Despite my fondness for a beat ’em up, and a 2D one at that, I’d never dug into the Fatal Fury games. It boils down to two factors, really: I grew up on Street Fighter, and I also got the series confused with Final Fight. But in the age of broadening horizons, I thought I’d give Fatal Fury First Contact a go.
Now, reviewing fighting games is generally quite a toughie. As far as core concepts go, it’s pretty Thunderdome. Y’know, two men enter, one man leaves, preferably with all of his limbs attached. It’s whether it has the lasting appeal or added weight to convince people to play it that’s the hard bit.
Given that today’s standard of beat ’em up has to have a massive campaign/story, as well as a whole host of additional content, sometimes it’s nice to just go back to a simpler time. But is a port of a lesser-known game on an obscure handheld console just a bit too far back for some? Let’s find out.
Sailing Into Port Obscurity
Permit me a moment (well, not that you have a choice) to go into the backstory of the Neo Geo Pocket. It was alright, then they released an all-round better and colour-supporting version. I’ve played a NGP colour, and it was great. That’s my technical input. However, the Game Boy Advance was on the horizon. That says it all, writing on the wall, etc.
It’s a shame, because it had the potential to be a fun little handheld. It was certainly better than a Game Gear and despite being a bit chunky, was fun to hold. It didn’t have the biggest of libraries, yet SNK managed to put a few of their main IP’s onto it. Metal Slug, King of Fighters and even Samurai Showdown were all part of its proud lineup. Even outside publishers got in on the action, with Cool Boarders and Sonic the Hedgehog gracing it with their presence.
That Fatal Fury had its own game was no surprise, given its ties with KoF and being a staple SNK series to boot. It had the potential to be great, but as history often tells us, when it comes to handhelds Nintendo will always rule out. Anyway, abridged history lesson over, let’s talk about the game.
The Story So Far? I Dunno, Just Hit Each Other
Much as I’d love to recant you with the saga that surrounds Fatal Fury First Contact, I can’t. Admittedly, I didn’t know it going in to the game either, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Your options at the start of the game are ‘Start’ and ‘Config’, which progresses into either 1P or 2P battle modes. That’s it. There’s no epic, three-part story here.
If you know your Fatal Fury or King of Fighters, you’ll recognise a few of the combatants on offer. There’s cap-wearing Terry Bogard, this series’ Ryu, and his Ken-terpart brother Andy. Geese Howard, last seen in full 3D in Tekken 7 is present, as is the always contentious eye-candy Mai Shirunai (you’ll see why if you look her up). Recurring final boss/secret character Alfred can be unlocked, with Rick Strowd and Li Xiangfei making their second appearance in this title. Given that it’s a loose spin-off/port of Real Bout 2, where the two debuted, that’s not surprising.
Of course, that I had to look that up tells you all you need to know about the minimalism here. There’s no cutscenes, no backstory, no nothing. It’s almost like playing an arcade game, in a fashion, but on a smaller scale. This includes the fighters themselves, here represented as dinky little chibi-esque caricatures. But, as I keep lying to myself, apparently size doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with it that counts.
That Fury Can Be Fatal
If you wanted to judge Fatal Fury First Contact as a fighting game, which I am, then it’s actually quite top notch. It can rival the action of any of the Street Fighter’s of the 16bit era quite comfortably. You may only be limited to two buttons and thumbstick/D-pad movement, but all the hallmarks are there. The fighting is fast and frenetic, combos are easy enough to mess around with once you get the hang of it, as well as the Super Moves.
As you’d expect, each fighter has their own attacks and combos to get used to, as is normally the way. Terry and Andy are your Bog[ard] standard, Mai your quick but weaker type, whilst big Krauser steps into Zangief’s boots. Thankfully, the game does allow you to pause at any time and bring up the instruction manual. Those things, back in the day, allowed you to look at a specific character’s moves to give you an upper hand. Or sweeping foot, or a variety of other special moves. Land enough with these and your meter builds, allowing you to pull of the flashy yet somewhat limited Super Moves. Which, to be fair, are still quite impressive on a minimally coloured, 160×152 pixelated screen.
The fight format is pretty straightforward: best two out of three wins it. You have two life bars, but unlike Killer Instinct where one bar represents a round, you have to deplete both to win the round. Or, if you’re more risk-averse and have more life, let the timer run out and be declared winner by being healthier. As I say, as far as being what it sets out to be, First Contact is great as a beat ’em up.
It’s just the lack of extra content that lets it down.
The Only Padding Is In The Gloves
It sounds like a massive nitpick to complain about a beat ’em up not having much else going on. See, I’m in a bit of a dichotomy here: on one hand, I’m now used to the more lavish things in life. Mortal Kombat 11, bullshit monetisation aside, has oodles of extra stuff going for it. Yet conversely, I’m also in the “Back in my day” school of being grateful if we could smack a car up in between rounds.
Fatal Fury First Contact doesn’t even have that. You can take on a string of AI opponents, or battle a friend that’s over… but that’s it. In single player, you can hit the minus button and effectively pause the game, letting you rewind so far back to avoid taking a slap. There’s the manual, as mentioned earlier, to help you with the mechanics and special moves. And that’s pretty much it for in-game content.
With regards to trimmings, you can mess about with a few things. One of the better additions is zooming in and out of the Neo Geo’s screen as you see fit. This, frankly, was a godsend. I’m playing on a Switch Lite, so in essence I’m looking at a smaller screen inside an already small screen. You can change the image filters to accentuate the RGB output, if you like. Don’t know why you’d want to, though.
Lastly, in equal parts cool and pointless, you can change the Neo Geo Pocket’s in-game fascia. One of the NGPC’s fun features back in the day was the variety of coloured and transparent cases the console was available in. This is faithfully recreated in here, so if you did have one, you can reminisce about the style you had. Or pick one that takes your fancy, either way.
Down For The Count
Much like the content, there’s not really much to go into about First Contact. This review is about as short as the game itself, so at least it’s thematic. There’s just not really a lot more I can say about a 2D fighter that only has the fighting going for it.
On a positive, it’s a solid little fighter. Much like its contemporaries, it’s a solid port of the main games it apes, as well as the competition relevant twenty-odd years ago. If you want something to pick up and play whilst on the train (well, pre-global bastard), you can’t go wrong with this.
The problem is, however, that there are much better games in this mold available for the Switch. Not just from rival publishers, as several SNK favourites are up for grabs for the price of this one. Why would you settle for a watered down, lesser port of something much better in the same storefront? Nostalgia purposes, maybe, but who wants to be the hipster that prefers this over a fleshed out Fatal Fury title?
That’s the double-edged sword that is Fatal Fury First Contact: whilst it’s nice to see Neo Geo Pocket games making an appearance on the Switch, it’s very niche. Were it the only game in the series on offer, I’d say go for it. But as it’s massively overshadowed by its counterparts… well I wouldn’t call it a waste of money, just an unnecessary extravagance.
As a beat ’em up, Fatal Fury First Contact is a cracking little game that shows off the power the Neo Geo Pocket could achieve. But as a port, it’s just too niche when there are far better alternatives from the same catalogue available.
Fatal Fury First Contact is available now on Nintendo Switch (reviewed on a Switch Lite).
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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