Big Hits, Big Sprites, Big Sound…RBFFS is Bigly Good. That’s What A Lot of People Are Saying!
I have been an SNK fan since I first discovered the Neo Geo in 1989, but I, unfortunately, missed this game upon release. I was a bit preoccupied in the mid-nineties with girls, partying and concerts, so I missed out on the first two Real Bout games. Let me tell you now though, I wish I hadn’t. This game is truly wondrous. So polished, so refined and so unbelievably good!
First off, let me reiterate in case you missed it above, this review is for the Neo Geo CD version of Real Bout Fatal Fury Special (RBS). Since this review is for the release of RBS on this particular system, I am not going to compare it with the arcade/Neo Geo release of the same game. With that being said, let me go over a few issues regarding the Neo Geo CD real quick just in case you don’t have firsthand experience with it.
In the Days of Load
The NGCD was released in 1994 by SNK Corp. in response to claims that their Neo Geo system, and the games for it, were too overpriced for consumers/gamers to afford. SNK, unfortunately, released a system that ran on a single speed drive, therefore creating longer than usual load times for the games, sometimes verging on making the games unplayable. They tried to correct this problem with the release of the NGCD’s dual-speed successor, the Neo Geo CDZ in 1996. Unfortunately, the NGCDZ was plagued by some hardware issues relating to overheating problems and the like, and both systems never really took off, despite the incredible library of games for them.
With that being said, the first thing to take into account when playing any game on the NGCD is the load time. If the load times are too long, they will break up the pace of the game, sometimes really destroying the experience, especially in some of the later fighting games released on the system. While some games are single load games, where load time is no issue at all, RBS is unfortunately not one of those.
Fight! Well, Wait…Then Fight!
While not totally unbearable, the load times do affect the pacing of the game at times, especially when continuing after losing and in versus mode. Getting to the first battle in single-player mode requires quite a bit of patience, as the initial start menu load is over ½ a minute, as is the character select screen’s load. Loading level one is also over ½ a minute, but then the pace quickens a bit. There is also loading between when a battle is over and when the win quotes appear. This load is not long though. Here is a break down of some of the load times.
Initial start menu – 36 sec.
Character select – 35 sec.
Level one- 36 sec.
Outro level one – 14 sec.
Level two – 33 sec.
Outro level two – 14 sec.
Level three – 33 sec.
Outro level three – 14 sec.
As you can see, the load times are not totally unmanageable, but maybe you should bring something to read in the meantime…
Oh So Pretty
Amazing is the only word to describe the look of this game. The colors used really show off the depth of the Neo Geo CD’s color palette. Every aspect of the game is bright and eye-catching, and the colors really stand out. Before every stage, there is a bit of extra animation that adds to the feel of the game.
In Hong Kon,g a giant jumbo jet flies over the crowded street where you are fighting, simulating the harrowing experience of being in Hong Kong when the Kai Tak airport (located dangerously in the heart of the Kowloon City residential district) was still in operation. In Germany, lightning strikes to silhouette Wolfgang Krauser’s castle as the scene pans downward to the battlefield.
Each stage has destructible walls located at each end of the screen that incorporate different creatures and objects. In China, a panda sits munching away on bamboo, until you disturb him! In Brazil, there is an unassuming statue to the right of the stage that when shattered splashes water all over the combatants. In each stage, there are also a multitude of characters or scenery moving in the background that really add a great touch to the atmosphere of the game. In the darker stages, fog and lightning bring that same feel to the battles.
A Little Sway Before You Play
The characters in RBS are huge, even by modern fighting game standards. The sprites are well animated, utilizing many colors in the NGCD’s powerful arsenal. As the fighters idle they sway back and forth, anticipating your next command. When you oblige them, they move swiftly and fluidly, sending out colorful bursts that encompass the full spectrum. Even blocked strikes have a large and well-animated flash to them. The DMs (desperation moves) look amazing, sometimes engulfing the whole screen in a blaze of color and explosion. As you combo your opponent they recoil with the fervor of your attack, which looks astounding in its fluidity. Everything about the characters and the moves that they deliver are a sight to see.
The character portraits are well drawn, though they have aged a bit, and show nice little character-specific touches. The font of lettering used in RBS fits the game like a glove, with its’ large and cartoony look that really captures the essence of the game as a whole. The sprites move seamlessly between the two planes of the battlefield and adjust in size accordingly.
The Sound of a Beatdown
One of the best fighting game soundtracks ever produced, one of the best in video games, actually. The arranged soundtrack (AST) used in RBS is stunning, to say the least. As soon as a stage boots up the first thing that catches your attention is the crystal clear music that soars from your speakers. The quality of the music, both from a production standpoint and from a musical one, is nothing short of sheer brilliance. Every character has music that suits their particular style and personality to a tee.
The sounds of the game are also remarkable. Hits sound solid and deep, background noise is always fitting and functional, and the characters voices are very well done. The announcer is a personal favorite of mine. The quotes that he delivers before and after the fights are funny and awesome all at the same time.
A particularly nice bonus musically comes after you beat the game for the first time. There is an unlockable full version of Blue Mary’s theme music, Blue Mary’s Blues, complete with music video. I was more than pleasantly surprised by this little extra from SNK Sound Art.
This Game is Old, How do I Even Play It?
The system still employs the much-maligned line-sway technique, but it has achieved a much more fluid feel than in earlier Fatal Fury games. Line-swaying is the ability to move your character, or knock your opponent, to another line of the playfield. The battles start out on the mainline (or frontline) and can be shifted to the backline during the course of the battle. This can be done by using the ‘C’ button to push or pull your opponent to a different line, or the one you’re on. You can also be hit to a different line as well. The ‘D’ button is now used for manual line-swaying in the Real Bout series and can be very useful when avoiding certain full-screen attacks such as Krauser’s “Kaiser Wave” DM or Joe Higashi’s “Slide Screw” DM.
There are three levels of the meter to be used for different purposes now, and they are all effective in different situations. The levels of the meter are H, S, and P, and they all bring new abilities to your character. In H you can recovery roll and break shot (counter-attack which cancels guard), which are both new to the series for the Real Bout games. In S and P, you gain new DMs that can be utilized for dealing some serious damage to your opponent. The meter that charges for these abilities also depletes with time, so be sure you make the most of it! Some characters also have recovery attacks and pursue attacks that are specific to them. Not all characters have them, so experiment around and find them all, they come in handy.
Combos in this game are a hybrid of manual combos (familiar to any fighting game fan), and “dial-a-combos.” By figuring out certain strings of buttons attacks can be linked for more damage, and sometimes even finished with a special move or DM. Other combos are not linked but can still connect the old fashioned way and be finished with special moves or DMs. This system makes for a lot of fun in figuring out just what will and will not work for each individual character.
The game moves pretty quickly, like most post-1994/95 fighters, and the action is always intense. The animation never bogs down, and fluid is the only way to describe the game’s feel and play style.
This Game Has Aged Like Fine Southtown Wine
I haven’t had this much fun with a fighter that was “new” to me in a while. The unique gameplay of the Fatal Fury series has always been good, but it is refined to a new height here in RBS. Makes me wish I had seen the heyday of this title in the arcades so I would have had lots of competition to enjoy it with. Keep in mind that this review was written over 20 years after the game’s release, and that should really tell you something. Even with the thousands of fighting games that have come out since RBS, this one manages to stand out from the crowd.
I knocked off a point here solely based on the load times present between rounds. The action is so fast and enjoyable that waiting for loads can be a pain sometimes. While the game is more than worth the wait, it still hinders the package as a whole. As far as replayability, looks, sound and all other aspects go, this game is as flawless as the most perfect diamond. If you have a Neo Geo CD and do not already own this game, do yourself a favor and hunt a copy down. You will not be sorry.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Neo Geo CD ; Developer: SNK; Publisher: SNK; Players: 1-2; Released: March 1997