It pains me to give such a low score to such a classic. In all seriousness, as an SNK fan who’s been playing the King of Fighters series for a long while now, and as somebody who is building their Christmas wish-list around the upcoming King of Fighters XI and Neo-Geo Battle Coliseum brawlers from SNK, it is hard. But Fatal Fury Special is just too old and too withered to withstand the tests of time to help it stand aside other fighting games, other Live Arcade games and any nostalgia-inspiring game imaginable.
Don’t get me wrong, the original Fatal Fury, is still one of the most innovative fighting games of all time, and still should be held up alongside Street Fighter 2 in the eyes of gaming historians. But the fact is that Street Fighter 2 has simply aged gracefully. Its distinctly dated graphics are a part of its charm and the voices are practically synonymous the characters (be it a warbled “hadouken” or any of the other barely-audible screams they do before an attack). The reason behind this (at least, what I believe is the reason behind it) is that every fighter from SNK has been an expansion upon its predecessor. SNK took Fatal Fury and built upon it and got Fatal Fury 2, built upon that and got King of Fighters and went from there (that’s just the abbreviated version, mind you). On the other hand, Capcom made Street Fighter 2 and, after Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, left that behind and went on to make the Dark Stalkers, Marvel/X-men Versus and Street Fighter 3. Dark Stalkers wasn’t Street Fighter 2, but with demons and vampires, and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter wasn’t Darkstalkers, but with assists. Because of this, Street Fighter 2 is still considered by many fighting game fans to be top-of-the-line, while few SNK fans hold their early games as one of their definite bests. And this is what kills the game.
Fatal Fury Special plays like most of the other early SNK games. It has the same ol’ quarter-circles and four-button gameplay, but it is set apart by the two-plane fighting. That is, unlike most 2d fighting games, FFS has two planes that can be hopped between, functioning similarly to side-steps from modern, but attacks can’t be made between the two planes (though you can make attacks that bring you to the other plane). Just think of it like fighting on two different platforms. No matter how it’s thought of, this hasn’t really carried over to modern times as a great addition to the gameplay (though, personally, I never thought it was all that great an idea). It just feels like something that was just thrown in for differentiation. The problem lies in how the game, very simply, feels slow and clunky. With long charge-ups and long recoveries from essentially every attack, everything just feels like it is being played chest-deep in mashed potatoes. What really sets the Fatal Fury series apart still applies today, though. The game has a solid cast (though it seems small by today’s standards, it was massive at the time), complimented by the totally unique moves of each character. Though, the fat old men really aren’t especially appealing.
The game looks and sounds exactly as it did when it came out way back when; complete with its hulking (or morbidly obese) characters and choppy animations. The game doesn’t have much of a shiny new coat of paint, and it didn’t get a slick HD remake like the upcoming Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo: HD Remix. The sprites weren’t especially impressive at the time, either (though they weren’t bad for 1993). The problem is, unlike some of the games on the 360 Arcade, they don’t have a really unique style like, say, Sonic the Hedgehog or Doom. The voice acting, though, was bad even when games didn’t have voice acting. The already undecipherable Japanese or Engrish mumbles of the characters seem even worse when the game is brought in on the 360.
That said, there are still some reasons to get this game. No matter how you look at it, this is still a classic fighting game. With online support. For five dollars. Those three reasons should be enough to get FFS. But to top it all off, FFS has quite possibly the best online setup of any Live game ever, as possibly the only Xbox fighting game that actually allows the players to see their prospective opponent’s ping. Not that it matters, as the lag in-fight is negligible. FFS is one of the top Live-compatible fighting games, easily. Not to mention the fact that every game bought from SNK raises the likelihood of a more timely release for future King of Fighters.
All in all, this is still a good pickup for fighting game fans. With 800 point cards a thing of the past, fighting game fans are going to have leftover Live Arcade points between now and Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HDR, and this is probably worth a humble 400 points. While one of SNKs more-recent fighting games like King of Fighters ‘94 Re-bout , King of Fighters 98 or Garou: Mark of the Wolves certainly would’ve held more appeal, when it comes to 2d fighting games, beggars can’t be choosers. Fighting game aficionados are encouraged to download this. Everyone else, though, may be awkward when it comes to this game.