Is raising the son of the man you murdered responsible?
If you follow your magical map across the Everglazed forest, over the strawberry hill and into the mystical cave, you’ll find the dangerous sugar-breathing dragon. Once you slay the dragon using the legendary Sword of Caramelot, you’ll have claimed the right to gasp at a treasure chest containing one of gaming’s more obscure sub-genres, the niche of niches, the SNK fighting game.
A small but dedicated group of people (gnomes maybe?) consider the SNK fighting game their prized treasure. So much so that they don’t bat an eyelash at the thought of paying approximately $300 a game to play on their ancient Neo Geo artifact (what I’m trying to say is, the hardware is pretty damn old.) Lately, Microsoft has been smiting the gnomes by breaking into their catacombs, robbing them of their sacred treasure, and selling it to the masses at significantly more reasonable prices. And now the robbers have poached Garou from the greedy hands of the dwarves.
Fatal Fury: Garou: Mark of the Wolves. The game has three titles. According to the introductory cutscene, SNK uber-hero Terry Bogard has slain his rival Geese Howard (and yes, this franchise has a real way with naming characters,) and taken his nemesis’s orphaned son Rock under his wing. Rocky Howard has since been trained in the art of fighting with flamboyant purple fireballs, and many years later, a mature Rock challenges the might of a completely un-aged Terry! There’s more to the story, I’m sure, but all SNK fighters have the same story; a bunch of people naively enter a mysterious fighting tournament, one that’s run in secret by an evil villain striving for world domination, yawn. The only difference is that this game’s villain is a character named Grant, a shocking departure in that SNK characters normally have great names like “Geese” or “Rugal”.
SNK’s trademark fighting game series is the sort-of-annual King of Fighters franchise. This franchise traditionally pits cross-dressed teens that never age against cross-dressed teens that never age and have serious emo-anger issues against old guys in karate gis against perky teenage women with athletic builds and high-pitched voices that find this whole no-holds-barred-fighting thing cute. The roster of characters will be shaken up from time to time but a large number of the cross-dressed and perky combatants will return in every game, and even the most hardened of gnomes will admit that it gets a tad boring after awhile. Which I’m sure is why most fighting game fans have a fond place in their hearts for FF:G:MOTW (Christ that title’s redundant.)
Here’s an SNK game that told that tired roster of fighters to go feed the sugar-breathing dragon. Instead, a snazzy-dressed Terry Bogard joins a roster of 11 new scrappers looking to make a name for themselves before disappearing into obscurity. There are a couple of notable new faces, like the bird-faced super wrestler Tizoc or the scantily-clad, panty-less pirate B Jenet. And while these new faces may feel like that first breath of oxygen after holding your breath in a sea of recycled character sprites to the typical SNK fan, a spectator from the outside world will disagree. Besides following the same cross-dressed/karate/begging-to-be-raped-girls format that most SNK characters follow, these new fighters fight an awful lot like the old fighters. And I mean an AWFUL lot. At the risk of being corrected with statistics by a hardened gnome, most of these characters feel too similar from one another, and even more similar to that of past SNK fighters.
Mark of the Wolves harkens the return on one-on-one fighting, over the ever popular three-teams system that the King of Fighters beat into everyone’s heads. You got two punch buttons, two kick buttons, a bunch of quarter and half-circle motion special attacks and super-flashy special attacks. For better or worse but most likely better, the background and foreground fighting system that defined the original Fatal Fury games is absent here. No, the defining feature in Garou is the TOP system. Before the fight, you highlight a section of your health bar, and when your character has that much health left, he or she enters TOP mode, where some attacks hurt more and one new special move becomes available. I don’t know what this TOP-mode is supposed to represent, maybe the point in a fight where a character’s FIGHTING SPIRIT is supposed to kick in. Honestly, much like most of Garou, the whole system feels like a tacked-on gimmick to trick you into thinking you’re not playing the same old fighting game, and the whole game would exist just fine if it were TOPless.
Your mode choices are limited to old standbys; the obligatory mode, Survival mode, versus mode and now online play. In 2009, a fighting game lives and dies on its online functionality. And well, Mark of the Wolves gets eaten by the wolves in this regard. Your options are limited to “ranked match” and “not a ranked match”, and a tinge of lag bogs the experience down just enough to hamper the pace of a battle. And if an amateur fighting game dude like me thinks that lag makes a game slightly slower, than a genre aficionado will think that the lag is a game-breaking tragedy.
Fatal Fury: Garou: Mark of the Wolves: Terrible Titled Game isn’t a bad game in any respects. The actual fighting action is solid, the characters might be more balanced than I know of, and 800 points is a fair and humane price to ask for. But while Garou comes across as rebellious in the face of other SNK games, it also feels out of touch when standing next to other fighters of the world. The one group of people that I’d recommend Garou too is to anyone that already likes Garou but doesn’t already own it on the Neo Geo (as in, a Garou fan who spends money responsibly in the face of economic recession.) Even notwithstanding new and HD-friendly games like Blazblue or King of Fighters 12, recent Xbox Live Arcade releases like King of Fighters ’98 and Marvel vs Capcom 2 come across as much better values.