cast nearly tripling, to include classic characters such as Big Bear and Mai Shiranui (and a couple not-so-classics, Jubei Yamada and Cheng Sinzan), four-button control, more precision at least in the cursed sway line system, a faster play speed, and somewhat more refined artwork. Still not a particularly good fighter by later NeoGeo standards.
Garou Densetsu Special
Kind of a super upgrade of GD2, with the playable cast almost doubling, including boss characters such as Geese and Krauser, and adding in some pretty nice backgrounds, such as Duck King's concert stage, and Terry's epic if somewhat odd combo Grand Canyon / Mount Rushmore seen-from-a-train stage. Play speed was getting pretty good by this point, but yes the stupid sway line system was still there, and exploited more than ever by the AI, forcing you to skip back and forth between the foreground and middle ground to chase/avoid the opponent.
Garou Densetsu 3
A decidely anime art style marks a significant change to the series here, and mostly for the better. The sprites are more refined, the backgrounds include some quite lovely--and tastefully animated--expanses, and the characters animate at a very fluid pace. The sway line system is gloriously cut down, being reduced to just a temporary dodge area, rather than a full second fighting plane. Most characters even have an attack that skips to the side in a dodge, then attacks back to the primary plane, which is actually kind of slick.
This ROM has a language selection option, so the non-nihongo-speaking among us can enjoy the often (and sometimes unintentionally) hilarious character banter, accompanied by striking artwork. This is the first game in the series where I really get a feeling for the personality behind the characters.
Whereas in the second and third (by which I mean "Special") games, you actually pick your opponent when starting out, this game goes back to the original system of picking one of four locales as your initial starting point. It adds in a map system, so when you go on to the second stage, you see your little character run along a map of the city, leaving your defeated opponent kicking on the ground behind you. Kind of cute.
The character changes, on the other hand, might have been better. The playable cast is actually downsized here, perhaps because they redrew the sprites this time around. Big Bear and Duck King are gone! Nooo! And although Blue Mary is sort of nice, and I have an odd weakness for Franco Bash, we also have to put up with the likes of the cheap Bruce Lee rip-off, Hon Fu, and that silly capoeira fighter, Bob Wilson.
Still, this is the one game in the collection that I can actually say I enjoy.
Hm that reminds me. In--I think it's GD3--there's a bonus area you may head to between fight stages, where you have to arm-wrestle this arcade machine thing, I think by mashing buttons or something... Actually I don't know how it's done; I lost while trying to get a screenshot. =P
Man FF3 is so good. The character art, the AST, the STAGES!, the SFX, the deliciously organic and intuitive gameplay (outside the at least pared-down sway-line system...:p), the insane details and just straight goofiness. I enjoy playing every single character in this game. That is NUTS.
I don't think it has any supers, either. That's a plus for me over the next game, Real Bout Fatal Fury, which in a lot of other respects is pretty similar to this game, and shares most of the character sprites (RBFF did add a few characters I don't like though, bleh).
Funny how Terry's end story is mostly an untranslated Japanese voiceover. : o
Fighting Geese (as Terry): he only has his Raging Storm or whatever attack in the way of big flashy stuff, and he can only do that when his health is low, but the tricky thing is that he's got so many ways to counter whatever you're trying to do to him; he was still KOing me with new stuff 45 minutes in! Inputs are tricky enough in this game that I didn't really trust myself with special moves; the two things I found that seemed to have a chance were 1) crouching light punches, which you can spam on him if you're close enough, and 2) jump kicks; jump-in attacks in general are funky in this game, with unusually narrow timing and hit boxes, but I seemed to get a bit of a hang with them by the time I was up against Geese, and then I also happened to find that going random after landing one--kind of like I had with Rock in Garou, when I was flailing away trying to do his 360 throw move--seemed to keep Geese off-balance, and could lead to extra hits; that is, heavy jump-kick in, then waggle the stick around and hit more HK, and might get hit, or at least take cover and allow you to jump away to safety.
But it still took forever to win two matches in a row and I never want to go through that again. : ooo
(The difficulty curve is maybe a bit off. : P Also, Franco Bash, one of the first four opponents, is really hard--for me, anyway--whereas most other opponents, even right up until nearly the end, are not unusually tough.)
(Trying to go off my memory--which is horrible!--I got everything wrong at the beginning here: this is Battle Archives vol. 1, not 2, and the Fatal Fury series goes 1, 2, Special, 3. : P)
I *tried* to play FF3 legitimately as Andy Bogard against the Normal (level 3/8) CPU, but the unusually aggressive, blatantly input-reading--sometimes they seem to start their counterattack animation before your attack animation begins--AI, and unforgiving controls--I found it hard to do even simple quarter-circle-forward fireball motions reliably, and found a z-style uppercut motion under pressure more or less impossible--crushed my attempts pretty effectively. Even fireball spam wasn't working out all that well against most opponents, so in the end I tried a desperate measure: just mashing Light Punch + Light Kick, to execute the dodge-out, attack-in sidestep--the series' signature mechanic, and the one the AI kept using to dodge and counter *my* attacks.
And it worked, at least once I found the button that was mapped to fire both LP and LK unerringly together, and learned to back off the AI once they'd been backed into the corner, where they got a little better at blocking and countering the spam; just mashed that darn button over and over and churned right through the later stages and all the bosses. Game over; now I can put this one back in storage. Too bad, because there's a lot of interesting stuff here, and AST is great, and the combat feels like it *could* be good; but when mashing a single button trumps everything, there's no game left.
Did *anyone* ever like Fatal Fury's "sway line" dodge-in, dodge-out system? At least they finally got rid of it in Garou. :P