SNK’s Leading Ladies Return To Duke It Out On The Switch
First released in 2000 for the Neo Geo Pocket Color, SNK Gals’ Fighters is one of the developer’s more overlooked fighting games. Featuring an all-female roster lifted from The King of Fighters, The Last Blade, Samurai Shodown, and The Art of Fighting, the title’s super-deformed visuals belied a surprisingly robust 8-bit brawler. Sadly, due to the NGPC’s less than stellar performance in the west, the game has remained mostly unknown to all but the most devoted fans of the genre and retro game collectors.
Luckily, SNK has decided to dust off this forgotten fighter for the Switch in celebration of the Neo Geo’s 30th anniversary. And now those who missed out 20 years ago have a chance to experience the game that laid the groundwork for—and is in many ways much more enjoyable than—2018’s SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy (read our review of that one here).
A Slick, Super-Deformed Slugfest
SNK Gals’ Fighters is easy to pick up and hard to put down. The game uses a two-button control scheme for kicks and punches while tapping the A and B buttons together performs a dodge roll. If you’ve played any of SNK’s fighters before, you’ll feel right at home here. Performing specials and combos feels smooth, responsive, and surprisingly faithful to Neo Geo titles from which the Gal’s Fighters takes its inspiration.
While playing with the Switch JoyCons or Pro Controller is serviceable, both methods feel a bit mushy for my tastes. For the best results, I recommend using a decent fight stick. The HORI Switch Fighting Stick Mini, for example, is a quality option for fighting games, and its fun-sized frame makes it a perfect fit for this equally diminutive brawler.
You’d think that a lack of buttons would make the selection of moves available to the player would be somewhat limited. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Each character can perform a wide array of special attacks, throws, and command moves.
The Super Specials fans of SNK’s fighters will be familiar with have been replaced with Mighty Bops. These attacks cost a full special gauge to use and can knock the ever-loving snot out of your opponents. Oh, and they look great to boot, providing a flash of detailed character portraits in the background when used to finish off an opponent.
Sometimes after you defeat an opponent, you’ll be rewarded with an item that you can use at the continue screen. While some of these items do nothing at all (aside count towards unlocking one of the hidden characters), others give you bonuses like making those Mighty Bops even mightier. It’s a neat feature despite being mostly underutilized.
From the start, SNK Gals’s Fighters allows you to choose from 8 playable characters. These include King of Fighters starlets Leona, Shermie, and Athena, Samurai Shodown’s Nakoruru and Shiki, Akari from The Last Blade, Mai Shiranui from Fatal Fury, and Yuri from The Art of Fighting.
As you beat the game, you’ll be able to unlock an additional three hidden fighters, bringing the total of playable characters in the game’s roster to a respectable 11 combatants. Well, let’s say respectable for an 8-bit fighting game from 20 years ago, anyway.
I adore the game’s super-deformed character sprites. Each pint-sized pugilist features a surprising amount of animations that gives them tons of personality. Little details, like the way Yuki whips a comically massive hamburger out of her bookbag and munches it to regain her health. Or the way the buxom brawler Mai roasts herself to a crisp like Wil E. Coyote clutching a stick of dynamite after performing her Mighty Bop, left me busting a gut.
The backgrounds look great and feature a surprising amount of color considering the NGPC’s limited palette. However, unlike the game’s characters, they’re mostly static images with minimal animation. One thing they do feature, though, is plenty of character cameos that SNK fans should appreciate. Though I have to say I probably could have happily gone the rest of my life without seeing the drunken master Chin Gentsai scrubbing his old erm… sake jug…in a public bath. Euch!
SNK Gals’ Fighters has a pretty catchy soundtrack. Each stage has a unique theme, and the chiptune arrangements can be nothing short of infectious. Though if I have one complaint about the game’s soundtrack, it’s that the tracks don’t take long at all to loop. Still, what’s here is quite enjoyable.
Switching Things Up
Like the recently released Neo Geo Pocket version of Samurai Shodown II that made its way to the Switch, SNK Gal’s Fighters is a pretty no-frills port. However, it does include a few Switch-specific bonuses. For starters, you can rewind the game at any time from the options menu. Though with unlimited continues, it’s hard to imagine a reason why anyone would need to use it. Additionally, you can decorate the borders of the screen with a wide variety of Neo Geo Pocket styles. Again, these aren’t the most ambitious extras out there, but they’re welcome nonetheless.
This Switch port also includes a number of different options for multiplayer play. This, given the fact that the game was only playable with a friend using the NGP’s link cable when it released, is very nice indeed. You can duke it out with a friend in docked mode, or take the melees on the go using the Switch’s tabletop and handheld mode using a JoyCon for each player.
In addition to versus and the game’s Q.O.F. Arcade Mode, there’s also a training mode to help you master all of the game’s characters. Add to that five different difficulties to test your 2D fighter skills and you have a surprisingly robust fighter crammed into this tiny package.
A Bite-Sized Brawler That’s Worth The Price
SNK Gal’s Fighters on the Switch isn’t the most ambitious port out there, but that’s okay. Two decades since its original release, it’s just as addicting as it ever was. If you’re looking for a lighthearted retro fighter to add to your Switch library, or just want to experience this obscure gem in the Neo Geo’s 30-year history, then there’s no better time than the present to give SNK Gals’ Fighters a shot.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Switch (reviewed); Publisher: SNK; Developer: Code Mystics/Yumekobo; Release Date: April 30, 2020; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $7.99
Full disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher.