Not what many would consider SNK’s high point, the Art of Fighting franchise is a clunky, sloppy, one-on-one fighting trilogy with little merit. While the third entry would head towards a more refined and involving style, the first two will seem nearly unplayable to modern tastes, and retro fans will have their hopes of nostalgia swept away the minute they dive into the fray.
Fans will note that SNK/Playmore has done almost nothing to these games. Menu prompts still ask for the Neo Geo’s button prompts of A, B, C, and D. It’s understandable to end up somewhat confused when trying to navigate once into a selected game. There is an option to sloppily smooth the graphics, edit character colors from any game in the series, and choose updated music remixes (which fare nicely). All of the latter options are on the game selection screen. Once into the individual titles, you’re at the mercy of Neo Geo.
If the series did anything right, it was the graphical style. The sprites are simply enormous, and an impressive zoom in/zoom out effect serves to widen the fighting area and add an extra layer to the presentation. It’s a trademark for the Art of Fighting series.
The original 1992 release of Art of Fighting introduced little to the rapidly growing genre at the time. In many ways, it took a few steps back. The single player story mode only allows for two characters choices, Ryo Sakazaki and Robert Garcia. While they are the core staples of the series, the limited choices are inexcusable.
Special moves are limited in their use. Rapidly spurting out fireballs will drain this, and you’ll come up empty until you rapidly charge it manually (which stops your character completely) or wait for the far slower auto build. It’s a unique way to create balance and avoid constant corner traps. Unfortunately, the game is riddled with other problems, including an overall unresponsive feel, total lack of a combo system, and higher than average difficulty.
While the first crushed average players under its unfair CPU advantage, Art of Fighting 2 created a new standard for fighting game AI, at least in terms of how rapidly it could slaughter anyone who walked up to the arcade cabinet. The sequel failed to improve much of anything in terms of its versus fighting. The sprites were redrawn to great effect, with sharp details and gorgeous shading.
Unfortunately, taking the time to appreciate the work put into the art style is pointless as the relentless foes crush all hopes of seeing the next fight. Even with the option to select any fighter from the roster, making it past the fourth fight should cause the game to issue gold medals.
Art of Fighting 3 would be the most significant step forward for this series, and sadly, the last. It’s hard to see anything go out on a high point, especially when potential is beginning to show. The aging sprites have been redone, this time smaller. However, the animation has increased to show off some amazing talent, rivaling (at times) Capcom’s Street Fighter III.
Not only would the core of the game be radically reworked, it would be far more playable, though slightly less accessible to newcomers. A new combo system includes juggles, and there’s even a system for choosing how to get up after being knocked down. The vast majority of the roster would be replaced, and it’s the reboot Art of Fighting to continue being a contender in the 2-D fighting marketplace. It’s arguably worth the price of this compilation by itself.
Sadly, as a three-game set, this is a tough recommendation. Extras are meager, and while purists will appreciate things such as the original menu systems, it ends up feeling cheap. Hardcore fans of the genre will find stunning depth in the third game, while more casual player will be disappointed to learn only one of the three games is worth their time.
Art of Fighting Anthology is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Animated Blood, Violence. This game can also be found on: Wii, PSP.