SNK are a developer of great pedigree, and although their games in the last few years have been somewhat inconsistent, we’re seeing a bit of a resurgence recently with the popularity of The King of Fighters series, and the upcoming return of Samurai Shodown.
Back in the Dreamcast era, when Capcom were dropping the incredible Street Fighter III series, topped with the near-perfect 3rd Strike, SNK answered with what could be considered one of the best fighting games of all time – Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves.
R1: Round One. FIGHT!
Released in 1999 in Japanese arcades, before hitting the Neo Geo in 2000 and finally (as mentioned above) the Dreamcast in 2001, which was the only port of the game outside of Japan and is more commonly known as Garou: Mark of the Wolves for whatever reason.
The story of the game is set after the death of Geese Howard in a Southtown that has recovered after spending so long under his control. Here, a new King of Fighters tournament has begun, with various characters related to previous fighters taking part – and Terry Bogard.
These include: Rock Howard, son of Geese and protégé of Terry Bogard; Khushnood Butt, a practitioner of karate and pupil of Ryo Sakazaki; and Hokutomaru, a ninja who trained under Andy Bogard. But, there’s also newcomers such as Freeman and B. Jenet to try.
The gameplay is exactly what you would expect with the players core goal being to reduce their opponent’s HP to zero before the time runs out on the rounds. However, Garou does something new and incredibly interesting with this called the T.O.P. system.
Adding a layer of strategy to the fights, the T.O.P. system allows the player to give themselves health recovery, increased attack damage, and the access to T.O.P. only attacks. This can be placed at the beginning, middle, or end of your life bar and have it’s size altered too.
What this does is give the player the ability to choose whether to attempt to use the advantage early to gain a lead, or place this boost later in their health bar to attempt to use it as a comeback mechanic. Wherever it’s placed comes at a risk, especially in VS Mode.
As another unique gameplay mechanic, at least for the time, this game introduced the “Just Defend” mechanic, allowing the player to cancel blockstun and regain health in return for blocking attacks at the perfect moment. Once again, this held huge risks for the player.
Combining these two heavily strategic elements with incredibly solid core mechanics and responsive inputs creates a remarkable experience. One that has rarely been bettered since, and can really only be rivalled in it’s own time by Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike.
In terms of sheer content, your usual series of modes, including Story, Survival and VS appear. These are all self-explanatory, doing exactly what they says on the tin. But there is a Gallery Mode of concept artwork to unlock, and even a secret boss in Story Mode.
Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves looks great, even now. The sprite work in game is absolutely stunning, the animations are fluid, the backgrounds both colourful and detailed, and the character key art and introductions are all beautiful and unique.
Also, all the particle effects and tells are explosive, giving all of your attacks tremendous weight. This in fact, also runs into the sound design, with all of the hits genuinely sounding like they hurt, especially if you land a powerful attack at the end of a round.
Then, there’s the soundtrack, and if we didn’t sound biased enough by his point, here will be where this comes across. The music in this game is absolutely stellar, perhaps even beating Street Fighter for its diversity and composition. Seriously, go and listen to it.
It doesn’t have a huge roster, but you will struggle to find a classic fighting game that has the mileage this game does, especially with the sheer flexibility of the T.O.P. system and challenge in learning how to nail “Just Defend” to turn things around to your advantage.
If you did miss this game back in the day, we couldn’t recommend it more. It’s currently available digitally on all modern platforms, complete with added online play, and is absolutely worth the price tag for a game that is simply this well made.
Did you play this? Would you pick it up now? Let us know!