Art of Fighting Anthology
Once upon a time, Capcom’s Street Fighter series reigned supreme over the fighting game genre. Its small cast of easily playable (yet difficult to master) characters gave gamers a reason to spend countless hours at the local arcades and a small fortune in quarters in their zealous love of the games. But while Street Fighter II raked in profits and became one of the most critically acclaimed titles of its time, another fighting game series enjoyed its own following. Though never as popular as Capcom’s fighting juggernaut, SNK’s Art of Fighting series helped establish several gameplay concepts that would be later used by countless other fighting games. Now, a little over ten years since the series took its curtain call, the Art of Fighting Anthology gives gamers a chance to relive some classic arcade combat.
The original Art of Fighting introduces Ryo Sakazaki, a young martial artist searching desperately for his kidnapped sister, Yuri. Instead of going to the police, Ryo’s decided to venture forth into the slums of Southtown, kick every criminal’s ass, and hopefully save his sister. He’s accompanied by his friend/rival Robert Garcia, a man whose fighting prowess is matched only by Spanish soap opera-esque good looks. While both of these characters (SNK made the mistake of allowing only two playable characters for the story mode) are capable of throwing punches and kicking with arcade stick movements and button commands, it’s their special attacks that steal the show. In order to perform these, Art of Fighting introduces an energy gauge that can be used to create fireballs, launch a flurry of hard-hitting slaps, and execute ceiling-shattering uppercuts. The effectiveness of such attacks depends on how much energy you put into them; a fireball with no power behind it will simple flicker out instead of hitting a target. Though the game boasts some impressive portrayals of obscenely oversized muscles, gritty alleys, and bruised faces, the pathetically slow pacing, choppy animations, and unresponsive controls make Art of Fighting fairly boring when compared to its Street Fighter rival.
Art of Fighting 2 features all of the same concepts of the first game, but greatly develops them. The playable character roster has been expanded to not only include Ryo and Robert, but a recently saved Yuri and all of the previous game’s villains as well. Some (but not nearly all) of the horribly cheap special attacks have been balanced out, allowing for more competitive play. The combat has been greatly sped up to allow for some remarkably quick (at least, quick for fighting games circa 1993) exchanges. Accordingly, the attack animations and have been modified to allow for more fluid movements; you can actually watch the character move from one move to the next, instead of going from standing to a jumping kick combo and crouch in half a second. Since the game’s zoom-in camera isn’t as erratic as that of the first game, you’ll be able to see the characters in all their glory, right down to Lee’s stupid little faceplate, King’s newly grown breasts, and Ryo’s manly blond mullet. While much of Art of Fighting 2 borrows heavily from the first game, its improvements cannot go ignored.
However, everything changes once Art of Fighting 3 comes into play. This game chronicles Robert’s journey to Mexico to save a friend from danger, thus taking the series out of Southtown for good. Nearly all of the old characters have been thrown out (aside from Ryo and a now-unplayable Yuri) in favor of a cast of more exotic warriors. The city criminals have been replaced by a scimitar-wielding assassin, a wannabe dominatrix, a morbidly obese sketch artist, and even a Hispanic version of The Incredible Hulk. While these fighters are a far cry from villains of yore, they make great use of Art of Fighting 3’s new (and cheaply designed) combo system. In previous games, you could only get in an attack or two with each exchange; the slow pacing and unresponsive controls made executing combo strategies tedious at best. This time, a punch can lead into another, then a kick, an uppercut, etc. The trick is timing the button commands correctly; if you miss, your character will be left vulnerable to counterattacks. In order to complement the game’s quick combat, the game boasts the most detailed graphics ever seen in the series; you can see the creases form in Ryo’s uniform as he moves and background bar patrons that’ll react with the flow of the fight. Indeed, Art of Fighting 3 ensured that the series ended in style.
The Art of Fighting Anthology presents us with direct ports of all three games in the series. However, such accuracy is a double-edged sword; while the anthology has nostalgia aplenty, it doesn’t rectify any of the flaws that plagued the original versions of the games. The clunky combat and occasionally unresponsive controls in the first two games make playing a chore. The questionable hit detection and character imbalance can make combat a frustrating experience. All three games have laughable translations and are poorly written. The only saving grace is the presentation; these games boast some of the best graphics that any fighting game could have mustered in their time. The anthology tries to cover for its failings by featuring a Color Edit Mode, which allows you to tweak the characters’ costumes and skin tone by blending different colors together. Needless to say, you’ll be left wanting more from the collection.
It’s not that the Art of Fighting Anthology is necessarily bad. It’s just that its games haven’t aged well. The series introduced a coherent plotline, energy gauge-based special attacks, some of the most detailed and dynamic graphics of the time, and a few other ideas that Capcom didn’t have the nerve to try. However, the utterly slow pacing, the unreliable controls, and unbalanced characters ultimately hinder the games from greatness. Gamers that have gotten used to the fast-paced and technical combat from Street Fighter III and the Guilty Gear games will likely lose patience with the anthology early on their first playthrough. So unless you’re a fighting game fanatic that wants to relive the days of quarter-crunching your way through some truly brutal arcade fights, the Art of Fighting Anthology won’t keep you interested.