Friday 12 October 2012

Retro 101's Favourite Beat'em Ups Part 1 - SNK

SNK games are often overlooked due to their hardcore nature and difficulty to find in Europe. But any gamer worth their salt knows of the team's talent when it comes to two dimensions. So forget your Ryu's and six button fighting systems (if only for a little while). Let us be your guide to some of best fighting games you may never have played. Of course, there are other SNK beat’em ups available that aren’t listed here. Simply put, we really don’t rate The Art of Fighting and some of the others.

World Heroes 2
Though a fairly simplistic fighter, World Heroes 2 does have a lot going for it. One of the things that set it apart is the expansive and colourful cast of characters based on historical figures. What other fighting game allows you to pit Hulk Hogan and Bruce Lee look-a-likes against Joan of Arc?

The standard two round mode only acts to show up the games shortcomings. Select the Death Match mode however, and things suddenly become a whole lot more interesting. Here two fighters battle over a single energy bar during one extended round. The best aspect of the Death Match is the obstacle filled levels you fight in. Some stages have metal blades running along the floors, while others are strewn with landmines or take place in a small metal cage.

World Heroes 2 may not be the most technical game, but once you switch it into the Death match mode it can still offer something to fight fans today. If you want to try a game that's a little different then hunt it out

Samurai Showdown 2
For many this mix of martial arts and swords is SNK's finest hour. Here at Retro 101 we don't hold it in such a high regard, but we do still love it to pieces. The Samurai Showdown series is one of the most unique fighters out there and this second iteration is one of the finest fighting games available.

In this sequel more characters were added, along with the POW finishing moves. More importantly, the game was fine tuned and balanced to be much more even than the first. What we end up with is a tense series of bouts where any wrong move could be your last.

Fitting for a series concerned with weapon combat, the basic gameplay requires quick strikes when an opening presents itself, rather than long combo sequences. This can seem tough for newcomers as three or four strong blows can end a round. For those that learn the ways of the sword though it soon becomes clear that Samurai Showdown is as much about knowing when not to strike as it is about attacking.

The Last Blade/The Last Blade 2
This often overlooked other weapon based fighter is, in our opinion, the best of SNK's 2D fighting games. While Samurai Showdown III and IV ended up fun but uneven these two games are a lesson in balanced combat where mastering your character is the key to victory.

Each character is different and all have their own strengths and weaknesses. They can also be customised by picking different attack forms. The first game lets you make your fighter either speed or power based, while The Last Blade 2 adds an EX option as well.

The difference between the three styles makes a remarkable impact on your strategy. It also looks beautiful and each new area is presented with a subtle cut scene beforehand to add atmosphere. The special moves are not massively flashy but it all keeps with the games ethos of balance and skill. Everything about the title(s) leaves you with the impression you have just played something destined to be a classic.

Garou: Mark of the Wolves
garou.jpgThis re-imagining of SNK's long running Fatal Fury series was developed to provide competition to Capcom's Street Fighter 3. Perhaps surprisingly, it almost manages to match Ryu and friends. The action is fast, tense and fluid and each of the characters has a real personality of their own.

Mark of the Wolves is a distillation of all the good points of the Fatal Fury series over the years and also throws in some wonderful tactical features. For instance, blocking at exactly the right time creates the chance to parry your opponent's attacks for big damage. Also, a new T.O.P bar is placed on your characters health meter. When you drop into the bar it allows for a new technique to be used.

As a reinvention of a franchise it is hard to think how a better job could have been done. From a slightly ageing and creaky bunch of titles a vibrant, skill based and flair filled fighter has emerged that really does deserve all the credit it gets.

The King of the Fighters
The proverbial SNK team based cash cow. Ever since the first title way back in 1994 a new game has appeared almost yearly. While none of the games are bad, the real cream of the crop appeared between 1996 and 2000. After that, the focus seemed to be more on making things look flashy in 3D, though King of the Fighters XIII is excellent.

For those that don't know, the King of the Fighters titles allow you to pick a team of SNK's finest from various games and take on other teams. When one player is knocked out the next in line joins the battle. Certain versions of the game also introduce a fourth striker character that can be called upon to use a sneaky special move a limited number of times.

Considering the amount of fighters on offer the game remains remarkably balanced. It also requires players to learn many more moves and strategies than they would normally as you need to be handy with a number of different characters to succeed. A few minor balancing issues aside the series always remains fun and highly enjoyable.

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