PS2 Review: Fatal Fury Battle Archives Volume 1

Review by Petter Walsh

Neo Geo arcade anthologies are a lot like buses: you spend all year waiting for one, and then three come along all at the same time. Welcome if a bit hopeless. Be thankful, oh fans of the classic beat-em-ups,that all these anthologies are considerably better value than your average bus ride, with Fatal Fury Battle Archives Volume 1 coming in at a solid budget price just north of £15. That’s about £4 for each of the Fatal Furys 1 through 3 (plus Fatal Fury Special of course), and on the whole that’s not bad value.

The masses haven’t been baying for a re-release of the original Fatal Fury, and its presence here is more almost more out of historical context rather than showcasing a gaming classic. The game limits you to picking between Terry or Andy Bogard, or Muay Thai acolyte Joe Higashi as they smashing their way through the King of Fighters tournament in ‘South Town’ USA. Being a Neo Geo beat-em-up from 1991 it is surprisingly fluid, yet painfully uncomplex in its controls. Throws and moves are almost non-existent, which makes this about as toothless as beat-em-ups come. The implementation of two planes was pretty extraordinary when it was originally released, but in this native version of the game it still comes across hap-hazardly implemented.

The graphics on the first title in particular look pretty rough outputting on a HDTV, of course in part because the PS2 is showing its age, but none the less not best pleasing on the eye.

The second Fatal Fury starts to approach the standards you expect from a classic-era beat-em-up, with 8 playable characters each with a couple of combos worth a damn. The controls themselves have gotten far more advanced, not just with the addition of another button, but also throwing action combos in, where only move combos were possible before. The powerful ‘desperation move’ also makes its first appearance in this title, offering the almost dead a chance to come back with one more heavy hit.

Sadly gone is the narrative backbone of the first title being set in ‘South Town’, and instead the series reverted to the usual ‘fly around the world’ model that Street Fighter established back in the day. The graphics have improved with this title, and the more complex sprites and backgrounds look a good standard better, even in the shiny world of High Definition.

Next comes the slight half-step of Fatal Fury Special, basically a vamped up version of Fatal Fury 2. Initial this felt like a bit of a cheap cop-out, to offer the same game twice, but it doesn’t take long to realise that ‘Special’ is a vast improvement over its source. The speed of the game has been kicked up a notch (along with the speed of the scrolling backgrounds), and the kinks of pulling off the more complex combos have been ironed out as well. Best of all is the fact that for the first time in the series, the use of multiple planes really starts to come into its own. The few levels that limit the action to the single plain really felt odd, highlighting just how much the multiple dimensions had come to form the core gameplay.

The story (or lack thereof) is much the same, but as if to make up for that SNK have been generous enough to unlock all the boss characters from Fatal Fury 2, to fill up the character roster to a hefty 15. More than enough to get your teeth into by anyone’s standards.

Lastly we have the absolute gem of this collection: Fatal Fury 3. Being the third true iteration of the game, action has now been taken onto three planes with interesting consequences for the gameplay. Alongside the main plane you have a foreground plane and a background plane, giving players the possibility to neatly sidestep moves which run the gamut of the original plane. Kicks and punches come flying back and forth across these planes, and while not being 3D, it is as if a half dimension has been found between 2 and 3. Add to this some bristling backgrounds, some highly detailed characters and some really fluid animation, especially as the characters float back and forth across the planes.

The Verdict

All in all it feels quite irritating to have to traipse through the original two and a half iterations of Fatal Fury to get to the first truly complete game of the series. A lot cheaper than chasing up all these titles on eBay, this rather myopic collection truly is a budget archive title for the completeists. Those who want a proper introduction series would probably be better off waiting for the more polished second volume, which is no doubt on the horizon.