Fatal Fury gets no respect.
The first Fatal Fury game (titled, I dunno, King of Fighters or something) was released in 1991, the same year Street Fighter 2 hit the arcades. Street Fighter 2 codified the fighting game as we know it, but before its release (and inescapable popularity), fighting games were kind of… unfocused. Nobody was quite sure whether a fighting game should be a more balanced “everybody gets a turn” affair, or, as we saw with a number of games (including the original Street Fighter), something more like a beat ‘em up’s boss rush. That is, essentially, the origin of Fatal Fury: three unique fighters (none of which are the mayor of Metro City) battle eight or so fighters that are all, basically, “bosses”. Even “starting” fighters in the game are balanced primarily to be simply CPU controlled antagonists, unless you think Tung Fu Rue’s Hulk transformation or Richard Meyer’s handstands were meant for human control. Oh, and, of course, this is where the idea of “SNK boss syndrome” came from, what with Geese Howard being roughly as “fair” as bringing a bazooka to a knife fight. And Billy Kane wasn’t much better…
Fatal Fury 2 was released, as one might expect, after Street Fighter 2 conquered the arcades. Fatal Fury 2 is a “proper” fighting game… but maybe it aped Street Fighter 2 a little too closely? There are eight playable characters, including exactly one woman, one fat guy, and one wrestler; and then there are four bosses: a boxer, a sadistic Spaniard, a returning champion from the first one, and then a super-powered maniac bent on global domination. Oh, and Fatal Fury 2 made the significant improvement of making the special moves of Fatal Fury actually, ya know, useable. Improvement all around, but, aside from Fatal Fury’s usual “2 planes” system, nothing really groundbreaking here.
Fatal Fury 3, though, now there was something special. Okay, so maybe it was practically impossible to play in North America, and maybe it wasn’t all that different from the previous Fatal Fury games, and maybe I’m basing this entirely on the fact that they somehow snuck Dragonball Z’s Android 18 into the festivities, but Fatal Fury 3 is just plain fun to play. Fatal Fury and Fatal Fury 2 (and its “hyper champion edition”, Fatal Fury Special) are both “okay” games, but Fatal Fury 3 really feels complete. Heck, more importantly, it’s a game I would actually play for a reason other than sheer novelty, or to prove that Fatal Fury 2’s bloody matador wasn’t some kind of fever dream. It’s no great surprise that Fatal Fury 3 wound up with a number of “improved versions”, including at least one that imported the protagonist of A Clockwork Orange. Hey, at least Fatal Fury is creative with its persistent plagiarism.
And then there was Fatal Fury: Wild Ambition, the mandatory “it’s 1999, all 2-D fighters need a 3-D revision” game, and, surprise, it licked wolf crotch. Not even going to acknowledge that game happened (wait a second…).
But that same year, there was today’s featured game, Fatal Fury: First Contact. FF:FC is another Neo-Geo Pocket Color fighting game, and like a certain game featuring some Fatal Fury gals, it’s a pretty fun way to spend a bus ride. We’ve got thirteen fighters (only twelve available outside of versus mode), and seemingly all of the old Fatal Fury standbys in adorable chibi form. Okay, someone forgot to invite Blue Mary this time, but we’ve got Terry, Andy, Joe, Mai, Billy, Geese, Wolfgang, and Kim to make up for it. And we’ve got Rick Strowd and Li Xiangfei (who is, let’s face it, Guilty Gear’s Jam, somehow premiering at almost exactly at the same time) as “new” characters, too. It’s a fun time for fighting on a portable, and, with the exception of no “plane” battling this time, this feels unmistakably like a Fatal Fury game. Billy Kane, Geese Howard, and Wolfgang Krauser are even way too difficult to fight with the poor Neo-Geo Pocket’s analog stick, so it really earns its Fatal Fury wings there, too.
And that was the last Fatal Fury game ever released. End of franchise.
Okay, that isn’t completely accurate. We still have Garou: Mark of the Wolves, the… sorta… finale of the Fatal Fury series. It’s basically the Vanilla Street Fighter 3 of the Fatal Fury series, though: all of your favorite characters are gone, save the iconic hero of the franchise, and, in the place of Dhalsim, we’ve got Necro. Or, in this case, Kim gets two sons, and Andy and Mai got a ninja toddler. It does not feel like an appropriate trade. There’s also a guy named Gato who does not have metal joints, and you can enjoy the climactic battle between Butt and Dong. I mean, yes, this is probably the best fighting game ever to be related to Fatal Fury, and, honestly, it’s probably one of the best “simple” (i.e. no crazy tag teams or super jumping or whatever) fighting games out there… But I wanted to see Geese Howard again, not his whiny, mama’s boy of a son. I miss Raiden. Tizoc just isn’t the same.
And, yes, speaking of luchadores that may eventually become dinosaurs, you could probably make the argument that the Fatal Fury series became the King of Fighters series, a SNK franchise that persists into the modern age. Hell, you could even claim that King of Fighters is the most obvious rival to the Street Fighter 2-D fighting crown, as they’re both franchises that have been around since the early days, and they both seem to come out with a new “edition” at least annually (I feel like we got six versions of Street Fighter 4 in one week a few years back). But, while Fatal Fury debuted with the subtitle “The King of Fighters” (and that is the name of the tournament Geese Howard sponsors every year he happens to be alive), the real King of Fighters games have a tendency to focus on its own protagonists (like Kyo and that dude that tied his pant legs together), and the Fatal Fury heroes are featured, but still feel more like cameos than anything else. Nobody spent years making Terry Bogard clones in King of Fighters, even though that would have been hilarious. They could all be wearing different caps! It’d be fun!
But if we’re just going by games named “Fatal Fury”, the final entry was simply a dinky little fighting game on the Neo-Geo Pocket. Fatal Fury: First Contact is a fun product, but “First Contact” being the final entry seems like a cruel joke on a franchise that helped kick off the fighting game revolution. Terry, Andy, and Joe deserve better, and maybe we’ll see a return to South Town some day, but that seems pretty far off.
Some games get no respect.
FGC #230 Fatal Fury: First Contact
- System: Neo-Geo Pocket Color. Maybe it’ll be part of the Switch Virtual Console? … Hopefully?
- Number of players: Fighting Game = Two.
- Speaking of No Respect: Remind me not to use the exact same premise when ROB inevitably chooses Final Fight Streetwise.
- So, did you beat it? I can only consistently beat this game on normal difficulty levels while playing as the boss characters. This is about how SNK games usually roll.
- Favorite Fighter: Billy Kane is a beast in this thing. His flaming special attacks take off about half a life bar of damage and… yeah, he’s a SNK boss, why do you ask?
- Did you know? Billy Kane’s last name is actually supposed to be pronounced “Khan”. You know, unlike the cane that is his trademark weapon. SNK does not understand the English language at all.
- Would I play again: If there was an easy way to replay Neo-Geo Pocket games, then sure. Otherwise, I just can’t be bothered to find the right number of batteries…
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Scooby-Doo Mystery for the SNES! Rut roh, Shaggy, I don’t think that’s going to be a good one. Please look forward to it!